It’s a brilliant, sunny San Diego day and star NFL quarterback Drew Brees is walking a large oval path within the vast Del Mar Polo Fields smiling, coaching and cheering on the more than 300 young flag football players who assembled for an athletics skills clinic.
These kid athletes from grades K-8 are grouped in clusters which rotate to various stations where they are taught specific football skills by not only San Diego area coaches but also some of Brees’ former teammates, like San Diego native and Helix High School alum Reggie Bush and former NFL receiver and NBC 7 Sports Analyst Greg Camarillo.
Despite this star-studded mini-camp for mini-players, this day is less about learning the nuances of football and more about building excitement for the new youth flag football league of 600 registered players locally called Football ‘N America.
Football 'N America was started by Brees, who has an off-season home in the San Diego area, and Encinitas marketing guru Chris Stuart of Encore Sports and Entertainment.
The goal for the kids is simple. Have fun. The appeal to parents, an environment that is friendly and inclusive where boys and girls of any skill level can participate in games played on Friday afternoon and evenings with whole families in attendance and as pop music plays in the background.
But above all, this new league gives parents another option for their children besides tackle football.
That is at the heart of what motivated the former Charger, current New Orleans Saint and future Hall-of-Famer to create this league Brees aims to grow nationally — saving football, the American sport Drew Brees loves.
"I think some parents think the only option is tackle football," Brees said. "You learn some of the great qualities of life through the game of football and we are doing it in a very safe, fun way."
You might not think the National Football League, a $13 billion dollar industry and the most popular televised sport in the U.S. would need any help. But constant reports of head injuries and their possible long-term effects are impacting both the reputation of professional football and youth participation in the sport.
The Wall Street Journal reports participation in high school tackle football is down 4.5 percent in the past decade while participation in youth flag football jumped 10 percent last year. Concerns over safety are believed to be behind the trends.
"If the kids ever want to transition to tackle at some point, they can. Otherwise, if they choose not to, that’s fine too but at least they have developed a love and passion for the game of football," Brees said.
Brees didn’t put on pads and play tackle football until he attended high school in his native Austin, Texas. Before that, he played only flag football which he says developed his love of the game.
He wants other kids to know that experience.
Brees wants to sustain the sport whose future, he says, is under fire by spreading the no-contact football league across the country. There will be at least six Football ‘N America leagues operating in three states by fall with further expansion anticipated.
To help in that effort, Brees and his FNA partner Chris Stuart are trying to make the league very user-friendly. Football newcomers are openly welcome.
Novice parent-coaches will have online tutorials to help them along and each FNA non-profit league will contribute to a non-profit charity in its community. The beneficiary for the inaugural FNA season in San Diego is the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
Brees will get a first-hand look at this first San Diego FNA flag football season; he will be coaching the teams of his three young sons ages 5, 7 and 9 years old.
"I developed a huge respect for coaching after coaching my own kids," Brees said. "I mean it’s like herding cats sometimes! All the parents know what I’m talking about!"
More information on Football ‘N America is available at playfna.com.