SAYBROOK — Before Jarrod Bunch ever played for the University of Michigan or was a first round draft pick of the New York Giants, he was a kid growing up in Ashtabula.
During that time, he never had the chance to meet a professional football player, let alone be on the same playing field with one. Today at the age of 47 and more than 20 years removed from his playing days, Bunch said he wants to make sure that area kids cannot say the same thing.
Bunch was back in town Saturday morning to conduct his USA Football FUNdamental football camp for the second consecutive year at Lakeside High School. His message for the estimated 120 youngsters that hit the field was a simple one — there are no excuses.
"There has never been another professional football player that has been drafted in the first round from here," the 1986 Ashtabula graduate explained. "So for me to come back, there are no excuses for the other young adults in the community to say they never saw anyone have that kind of success. I was raised here, I grew up here, I played on a field very much like this one. I went to same school, the same YMCA and I made it to that level. There's no reason that the kids here cannot have just as much success as anyone anywhere else."
The camp is part of an NFL effort to teach football fundamentals and physical fitness to youngsters in communities all across the United States, but for Bunch it's about a lot more than that. It's about being able to interact with the youngsters that walked in the same shoes he did.
Not just area kids left with an impression, though. Bunch's interaction is the reason Dan Hambor, a youth coach from Fairport Harbor, brought a group to the camp as well.
"I love how he interacts with the kids," Hambor said. "It's really personal, it is. We love the fact that it has to do with the NFL Play 60 program. It's good to know that he is all about it and is giving back to the community."
What the kids pick up from Bunch is more than just football, though.
"He teaches them a lot more," Hambor continued. "It's camaraderie, it's teamwork, it's leadership, it's everything. It's getting to know kids from this area. We play against communities from out here. Some of the kids they camp with they see during the season and they make friends with."
With the help of several volunteers that included Buckeye Midget Football League coach R.J. Baldwin and new Lakeside athletic director Mike Cochran, the young athletes not only worked on football fundamentals, but were challenged by Bunch to exert themselves with push-ups, sit-ups and times in the 40 yard dash. Autographed footballs were awarded to those with the most repetitions and best times.
"The kids had a lot of fun and they learned a lot, that's the most important thing," Baldwin said. "We have some high school coaches out here, and that's a good thing. It's a good chance for us to start getting them ready for midget league and for the ones that don't play football, just a good chance to get them out and have some fun and learn something."
Cochran said just getting kids out to exercise is a win for everyone involved.
"You'd like to see this every weekend," Cochran said. "It's for the kids. It's special, and coach Bunch does a great job with it. Anytime you can get with the young kids and show them how much fun athletics can be and competing, it's great for everybody."
But what makes the camp so unique is what Bunch brings to it — the chance for children to interact with a former professional football player. It's something that he realizes is special, and he said he makes it a priority at such events.
"For me personally when I was that age, I remember how the difference was between someone standing outside the lines and telling me what to do versus somebody really getting involved, and it's very rewarding because I don't think the students here have had the opportunity to see those people that have made it that level," Bunch said. "And the fact that I have gives me the chance to come back and talk to them about it. I can tell them that I accomplished certain things and they can, too."