PEABODY — The football field at Bishop Fenwick was filled with youngsters this past weekend, eager to learn the basic skills of the game.
Of course, they were also thrilled to get the opportunity to meet the New England Patriots' superstar wide receiver, Wes Welker.
More than 400 boys and a few girls ages 7-to-14 came to Fenwick to take part in the Wes Welker Football Clinic, run by Pro Camps.
Welker said he enjoyed working with youngsters, and making sure they were having fun was the top priority.
"This is a beautiful day for the camp, and it's fun to see the kids out here playing, enjoying themselves and learning," said Welker. "The enthusiasm is great to see."
For three-and-a-half hours on Saturday and Sunday, the kids in attendance worked in small groups with members of the Pro Camps staff doing drills and learning skills. At the end of each short segment, campers ran from one station to another. Everything was done with military-style precision, probably because camp director Rod Huber (head coach at the College of Mount St. Joseph) drove a tank in his four-year Army stint before spending the next 30 years as a football coach in Ohio.
This was not a question of having a famous name simply attached to a camp, but rather Welker taking a very active part in the coaching.
"Anytime you have 400 kids playing football on the field at Fenwick, it's awesome," said Crusaders head football coach and athletic director Dave Woods. "The guys from Pro Camps have been here since Thursday getting everything set up, and when it ends they'll spend all afternoon cleaning up. Come Monday morning we won't even know they were here."
Former Fenwick players Ryan Lipka and Chris Renzuli lent a hand coaching stations along with former Crusader head coach Al Costabile.
HANDS ON APPROACH
Welker was all over the field working with the youngsters, and during a short intermission had all the players and coaches go out to the middle the turf field. Five families who have served or are currently serving in the military were honored by the Welker Foundation and the USO. One child from each group was chosen to show Welker what (they) had learned from the drills, and the winner given a prize.
"Pro Camps go all over the country and do a great job," said Keith Comeau of Marblehead, now the offensive coordinator at Malden Catholic who has been coaching at the camp for the past four years. "It's getting bigger each year, and the nice part is everything is kept right on schedule. It's a great experience for the kids, and Wes does a terrific job. He's all over the place working with the kids."
The youngsters came from all over, including several from as far away as Rhode Island and Connecticut..
"It's a lot of fun," said T. J. Martinuk, an eight-year-old from Middleton. "I like doing the drills because I want to be a better football player."
Noah Lavergne, another eight-year-old in the same group, made the trip from Rhode Island. He plays center for the Tri-Town Titans in Situate, R.I.
"I like the quarterback drills the best," said Lavergne. "We've seen Welker, but he hasn't worked with our group yet. I really hope he does."
Parents watched their children from the football stands or stood by the fence. Galen Holmes drove his seven-year-old son Keller from their home in Webster.
"It's a great camp; very organized," said Holmes, whose son plays quarterback. "They're working them hard. It's a long drive, but I'm glad we came."
HAPPY TO BE A PATRIOT
Welker attracted a lot of attention from the media gathered at Fenwick after his comments earlier in the week, where he stated that contract negotiations with the Patriots were getting worse after he signed the team's franchise tag, a one-year deal guaranteeing him $9.5 million if a new deal cannot be worked out before July.
He didn't generate any further controversy on the subject Saturday and answered all questions during the 15-minute press conference, but it was obvious he preferred to talk about his camp.
"I'm excited to be a Patriot and get back on the field with my teammates," he said. "I'm not frustrated about the contract talks with the Patriots. I'm making five times more money than last year."
Welker said he will report for the first day of OTA (organized team activities) at Gillette Stadium today and can't wait to start working with his team.
"I want to get out there, be with my teammates and work on getting better. I enjoy playing, I enjoy being a Patriot," he said.
"As far as a long term deal, I go back and forth on it, but I am looking forward to the 2012 season and going forward. It is what it is, and it's never going to change. I get caught up in it and react silly sometimes. My outlook is to go out and play the game I love; play as hard as I can and let the rest take care of itself. I'll go out there to help the team win."
When asked if it ever crossed his mind that this could be his last year in a Patriot uniform, Welker said "no". He did admit that, from a business standpoint, not holding out and wanting to get back in the field as soon as possible may have hurt him financially.
"I'm taking it one day at a time," he said. "I try to concentrate on what I can control. When I said the talks had gotten worse, that was probably a bad choice of words."
He also said he expected the defending AFC champion Patriots to have a very good season once again and was looking forward to reuniting with former teammates and fellow wideouts Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth.
"My body has recovered after the long season, and I feel great. I am going to continue to work hard and hopefully play at a high level," said Welker. "I have the opportunity to play in a lot of ball games, and I look forward to it."
This marked the fourth year Welker's camp has been held at Fenwick, and Woods said he would be happy to welcome them back again next year.