When Drew Brees began his NFL career in San Diego he also created a bond with the city that has only gotten stronger in the 13 years since he left for New Orleans. Recently he's done so in part by finding another way to be involved with the sport in our area.
Brees brought his Football 'N' America youth coed flag football league to Carmel Valley in 2018. This year they are expanding in the San Diego area with a La Jolla league.
Nationwide FNA is in 22 locations across the country, with the objective to provide a uniform standard for youth flag football.
Brees is seeing his league grow while participation rates in youth football continue to decline. The future hall of famer wants FNA to provide a safe, family friendly place for kids to learn the game of football and the life lessons that come with it.
"I felt like it helped me develop skills that are still serving me today as a professional football player, and life skills as well."
Brees knows a fraction of participants will continue on to tackle football in high school, and he's fine with that. For those athletes that do graduate on to tackle football, he also believes a league like this can prepare them for that level of play. After all, Brees himself played flag football until high school.
"What better environment to develop that understanding and that comfort and confidence level than flag?" Brees said. "Then once your body is ready, once you're physically developed enough, mentally developed enough in order to put the pads on, put the helmet on and go play tackle you're much more ready, you're much more informed, you're much more comfortable."
On Tuesday Brees will spend time with the newest Football 'N' America players. He is holding a Q&A at La Jolla High School from 1:30 to 2:30 on Tuesday, July 16. Anyone who is registered for the La Jolla league can attend. Parents can register their kids at the FNA website.
It's part of a busy schedule for the Saints quarterback, who still has lots of fans in San Diego - and who feels a meaninful bond with the city.
"San Diego has a special place in our heart," Brees said. "We really appreciate the fans here. We really appreciate the people here."
Brees will leave San Diego soon for training camp in New Orleans. But he will return to Southern California for another training camp showdown and preseason meeting with his former team.
Like so many in the area, he can't get used to calling them the 'L.A. Chargers'.
"I think it's a shame that the Chargers aren't here in San Diego anymore. I think everybody believes that there was some sort of resolution that could have been arrived at to help make them stay.
"It's hard to say the L.A. Chargers, that's not really in the vocabulary right now. I think for me they'll always be the San Diego Chargers."
But the move can't take away from the seasons he enjoyed playing football in San Diego, and the experiences he had along the way.
"I know my memories from being a Charger were so great. From the teammates, guys that I had a chance to play with - guys like Junior Seau, Rodney Harrison, LaDainian Tomlinson, Lorenzo Neal, (Antonio) Gates - so many right? And the coaches as well, guys who have really influenced me along the way. Who have been great mentors to me and continue to be, honestly."