For about two hours at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Thursday afternoon, approximately 250 participants in the Special Skills Football Invitational had the opportunity to put their football skills to the test and hang out with Ohio State football players.
Launched by Steve Weaver in 2013, the Special Skills Football Invitational is an opportunity for athletes with special needs of all ages – ranging from as young as eight to as old as 64 – to participate in real football drills, drills much like those that the Buckeyes themselves will be doing when they begin fall camp in a couple weeks. And with the blessing of Urban Meyer and the Ohio State football program, those athletes get that opportunity at a collegiate practice facility with college football players and coaches.
"Without shoulder pads and helmets on, they’re doing everything else you would do at a regular football camp," Weaver said after the camp. "So that’s what it’s designed for, is to break the stereotype that this population can’t do these things."
Ohio State quarterbacks Dwayne Haskins and Tate Martell, running back J.K. Dobbins, wide receiver C.J. Saunders, tight end Jeremy Ruckert, offensive linemen Brady Taylor and Demetrius Knox, defensive tackle Robert Landers, linebackers Keandre Jones, Malik Harrison and Tuf Borland and safety Jordan Fuller were all among the Buckeyes who coached participants through a variety of drills and stations on a hot summer day on the Buckeyes’ outdoor practice fields.
The Ohio State University Marching Band also performed a concern to kick off the event, while assistant strength and conditioning coach Niko Palazeti joined Fuller, Dobbins, Landers and Jones to lead the participants through "Quick Cals."
Fuller, who has also previously volunteered at Special Olympics events, said he volunteered to be a part of Thursday’s camp because of the opportunity to bring smiles to the participants’ faces.
"The smiles on these kids’ faces mean the world to me," Fuller said. "The smiles that I get to see just makes me smile. Just having the community all together, it’s a great feeling."
Haskins, now one of the most prominent faces of the Ohio State football team as its starting quarterback, said he believes it is important for he and his teammates to give back to the community and be present at events like Thursday’s.
"For people to see you out here, giving back to kids and just seeing their smiles on their faces when they get to meet you, it’s heartwarming and it makes you know that football’s not the only thing in life," Haskins said.
Haskins spent most of his time on the field doing what he does best – throwing passes – though upon request, he also caught a couple passes as well.
Toe Tap https://t.co/Ft3Mjznmmg— Dwayne Haskins, Jr (@dh_simba7) July 12, 2018
"There was one kid from Westerville, said 'I’m a quarterback, I want to throw the ball to you,' so I said 'All right,' I ran a route for him, and he had a pretty good arm," Haskins said.
Ruckert spent time running the vertical jump station at Thursday’s camp, which he described on Twitter as an "awesome experience."
Jones, Borland (who has shedded the walking boot he had to wear this spring after injuring his Achilles) and Harrison were also among the players who spent considerable time on the field coaching and encouraging camp participants through their drills.
Ohio State linebacker Keandre Jones coaching up participants at the Special Skills Football Invitational at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. pic.twitter.com/rk6tYmbEzs— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) July 12, 2018
Ohio State linebackers Tuf Borland and Malik Harrison coaching up participants in the Special Skills Football Invitational at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. pic.twitter.com/ebXuCCnRSW— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) July 12, 2018
Weaver expressed gratitude for all the Buckeyes who took the time out of their schedules to help out with Thursday’s camp, which he said has been a constant throughout the camp’s history.
"Every time the Buckeye players come out, they do a great job," Weaver said. "They represent themselves, the university, Coach Meyer, the whole program, fantastic. They’re polite to our guys. They’re very helpful, they’re enthusiastic. They’re cooperative. Six years now, and we really have not had a bad experience with any player."
Weaver’s organization, Special Skills Sports, will also be hosting a soccer invitational on Aug. 2 at SuperKick Columbus, a baseball and softball invitational on Aug. 30 at the Bo Jackson Elite Sports Facility and a basketball invitational – with the help of Chris Holtmann and the Ohio State basketball team – at Value City Arena in September.