Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Caldwell Takes Jack: “Risk To Be Great”

I ran into Atlanta Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitrioff last year at the NFL owners meeting walking down a hallway to dinner.

“Hey, I work with Dave Caldwell a lot and he said he learned a lot from you,” I said as we shook hands.

“Be careful,” he responded, “He’s really smart.”

Smart. And measured, and knows how the game is played.

While not making a big offer to Josh Norman last week drew some criticism, in retrospect, it was the right move. Sitting and waiting at number five in the first round, the scenario played out so Jalen Ramsey, the player the Jaguars had rated as the best in the draft, fell right to them.

On Thursday, Caldwell and the Jaguars personnel staff had UCLA linebacker Myles Jack listed as the third best defensive player in the draft. With teams shying away from his knee issue and rumors swirling, Jack started to slide down the draft board, into the bottom third of the picks. The Jaguars GM tried to move back into the first round to take Jack, but didn’t want to part with the price: a second and fourth round pick this year.

So, he waited. Smartly.

And then there was some talk in the afternoon of day two of the NFL Draft that if Jack was there with the 38th pick, the Jaguars would take the risk and pick him.

Working the phones and his contacts, Caldwell determined Jack wouldn’t last that long so he started to deal and found a willing partner in the Baltimore Ravens. Instead of a 4th rounder to get back into the first round, Caldwell was willing to part with a 5th rounder to move up a couple of spots and selected Jack with the 36th pick overall.

So from speculation that the Jaguars might take Jack over Ramsey at number five, they end up with both players. How often does a team get two of the top three players on their board in the same draft? Never is the answer.

“Somebody had to believe in me, and I had a feeling it was going to be Jacksonville,” Jack said by phone after his selection. “I knew after my workout for the Jaguars that they’d take me in the second round. I really love coach Bradley. … He earned my trust on that first visit.”

It was a long period of study for Head Coach Gus Bradley when it came to Myles Jack. He wanted to know about his physical ability but also needed information about Jack’s personality, especially if he had to go through another long rehab.

“We’ve had conversations about Myles Jack for many months now, just really intrigued by his skill set and how he plays the game,” Gus explained.”

“It helped that our scouts had a great idea about who he was, Dave, the analysis of the tape, but also (UCLA Head Coach) Jim Mora. I coached with Coach Mora, was with him at Seattle, so I had many conversations with him about the impact he (Myles Jack) had and the type of person he was and type of player he was. Just really excited about having Myles be there for us.”

Perhaps to prove a point, Jack posted a video of him dunking a basketball on his Twitter account today, throwing it down with ease as if to say, “What knee?”

No question it’s a calculated risk for Caldwell and the Jaguars but when asked about the possibility of Jack not working out, Caldwell didn’t flinch.

“We want to be great and to be great sometimes you have to take risks,” he said flatly.

So when the Jaguars take the field in Week One they could have “three first round picks” starting on defense: Ramsey, Fowler and Jack. Add Gipson and Jackson, Marks coming back, Odrick, Amukamara, Smith, Cyp and Poz and all of the sudden the Jaguars defense looks legitimate.

No question that word “potential” will be thrown around a lot when the talk turns to the Jags defense but Bradley thinks the right kind of player are joining the squad.

“These guys that we’re bringing in, too, the mindset, I really like that part of them, how competitive they are. They’re just going to be, that’s one of the things when I talked to Jalen (Ramsey), he said he could feel it just in talking to our guys and when he was here. I think our guys trust that we’re going to bring in guys with like mindsets.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars’ Ramsey: Best Player In The Draft

Sticking to the plan and a little luck put the best player in front of the Jaguars in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Getting Jalen Ramsey with the 5th pick seemed like a pipe dream when the Jaguars did their own mock drafts. A scenario where Ramsey was still on the board was very remote.

“We are very happy and we didn’t think that when this all started picking at five, early on before the quarterback swaps, that he [Jalen Ramsey] would get to us,” General Manager Dave Caldwell said after making the selection. Caldwell thought Ramsey was the best player in the draft. “You know once the quarterback thing started happening we had three defensive players we liked better and he was obviously at the top of the list.”

In fact, the Jaguars were so sure of Ramsey they didn’t even talk about it in their draft room. Before the Cowboy’s finished saying “Ezekiel Elliott” Caldwell was dialing Ramsey’s number. “Right after Dallas’ pick went in, no more than a minute later my phone started ringing,” Ramsey said in Chicago. ” I saw 904 immediately. I picked up the phone so quick, I didn’t even let it get through the first ring.”

As anxious and excited that Ramsey was there, the FSU cornerback was equally anxious to join the Jaguars. He knew it the first time he came to Jacksonville.

“Kind of immediately,” he explained when asked when he knew he’d like to be a Jaguar. “They talked about it on my visit there, ‘if you’re still on the board, we’re going to get you.'”

There have been comparisons across the spectrum with other defensive backs, but Ramsey says he’s pleased to settle in a corner and be the player the Jaguars need.

“I’ve always said that I was a corner who could play those other positions and I’m glad that he (Head Coach Gus Bradley) agrees with me. Being a press corner, I feel like I fit in their (Jaguars) system perfectly.”

When Bradley came to the podium at the stadium he could hardly contain his excitement. When asked what set Ramsey apart, the Jaguars head coach ticked off just about everything you could want in a corner.

“Well, just his rare athleticism, speed, combined with size and range. He is a very good competitor and he fits our style of play. It was an easy decision.”

Potential draft picks are dissected to the point where you can talk yourself out of taking a player but the Jaguars looked at what some analysts considered negatives about Ramsey and saw it differently.

“When you watch him play and you watch, I just partially feel like he was not being challenged when you watch him game in and game out,” Bradley explained “He does a great job of covering and teams did not go at him a lot, and for the most part he covered his man.”

Not only is Ramsey a need pick for the Jaguars, he passes the “eye test” for Bradley as well.

“Obviously I think you know our style; we’re looking for guys that have some length out there. Tremendous athlete, 4.4 (40-yard dash) speed, 40-inch vertical, his arm length that we’re talking about, his ability, his instincts. Overall, just a fantastic player that we feel very fortunate that he fell to us.”

And when it came to actually make the trick, Bradley said they didn’t hesitate.

“I think we looked at it as best player available and at that point, that’s who it was, so I applaud Dave (Caldwell) and all of us for sticking to that plan, and like I said, when he was there for us, it was a no-brainer.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Khan On Draft Day: “Don’t Be Impulsive”

It doesn’t take long for Shad Khan to figure out what he likes and doesn’t like when it comes to a business he owns. After his first draft day as owner of the Jaguars, he knew there were some things he didn’t like.

“It wasn’t until the afternoon of the day of the draft that I found out. It was ‘top secret.’ It was like a stone tablet that kind of descended,” he explained in his office two days before the 2016 NFL Draft. “And then it was even like ‘We’ll peek the curtain and let you take a peek, only because you own the team.’ Now it’s much different, it’s inclusive. The scouts, the coaches, led by (GM) Dave Caldwell. You want to be prepared and not be impulsive.”

As the owner, Khan isn’t going to make the decisions on whom the Jaguars should take, but he’ll be in the room when the picks come up to offer counsel. “I feel really good about it. It takes discipline,” he told me when I asked about being on the clock. “Are you going to take the player you want? Are you going to trade the pick? You have to be prepared and then disciplined to be able to execute your plan.”

Memories of his first draft in 2012 are very clear in Khan’s mind, and he doesn’t want to make the same mistakes. “I was new and I was graciously invited to visit some people during some of the draft, so I missed some of the picks. Like taking a punter in the third round. That had a profound effect on me,” he said with a bit of emphasis.

“One thing you learn early on is don’t believe anything anybody is telling you,” Khan said with a laugh regarding the learning process about the draft. “There is a certain amount of gamesmanship. It’s best to maybe not talk to some of your friends because you don’t want to be less than candid about it.” While he’s not making the picks, Khan is involved in the process of compiling information about potential players the Jaguars could be targeting. “I got to know a lot of these young football players up close and personal. They sat in the chair you’re sitting in,” he said with a laugh. “I would not judge them on football talent but I think what kind of team player they might be, what makes them tick, they’re gifted athletically but they’re still very young men.”

While going through this building process, the Jaguars have built what Khan calls “a core” of players who are representative of what the team is looking for when it comes to the on and off-field production. Whether it’s Blake Bortles or Allen Robinson and any number of veterans they’ve acquired, they all have a thread of personality that show’s they’ll fit into the organization.

“Absolutely,” Khan said immediately.

While he’s been successful across the business spectrum, Khan has an expectation to be successful in the NFL as well. Even with the human component of injury as part of the equation, Khan doesn’t see it that much differently.

“I think there are variables in life and in every business. It could be the marketplace, processes, and people getting ill. There are rules in the NFL about players moving but in life there are no rules. You could say “I’m the most valuable employee today, and this afternoon I’m joining the circus,” he said with a huge laugh.

Off the topic of the draft, Khan said he was extremely pleased with what’s going on with the Jaguars and London. When I asked if it was possible that the Jaguars might play a game as an “away” team overseas he smiled and said, “Anything’s possible.”

He likes the progress being made to the stadium improvements saying that he hopes what is happening on the south end zone will be “an iconic representation of Jacksonville.”

He expects the Shipyard project to eventually be completed but added, “We can start east of there until the EPA situation with the city, the state and the federal government gets sorted out.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Raising Money, Always Funny, Bill Murray’s In Town

When you go to talk with Bill Murray, you know two things: 1) You don’t know what he’s going to say or talk about and 2) something funny is going to happen. I’ve had a chance to talk with Bill over the years since he’s been holding his annual Murray Brothers Golf Tournament here in North Florida at the World Golf Village. Bill has made himself available to talk at his tournament over the years despite the hordes of people who are following him, watching him play and asking for something. Friday was no different.

Starting on the back nine at the King and the Bear, there’s always a backup on the 14th tee, a combination of finishing a par 5, going to a par three, a bar and a TacoLu truck as a distraction. That’s where we caught up with Bill to talk between bites of his favorite taco and a chat with his brother Ed.

“What are you playing,” I asked, referring to the Callaway irons in his bag.

“Whatever will go on the green,” he said, sizing up the upcoming 147-yard shot.

Murray’s popularity attracts players from all over the country to his tournament. This year over 420 players are participating over three 18-hole flights. For the fourth year in a row they’re raising money for the Firehouse Subs Foundation benefitting first responders in the military, and police and fire departments.

“They really need that stuff,” Murray said while waiting on the tee. “You should see them when they get stuff like the high powered Jet Ski’s. They’re like, ‘Wow, we could have used this last year!”

“When I took him to a meeting with the Governor and some of the first responders receiving some of the things we’ve bought with money raised over the years I could tell that he gets it,” Robin Sorensen, one of the founders of Firehouse Subs and the head of the Firehouse Foundation explained. “We’ve raised over a million dollars in the first four years of being associated with this tournament and Bill knows the money’s being put to good use.”

A big sports fan, Murray was as interested in Jake Arietta’s no-hitter from the night before as he was his golf game.

“How’d you like that?” he asked as any Cubs fan would.

“All it did was make me mad,” I said. “Since I’m an Oriole fan and he was terrible when he played for us.”

“Because you didn’t let him pitch the way he wanted to. You tried to change him. So now we have him,” Murray quickly responded.

That exchanged quickly reminded me of how big a fan he really is, not just paying lip service to keep his popularity.

“I was trying to raise money last night while that (the no-hitter) was going on. I had to leave the stage,” he added. “Then somebody said from the audience, ‘he did it’ and I was like ‘Great, and I missed it.'”

As a guest on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” last week in LA, Murray was promoting his recent movie the remake of “The Jungle Book.” I happened to see him on there and complimented him on how he and his young co-star performed.

“I couldn’t figure out why he had such a huge dressing room,” Murray revealed about arriving at the Kimmel taping. “But then I realized he had his parents, both sets of grandparents, everybody in his family there. He’s from Long Island and they all came out. Nice kid.”

Somehow our conversation turned to the equipment the first responders’ use and Bill said, “Well, we’re all first responders aren’t we? To take care of ourselves? Unless you can’t,” he added. “Except for me, a bird is just going to come and take me away.”

“Oh really, a big bird?” I asked.

“Yup,” he answered. “It’s just going to come in and grab me and carry me off.”

Like I said, you never know where the conversation is going to go!

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Mcelwain: Gators Much Farther Along

When Jim McElwain took the Florida Gators to the SEC title game last year, he knew it would be a hard act to follow. On Wednesday night in Jacksonville to talk with the Gator faithful, McElwain said recruiting this area is key to continued success.

“We have roughly 15 to 17 players from this neck of the woods,” McElwain said. “The success of those guys, we have three starters from this area.”

With an emphasis on being better in the passing game for 2016, McElwain said some of the onus will fall on the receiving corps, including Kenny’s Ahmad Fullwood.

“We wanted him to be aggressive with the ball in the air,” the Gator Head Coach explained. “He made two plays in the spring game that were great. He’s really been a good mentor for the young guys.”

A lot of the experiences for McElwain, his staff and the players this year are all about just doing it again. In his first year it took a while for everybody to know what they were supposed to be doing. In year two, the expectations are known, and everybody’s adjusted.

“We’re so much farther along. Understanding what we need to do to move forward,” he said. “Our team understanding about how to go about your daily business. The meetings, practice, the weight room.”

That progress showed in the spring game where McElwain was impressed with the process as much as he was with the result. That wasn’t by accident. Spring of 2016 was a whole different experience for everybody in Gainesville.

“I really felt of our 15 full practices where there was only a practice and a half where I said, ‘I’m not sure we got better today.’ And that reflects on the leadership guys are taking.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Armada Get 1st Win 2-1 vs. Miami FC

It took nearly an extra week but USA Soccer Hall of Famer Tony Meola has his first win as the head coach of the Jacksonville Armada. In their home opener, the Armada defeated the expansion Miami FC 2-1 at the Baseball Grounds on Friday night.

Earlier in the week, Meola said the Armada needed a fast start. They got that in the 20th minute with Junior Sandoval beating the Miami keeper in the upper 90 to take a 1-nil lead. Six minutes later, Miami tied it on a header from close range and it was 1-1..

Just 10 minutes later a low shot by Pascal Millien from distance didn’t have much on it but keeper Daniel Vega couldn’t control it for a 2-1 Armada lead. The two teams played a scoreless second half.

“We were at home and that was the idea. Nothing short of 3 points. It wasn’t the prettiest but they’re not all pretty,” Meola said on the field after the victory. “We did what we needed to to get the win tonight,”

Taking 17 shots, the Armada didn’t have a problem firing from outside the box, taking 12 long shots in the process. Miami FC took 13 shots but only 5 were on target.

Scoring the first goal of the game, Sandoval said afterwards he called it all week. “We got the win we were looking for, especially at home,” the Armada midfielder said. In his first start he told his teammates all week they were going to win the game and he was going to score a goal. “My teammates knew it, I told them all week.”

With the win the Armada pull to 1-1 and gain three points in the standings. Next Saturday the team faces the Strikers in Ft. Lauderdale. On Wednesday May 4th they’ll be home vs. FC Edmonton at 6:30.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Rashean Retires As A Jaguar

He was a know quantity when it came to football. Speed, reaction, hands, determination and on-field presence. Rashean Mathis’ career at Englewood High and at Bethune-Cookman showed he could play the game. What was unknown was whether Mathis’ physical gifts would translate to the tough world of professional football. As a second round pick of the Jaguars, Mathis was a bit under the radar but not for people close to the game.

Had it not been for a broken leg as a senior in high school, Rashean would have been at Florida State. But after his injury, the Seminoles backed off a bit and Rashean’s mother said he was going to Bethune because they never wavered.

He was the first true “cover corner” the Jaguars ever had. He went about his business, never complained and was always accountable. Over his 13-year career, 10 with the Jaguars, Mathis grabbed more than 30 interceptions and had the ability coaches love: availability. Rashean played in 175 games in his career, starting 129 with the Jaguars.

“I always wanted to leave the game before the game left me. It’s the right time,” he said Wednesday at his retirement press conference hosted by the Jaguars at the stadium. Rashean signed a one-day contract to retire as a Jaguar, saying it was great to be able to do that at home.

“This moment is special. It’s even more special to me as I stand in front of you because I’m not an emotional guy, but it’s touching. This means a lot.” Mathis was joined by most of the Jacksonville media Wednesday afternoon as well as teammates, athletic staff and coaches during the celebration of his career. Teammate Maurice Williams spoke eloquently about Mathis’ career calling him the “ideal teammate.”

As thoughtful as ever, Rashean spoke a lot about being a “man of God” and how being a family man was an important part of “being a man.” He added he enjoyed playing in Jacksonville, close to home at first because he could stay close to his family. But he said it grew into seeing the impact he could have in his home community that really made playing here special.

Perhaps his most poignant statement was about how professional athletes are viewed once they step into that “pay for play” arena.

“We’re not just numbers,” Rashean intoned, speaking without notes. “It wasn’t just a ’27’ on my back. It means a lot to be looked at as a man. A man that might’ve not had much who has come into a lot needs to be guided. He needs to be guided. He can’t be put on the track and told just to run. We need to be guided.” Mathis gave credit to a lot of different people in the Jaguars organization who helped him navigate toward maturity early in his career.

And when it came time to leave the game, he wanted to do it honestly, without hanging on.

“When I sign my name on something,” he said, “I want to be all the way there. I don’t know if it would have been like that this year. I’m still in a competitive mode mentally. I still think I can lace ’em up right now. But I’m not there any more.”

Mathis says the concussion he had last year played a part in his decision but wasn’t the overriding factor.

“I took it seriously. I became educated about it, adding that the concussion issue is real. “We need to embrace it, learn more about it.”

Leaning on his faith and his family, Mathis says he’ll spend his time in Jacksonville still being invested in the community and won’t be a stranger. Plus you’ll probably see him on the golf course on a regular basis. Mathis has worked his game on his own “to about a four handicap” but is currently in a golf academy where they’ve deconstructed his swing and he’s putting it back together. He’ll probably play in some celebrity pro-ams as well.

“It’s a way for me to compete,” he shared with the assembled crowd.

I was shocked and humbled when Rashean finished taking questions and thanked me from the podium saying, “Sam believed in me. He taught me how to be a professional: be on time, be prepared, do it the right way.” I had selected Rashean to be the co-host of our Monday night show “The End Zone” after a couple of years on the roster. He far exceeded any of my expectations. We did talk about how to conduct yourself and about life in general a lot but just like with your kids, you never know when they’re listening. I might have put some ideas in Rashean’s head but he put them into action.

Sometimes you hear things that really make sense when talking about athletic competition that apply just as easily in everyday life. I thought Rashean summed it up perfectly.

“I’d do it all over again. Hopefully I’d find God earlier and do a better job.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Masters Traditions Like No Other

Each year in the run up to the first full week of April, in hushed tones we hear an announcer say, “A tradition like no other, the Masters.” It’s a catchy phrase but it’s actually true. The Masters has a tradition like no other sporting event. Other events have traditions, they drink milk in Victory Lane at the Indy 500 and the winners at Wimbledon get a chance to meet royalty. But at the Masters the traditions start early and continue through the sunset Green Jacket ceremony on Sunday.

I’ve been in Augusta for the Masters each year since 1979. As a young reporter in Charleston, S.C. I was excited to get my first invitation to cover golf’s first Major of the year. I was a little surprised when I arrived at Augusta National and it was tucked into a corner on Washington Road amid fast-food restaurants and discount stores. Just a small sign amongst the trees showed the way to Magnolia Lane. Back then, the media was allowed to come in the main gate, and then directed to the side where one of the practice area was a large expanse of green in front of the clubhouse. A gravel-covered parking lot had a single post near the middle that said “media” with volunteers showing the way. A short walk to the right of the clubhouse was the “media center” a Quonset hut down two wooden stairs with a manual scoreboard in the front and the clatter of portable, manual typewriters filling the air. Tom Place, the PGA Tour’s on-site media coordinator, saw me at the back door, no doubt looking bewildered, and shepherded me through the credentialing process. Not much past my 23rd birthday, I’m sure I was the youngest “reporter” in the building. I met Furman Bisher from Atlanta and Edwin Pope from Miami. Other icons of writing at the time like Herbert Warren Wind (he named “Amen Corner”) were scattered around the “room.” Pre-internet, pre-computers, pre-cell phones, it was a place full of activity. Everything was done manually. The scoring, the announcements, everything.

Being a city kid form Baltimore, I didn’t know much about golf before I went to college and stepping onto the golf course at Augusta National was like being dropped into a dream. From the golf shop the course unfolds in front of you as an expanse of green like I’d never seen. A former nursery, Augusta National had trees and flowers of every variety that were breathtaking.

You often hear the Masters described as “this special week.” Yes the tournament provides the backdrop for that, but the “specialness” comes in the people you see every year under the oak tree at the clubhouse, returning to experience the first elements of spring and renewing old friendships. As a sports fan, there’s no place like the veranda at Augusta National. I’ve seen just about every major sports figure at one time or another, relaxed and enjoying the atmosphere. The members provide part of that, a genteel-ness that can be attributed to the Masters home in Georgia but also to the gentlemanly nature of the game of golf and the traditions the game itself holds.

I’ve smoked a cigar with Sonny Jurgensen sitting on the porch of “The National” and had breakfast with Arnold Palmer in the upstairs dining room that once had a “Gentlemen Only” sign posted at the bottom of the stairs.

At my first Masters, the television station I was working for couldn’t afford a photographer so I enlisted my Dad to point the camera when I was conducting interviews. After Fuzzy Zoeller made the winning putt on 11 in sudden death, a member brought Zoeller back toward the clubhouse in a golf cart, stopping in front of me so I could ask the newest Masters champion a few questions. As he walked toward me I could hear my Dad behind me saying, “I don’t see him, I don’t see him.” A glance over my shoulder showed the viewfinder disconnected from the camera, easily fixed with one turn of the wrist behind my back. “There he is,” my Dad said as I shook hands with Fuzzy. The story line that week was Zoeller playing so well as a rookie at Augusta National and the fact that his wife was back in Indiana about to give birth to their first child. “Are you a dad yet?” I blurted out, putting the microphone under Fuzzy’s chin. “I don’t know,” he said with a laugh, “but after that she’s probably on her way to the hospital!” As I went to ask a second question, out of the dark about twenty microphones identifying media outlets from all over the world were pointed at me as I pulled my own mic back. That’s when I first realized: this is a big deal.

It’s at Augusta National where I’ve played 18 holes with Brent Musberger and caddied for David Duval in the par three contest. It’s where I got to know Pat Summerall and Hall of Famer Frank Chirkinian, the legendary golf producer. It’s there on the patio at lunch with the then-President of CBS Sports Peter Lund where I heard him say, “You know Sam, I got it down to you and Jim (Nantz) and for the life of me I can remember why I picked Jim.” (Yes, crushing) It’s where I encouraged my friend Todd to propose to his girlfriend, saying, “Really? Amen Corner would be the perfect spot.” And it’s where Chirkinian invited me to play one Monday after the Masters and I brought my friend former NFL quarterback Matt Robinson. “What is this the Chirkinian invitational,” the pro said with a laugh followed by, “You guys go over to the 10th tee and start on the back.” A dream come true for any golfer at any level.

It’s a worldwide event that happens close to home as evidenced by the number of languages you hear spoken on the golf course among the patrons and in and around the clubhouse. Two years ago a man making the “strike a match” motion approached me under the oak tree. Once I realized he spoke no English and he recognized that my Spanish was not good, we had a laugh and I gave him a matchbook and an extra cigar I was carrying. He was part of the Argentine Golf Federation, one of dozens invited to Augusta each year to represent the game in their country. The next afternoon while headed inside, my new Argentine friend tracked me down and insisted we share some time, and one of his cigars, under the oak. That doesn’t happen anywhere else.

Over the years I’ve covered every aspect of the tournament allowed from the practice rounds (which used to be open to anyone for a $15 admission) to the Thursday tradition of the ceremonial starters to the final putt dropping on Sunday. Sometimes our news management has sent me there for a week, sometimes for a day, and sometimes, not at all. On those occasions I’ve thought it was important enough to get there on my own and carry on my own tradition of being at The Masters. Because as I found out early on: it’s a big deal.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

NFL Contributes To HS Player Safety

With the continued advancement of coaching, nutrition and overall data in sports the natural progression is to keep up with those advancements with better player care. That’s the goal of Project 17, a public initiative that is dedicated to place full-time certified athletic trainers at all 17 high schools in Duval Country by 2020.

Five high schools, Jackson, Raines, Baldwin, Englewood and Ribault benefitted from the program last year and two more, Parker and Westside will have trainers thanks to Project 17 in the 2016-2017 school year.

“Certified athletic trainers are no longer a luxury; they are a necessity, especially in youth sports,” says Robert Sefcik, executive director of the JSMP. “Heat stroke, cardiac arrest, concussion and complications of sickle cell trait are real dangers in sports. Many sports injuries are preventable, so that is JSMP’s primary goal; however, when injuries do occur, being able to recognize and immediately respond to them is critical. That’s what certified athletic trainers do.”

Certified athletic trainers are licensed health care providers who collaborate with physicians and act as a first line of defense for high school student-athletes. Without certified athletic trainers, injuries may be overlooked or treated inadequately. Project 17 aims to reduce the incidence of sports-related injuries and endorse best practice standards and appropriate care for injuries as they occur.

Last year the Jaguars foundation donated $50,000 to the project and the NFL matched that this year. League Commissioner Roger Goodell was in town to receive the inaugural Leadership in Sports Health, Safety and Research Award on behalf of the league.

At a question and answer session, Goodell revealed he had a concussion playing baseball in high school and his twin daughters rely on their school’s athletic trainers to help get them through the season.

Goodell said of the Project 17 initiative, “It is exciting to see the collaborative approach the Jacksonville community is taking to enhance safety in high school sports by adding comprehensive athletic training programs with the support of the Jaguars and the NFL. Through Project 17, the Jacksonville Sports Medicine Program has crafted a proactive, evidence-based approach to getting student-athletes the medical supervision they need and deserve, which can serve as a model for other communities in the U.S.”