By Greg Gulas
Structure has always been a big part of Ursuline High School coach Larry Kempe’s daily coaching routine.
So has academics, which he stresses first and foremost to not only his players but those in attendance at Ursuline’s 10th annual summer football camp, which began Monday.
More than 150 campers heard Kempe, his staff and guest coaches stress the importance of academics while teaching football basics to those ranging from kindergarten age to ninth grade.
The camp was also mandatory for all incoming Irish football freshmen.
When asked by Kempe prior to the start who had earned perfect grade point averages during the recently completed academic year, more than a third stood up to take a bow — something that drew a big smile from not only Kempe but all camp staffers as well.
“Over 40 percent of our team was on the honor roll last year while the average conduct grade was 92 percent,” he said. “If you don’t pass conduct, you don’t play football at Ursuline High School, it’s as simple as that.”
The five Monday stations included calisthenics, combine, defense, offense and speakers.
Speakers included newly hired Walsh University coach Ted Karras and his defensive coordinator, former YSU player Fred Thomas, and former Struthers standout and current Fordham running backs coach Tim Zetts.
Zetts, who was part of a staff that produced the nation’s top turnaround in FCS a season ago (the Rams went from 1-10 in 2011 to 6-5), called the camp an excellent opportunity for those to learn while being exposed to a high level of scholastic competition.
“This is great for not only the kids, but the entire community because the campers get a chance to see what it takes to win at the scholastic level,” Karras said. “It has been great to recruit the Youngstown area, first for former coach Jim Dennison and now for Coach Karras. We have a pipeline with the Fighting Irish and I hope that continues for years to come.”
Elliott Giles, former YSU football star and founder/president of the Youngstown Youth Flag Football Association, counted at least 50 former YYFFA participants among the campers.
“The importance of going to football camp is to learn fundamentals and proper techniques at all positions, something that we stress in our league,” Giles said. “We’ve grown from six teams and 80 participants in the spring of 2007 to over 800 kids and 92 teams and are still growing. A camp like coach Kempe’s only helps players get ready for their respective seasons.”
YSU coach Eric Wolford, a 1989 Ursuline graduate, brought three of his nephews, Collin and Connor Heater, and Brett Wolford to the camp.
“I was excited when Larry was hired as Ursuline’s head coach,” Wolford said. “He’s not only a great football coach but an excellent role model for all student-athletes. He stresses academics as much as athletics and that is a big part of coaching. He makes sure that when his players graduate they are academically prepared for the next level.”
Ryan Bassetti, 5, and older brother Andrew, 7, are nephews of Youngstown mayoral candidate John McNally and came in from Columbus to attend Kempe’s camp.
“I like offense and would like to be either a wide receiver or running back, hoping to learn the basics at both positions over the next two days,” Andrew said.
“I’d like to be a quarterback, but I’m just excited to be at the camp with my older brother,” Ryan added.
Former YSU All-American Chris Sammarone, a part of two Penguin Division I-AA championship teams and a runner-up squad from 1992-94, and who will team with Bob Hannon this fall as color analyst on YSU radio broadcasts, enrolled his son, Chris, Jr. in the camp.
A fifth grader at Canfield’s Hilltop Elementary School, the junior Sammarone hopes to play for the Little Cardinals football team.
“I want to try out for football and am really interested in learning about all of the defensive line positions,” Sammarone said.
John DeSantis, Irish offensive coordinator, said this is his favorite time of the year.
“It’s our coaching staff’s favorite time as well. The camp brings the community together while teaching and emphasizing the finer points of football,” DeSantis said. “It teaches teamwork, stresses academics, shows one how to handle adversity and then work toward the goals that you have set; everything you need to know for both football and later on in life as well.”