- Associated Press
Sunday, March 13, 2016

WALLINGFORD, Conn. (AP) - About 200 wide-eyed children were more than ready for some football Saturday afternoon at Choate Rosemary Hall’s Worthington Johnson Athletic Center.

The United Way of Meriden and Wallingford sponsored the 23rd annual NFL Players Weekend, featuring a youth clinic in which college and professional football players put the youngsters through the paces for three hours.

The youth clinic was just part of the popular NFL Players Weekend. The local United Way chapter hosted a dinner and silent auction Friday night at Zandri’s Stillwood Inn, while a “Bowl with the Pros” event took place Saturday evening at Brunswick Colony Lanes.

All Proceeds will benefit the United Way of Meriden and Wallingford’s youth programs. James Ieronimo, executive director of the local chapter, said $425,000 has been raised since his organization took over the event from New Haven eight years ago.

“We see this the youth clinic as kind of the signature piece of the weekend,” Ieronimo added. “The college and pro players are the most user-friendly 300-pound guys you will find when it comes to kids. They are very, very good with the kids, very protective of the kids, and very patient with the kids as they sign autographs at the end. It’s not exactly a combine, but they’ll teach running and passing drills and they’ll teach them maneuverability. In past years, they’ve even taught them end zone dances.”

Twenty-one players took part in the clinic, most notably the Baltimore Ravens’ Kyle Juszczyk, the Cincinnati Bengals’ Jayson DiManche, the Indianapolis Colts’ Tyler Varga, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Rasheed Bailey, the Minnesota Vikings’ Austin Shepherd, the New Orleans Saints’ Damian Swann, the St. Louis Rams’ Daren Bates, the San Francisco 49ers’ Brandon Thomas, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Cameron Brate, and the Tennessee Titans’ Connor Neighbors. Cyrus Jones (Alabama) and Delvin Simmons (USC) were among those representing the college ranks.

“It’s a great experience, just teaching someone who looks up to you and admires everything you do,” Simmons said. “It’s good to give back.”

DiManche, a linebacker out of Southern Illinois who will enter his fourth season in the NFL, has participated in the NFL Players Weekend for the last couple of years.

“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s a good time. The kids are really positive and seem to enjoy it. I’m trying to be a positive role model in the kids’ lives and trying to do things to instill positive attributes in them. I try to show them all the good parts of what I do.”

All the players are clients of Branford’s Joe Linta, an NFL agent and friend of the United Way of Meriden and Wallingford.

“I’m very blessed to be in the job I’m in and we have the resources to give back,” Linta said. “The young kids are great and this event is nothing without the college and pro players donating their time. The event has gotten a good reputation and it’s growing and growing and growing.”

Children from all over the state took advantage of the youth clinic, including groups from Meriden’s Beat the street Community Center, The Meriden Boys and Girls Club, the Wallingford Boys and Girls Club, the Meriden YMCA, the Wallingford YMCA and the Spanish Community of Wallingford.

Suzanne Brooder of Wallingford watched as her 8-year-old son, Jack, ran drills with the pros.

“I think this is fantastic,” Mrs. Brooder said. “Jack plays for the Wallingford Vikings. He was able to get his picture taken with Austin Shepherd of the Vikings. He got a football signed. He was in awe. It’s just great.”

Meriden 11-year-olds Antwone Santiago and Michael Reddick were both happy campers.

“I think this is really cool,” Reddick said. “All the players are pretty nice. I just want to practice football and get a head start on things. These (clinic) coaches all started where we are and now look at them - they’re NFL stars.”


Information from: Record-Journal, https://www.record-journal.com

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