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At the third annual Leather Helmet Football Camp at Hazlewood High, the Golden Bears’ D.J. Jones runs the 40-yard dash as trainer John Patton of SPARQ times him.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
At the third annual Leather Helmet Football Camp at Hazlewood High, the Golden Bears’ D.J. Jones runs the 40-yard dash as trainer John Patton of SPARQ times him.

It’s football in June in Town Creek
Leather Helmet camp gives players off-season training

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

TOWN CREEK — Florence-based athletic trainer John Patton made sure to bring his gear for the Leather Helmet Football Camp at Hazlewood High.

Parachutes, cones, hurdles — all colored in a sort of fluorescent green and black.

Patton, a SPARQ certified trainer was there to teach the players age 7 to 18 different training techniques, while also testing them for speed and agility.

“We do tons of different drills to make it fun for the kids,” Patton said. “When they see improvement it builds confidence.”

SPARQ stands for speed, agility, reaction and quickness. It is an upstart athletic training company with a web of trainers nationwide. According to Patton, there are six total in Alabama, including well-known Decatur native Conley Duncan, a former Alabama linebacker who works with many local high school athletes.

SPARQ has designed tests for athleticism, which allows athletes to compare themselves to others.

For football, those tests include the 40-yard dash, a shuttle run, a vertical-leap test and bench press.

The company then rates the players based on a 100-point scale.

“(College coaches) can look on at the ratings and the way the kids are,” Patton said. “It is a protocol set testing, and everybody is tested the same way.”

For example, Rivals.com has started posting the different SPARQ scores for some of the better-known recruits.

Patton was unable to bring some of his more advanced testing equipment to the camp in order to give the players a certain rating, but still tested them in the 40-yard dash.

“I learned some new things,” said Desmond Lavelle, an incoming freshman at Decatur High. “I learned more technique, and they taught me to be more disciplined.”

Not only did Patton teach the athletes different kinds of techniques with his array of SPARQ tools, but other guest coaches helped by giving their own advice.

Former New York Giants strength and conditioning coach Kerry Goode, a Hazlewood alumnus and former Alabama and NFL running back, helped with the training. Former Crimson Tide and NFL defensive back Antonio Langham helped as well.

Clyde Goode, a Hazlewood alum and former Alabama player who organized the event, made a comment that when he was a kid, it was all about just raw talent. But with the different tools at players’ disposals, the bar has been raised.

“When I was in high school we just did the basic stuff and went home,” Clyde Goode said. “Now you have SPARQ training, you have specialists come out here.

“Not only can you teach the fundamentals, but you can specialize in skill training If we had something like this 15 to 20 years ago, there is no telling what we could have done.

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