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Teaching football and touching hearts

The Steelers just wrapped up their offseason program, completing four weeks of OTAs and minicamp before getting a little bit of a break ahead of training camp.

But football hasn't come to a halt for the black and gold.

Take a look at some photos from the Youth Football Camp held at California University of Pennsylvania.

The Steelers kicked off their Youth Football Camps, with the first of four being held at California University of Pennsylvania over the last two days.

"We want to make sure kids have a fun experience with football," said Mike Marchinsky, Steelers Youth and High School Football Marketing Manager. "We want the kids to come and enjoy the interaction with the players, get some great instruction from the coaches and leave there with a positive experience. They might walk away saying we want to play football, whether it's flag or tackle, but the most important thing is they walk away having a positive experience."

The instructional camps feature current and former players, as well as area coaches, teaching the ins and outs of the game, while at the same time making sure football is fun for the kids.

"It brings something unique that they might not get anywhere else," said Marchinsky. "It's a Steelers camp, there are players there, and they get game tickets. They get to experience the Steelers feel up close.

"It's great that the players get involved. We are coming off of minicamp and the players have just gone through all of the workouts. When they come to the youth camp they can relax and say football is still fun. They leave with a smile on their face. You can see the passion they have for football. It's the same with the last one, which is not long before training camp and they know how stressful the season is going to be, but you can see in their eyes this is why they fell in love with the sport when they were six or seven. It takes the players back to why they fell in love with the game and makes them step back and say it's pretty cool to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers."

And the impact the players have on the kids can be far reaching. Ramon Foster attended one of the camps in the past, meeting a young autistic girl named Lizzie. When Lizzie first arrived at camp, she wasn't interacting with the other campers, wore sunglasses almost as a form of protection, and wasn't fully participating. That is until Foster stepped in. He touched her through his kind and caring way, and by the end of the camp she had the sunglasses off and was high-fiving everyone.  

Foster, who admits he didn't know a lot about autism, said it touched him as well and moments like that are why coming to camps are so important.

"I broke through to her and it was nothing less than a Godsend," said Foster. "We as players, we never know how we are going to affect people. That is a prime example of it right there. I have seen her multiple times since then. Her family tells me thank you and I had no idea at that time what it all meant.

"That is why it's so important to do these things. We are public figures, more to kids than anything. To have that effect on people, whether it's lifetime or the moment, it's something you have to treasure. With Lizzie's condition, there are so many triggers they can have. Apparently her trigger was me. I was so happy. That is one of the biggest moments that ever happened to me as a professional player."

In addition to the Steelers Camps, individual players conduct their own, including Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Mitchell and Bud Dupree, who all had camps in the Pittsburgh area.

The Steelers will also hold three more camps, all of which are still open for kids to sign up for. 

Upcoming Steelers Youth Football Camps:

  • June 26 & 27 - Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania - 9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
  • June 29 & 30 - Saint Vincent College - 9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
  • July 20 & 21 - West Allegheny High School, Imperial, Pa - 9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
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