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Texans JPD program reaches new heights


A coach gives technique instruction to middle school players at a Texans Junior Player Development practice.


Feb. 6 was a proud day for the Houston Texans. That's because, on college football's National Signing Day, 14 local high school football players who once participated in the Texans Junior Player Development (JPD) program signed a letter of intent to play football at a major university.

Each spring, the Texans and NFL jointly sponsor the JPD program, a free full-contact football camp for local middle school students in the Greater Houston area. Directed by Texas High School Football Hall of Fame coach Ray Seals of Madison High School, the 12-day program focuses on football technique and character education and teaches every participant every position through a step-by-step progression of skill instruction.

Texans players visit with the children during registration and at the program's final event, a Jamboree scrimmage day at the Texans' Methodist Training Center indoor practice facility.

The program helps to counterbalance what Seals said is a sorely underdeveloped middle school football system in the Houston Independent School District. According to Seals, very few Houston middle schools, especially in low-income areas, have structured football programs, with teams of 150-200 players often led by only two or three coaches.

That causes talented youth league players to lose interest in the sport, and those who continue to play to fall vastly behind in their development.

"We get these kids into high school, they're fundamentally not sound at all because they haven't had the fundamentals, the techniques taught to them," Seals said. "And that's what this program does; it's strictly based on techniques and fundamentals.

"Kids who have gone through this program and come through our high schools, it's so much different, because in those 12 days, you get a lot done. You get a lot of discipline put-in time, you get a lot of character education put-in time. You just can see the difference in them."

Seals, who coached Titans quarterback Vince Young and a host of other players at Madison who have gone on to play at the collegiate and professional levels, brought the NFL's national program to Houston in 2000. Now that original camp participants have begun to graduate from high school, the success of the program has become evident as dozens of Texans JPD participants have earned scholarships to play college football.

{QUOTE}Among the 14 Texans JPD alumni who signed with a major college football program in 2008 were Yates High School's LeRoy Chevalier (Texas A&M) and Damion Square (Alabama) and Madison's Lee Almanza (Southern). University of Houston cornerback Loyce Means, a 2007 Madison graduate, is also a former JPD participant.

All honed their skills at a young age at Texans JPD camps, which youths from lower-income homes are able to attend only because of the free admission.

"A camp like this, a three-week camp, would cost them in the neighborhood of $1,000 or more, so it's definitely benefiting for the underprivileged kids," Seals said. "They could never afford to go to something like this, so you get an opportunity because they meet pro players. (Texans players) come out and sign autographs. (The kids) get taught by some coaches, somebody that they don't know, and you get a different perspective on how football really should be taught.

"I'm sold on it. I'm a 100 percent believer. This is one of the best programs to ever hit this area."

In the program's first year in 2000, 180 kids participated in a 24-day program at one site on the campus of Rice University.

Today, Texans JPD has expanded to seven sites in Houston and one in Dallas, with each camp attracting more than 150 kids for what Seals calls a "glorified spring training for middle schools." The program caters to children who speak English or Spanish; one site is run by a coach fluent in the Spanish language.

Texans JPD also benefits local coaches by teaching them how to organize and run a practice and how to incorporate character education into programs.

The Texans are proud to sponsor the program and make an impact on youths and youth football in the Houston community.

"The Junior Player Development program is one of the most important programs that the Houston Texans have," Texans fan development manager Ben Rose said. "It's helping kids with life skills and the things that they need to continue their educational career and to be successful in life, but it's also helping those same kids achieve their dream of playing in the NFL and honing their football skills in middle school and trying to keep them interested so they stick with football in high school, and hopefully that gets them to earn a college scholarship.

"One day we'll have a Texans Junior Player Development player here on the Houston Texans, and that'll be a very exciting day for me."

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