WILMINGTON – After 2 1/2 hours of shuttling between football drills both inside the Chase Fieldhouse and outside in the heat, it was time for the kids to ask the three NFL players from Delaware some questions.
So one of the 250 campers at the TITUS Free Community Football Clinic on Friday asked Darnell Savage, a safety for the Green Bay Packers, who’s a better defensive back than him?
Savage didn’t hesitate and responded, “Nobody!”
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Another asked Brian O’Neill, a right tackle for the Minnesota Vikings, what it’s like playing with wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who is the first player in NFL history with at least 3,000 receiving yards in his first two seasons.
A quick aside: Yes, Jefferson still haunts the Eagles, who took wide receiver Jalen Reagor with the 21st pick in the 2020 draft, one pick ahead of Jefferson.
“I love it,” O’Neill exclaimed.
And another asked Troy Reeder, who started at linebacker for the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams last season before moving on to the LA Chargers during the offseason, if he would’ve been sad had the Rams lost the Super Bowl to the Cincinnati Bengals.
“Very sad,” Reeder responded, adding later: “I would’ve been crushed.”
Instead, Reeder brought with him a replica of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and he was exuberant showing it off.
The kids, ranging at ages from 8 to 16, listened intently not only during the question and answer session, but during the various drills that included a mini NFL Combine (timed 40-yard dash, bench press, long jump and other drills), along with offensive and defensive drills.
And really, for Reeder, O’Neill and Savage, the experience was just as rewarding as they participated in some of the drills with the kids. They had grown up working out at Titus, founded and run by Shawn Hoffman. They each credited those training sessions with enabling them to star in high school, college and now in the NFL.
And they were determined to give back. The clinic was part of a program to raise money to start a Titus scholarship to provide opportunities for local athletes who otherwise couldn’t afford to train at Titus, which is housed at the Chase Fieldhouse.
Reeder, O’Neill and Savage have contributed more than $50,000 to the cause, and area businesses have donated as well.
“We felt that this Titus program pushed us to reach our goals,” Reeder said. “So it’s important for us. Our goal is the money raised through this will ultimately help underprivileged kids who’ll have a shot to play at the college level, or just be really good high school players.
“They need this, and I think it’s really cool to give those guys an extra edge to become that next Darnell Savage, Brian O’Neill, or Troy Reeder.”
Reeder and O’Neill went to high school at Salesianum, while Savage went to Caravel Academy. Reeder began his college career at Penn State before transferring to Delaware, while O’Neill went to Pittsburgh and Savage to Maryland.
Now, they’re in the NFL. Savage was a first-round pick of the Packers in 2019, while O’Neill was the Vikings’ second-round pick in 2018. Reeder signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2019 before moving on to the Chargers in March.
“It all just started with the love of the game,” Reeder said. “Darnell was in eighth grade, I was a freshman (in high school), Brian was a freshman, and we were in here because we wanted to play on our high school teams.”
Savage, for one, said he could see a younger version of himself in the campers.
“It brought you back to a point where you were at that age,” he said. “To see that’s where I started, everybody has a chance. You just have to stay the course and stay dedicated. If you do the right things, most of the time, things work out for you.
“When you’re that age, you don’t really know what’s next. You just go day by day. That someone is telling you don’t waste your opportunities, make the most of your opportunities, work hard, do good in school , all that kind of stuff, it means a lot.”
It was the same for O’Neill.
“Give them belief that athletes from Delaware have made it to the highest levels, and encourage them to know that it is possible,” he said.
The message resonated with the campers.
“They’re from your community, and they did what you want to do,” said Mekhi Cannon, a rising senior linebacker at Caravel Academy. “They’re giving back … They came through Titus and put that work in. That shows me that I gotta stay into it.”
The three NFL players had wanted to do something like this for the past two years, but couldn’t because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So they were ecstatic to finally get that chance. And it’s also why they plan to make it an annual event.
“With this turnout? Absolutely,” Savage said with a laugh. “I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I’m all for it.”
Reeder and O’Neill said they felt the same way.
Eagles add a safety
The Eagles signed veteran safety Jaquiski Tartt to a one-year contract Friday. Tartt was the 49ers’ second-round draft pick in 2015, and he became a full-time starter two years later. In all, Tartt has played in 80 games, all with the 49ers. He has 4 career interceptions.
Tartt is expected to compete for a starting job with Marcus Epps and Anthony Harris.
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.