When former NFL tight end Leonard Stephens gives you one-on-one training, you listen. You may be a little star struck, but you do your best to take it all in.
As was the case for Deklen Robbins, a JP II student, junior Crusader football player, and now, member of the South Saskatchewan Selects Football (SSSF) team that is headed to Florida in late February to take on teams from across the United States.
Robbins gave hockey a try when he was younger, said he was “horrible.” He then tried Battlefords Minor Football, which wasn’t quite the same as the touch football he had previously tried.
Something was different about tackle.
“That was when I had tons of fun playing for the o-line and the d-line – when I actually got to smash people, as opposed to touch football,” the 13-year-old said.
His father Derek had never played football and didn’t know much about it.
But he went searching for top programs to get his son involved because it was abundantly clear that was Deklen’s passion.
“When he was in Grade 4 or 5, he came home with football information and this is what he wanted to do,” Derek said. “For me it was just seeing what was out there. And his interest has never waned. He’s more and more interested all the time.”
Deklen’s passion lies in tackling people on the field. And he’s good at it too. He was able to make the SSSF U-12 team despite a concussion cutting his try-out a little bit short. He is the only Battlefords area kid on the team.
The thing is, his try-out should have been even shorter, had he not kept his headache to himself.
“On the first day of tryouts, I got nailed in the head, repeatedly, and then I got a concussion but I didn’t tell anyone about it… until the last day, until there was like 20 minutes left,” he said. “So they had to tell me before everyone else that I made this team so it was kind of cool. It was cool how they didn’t even finish evaluating but they already knew that I made this team.”
While it was cool to get the good news early, concussions are no joke, and that’s something the Robbins’ were aware of too.
Deklen had to stay away from almost all forms of activity for a while, be it physical or not – exercise wasn’t allowed but neither were mundane tasks like watching TV.
Deklen’s mother Jen saw the situation as a learning experience for her and her family.
“He and us are now more aware of the symptoms and he also then had to follow up before he was allowed to play again,” she said. “It’s very unusual for a player to get hurt in their program because they start form day one the proper way of doing things and they remain diligent and enforce perfection.”
And that’s what sold Deklen’s parents on the program: the focus on player development and opportunity to receive elite coaching.
It would provide an opportunity for Deklen to take his game even further.
“This is totally the next level,” Deklen said of his evaluation camp and practice experience so far. “They criticize everything.”
Deklan said at one particular practice, a player caught a pass and ran it in for a touchdown. So, what did the coaches do? Not what you might think. They picked apart every little detail the player could have done better, instead of simply congratulating him on a job well done.
“You’re learning from the best in the world,” Deklen said. “So, being taught from them was just something that you don’t forget.”
Plus, Deklen will get to play against stiff competition when he heads south in several weeks. That’s something no amount of coaching can do.
“To get down there and play against these American teams, it will give you a real sense of what football is about if he does choose to pursue it,” Derek said. “The coaches have already warned them, the American kids grow up with football like the kids here grow up with hockey. They’ve been doing it since kindergarten.”
Deklan said he can’t wait to embark on the trip.
“It’s going to be so cool,” he said. “To be the only team from Canada to go down and play – I just can’t wait.”
In order to help fund the cost of the trip, raffle tickets are being sold with the grand prize of a large TV with surround sound and a Playstation 4. The draw will be held on Jan. 22 and each ticket is $5. Deklen and Jen will be selling them at the Co-Op mall on Jan. 12, Jan. 17, and Jan. 19 after school and also at the Frontier Mall on Saturday Jan. 14 in the afternoon.
Nathan Kanter is battlefordsNOW’s sports reporter and voice of the Battlefords North Stars. He can be reached at Nathan.firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him @NathanKanter11
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