Park City footballers learn from NFL players |

Park City footballers learn from NFL players

Two years ago, football coach Aaron Alford unexpectedly passed away. He had just finished his first year running the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All-Time) Football Camp, a camp designed to teach football to the children of Park City and the surrounding areas while having fun doing it.

Now, Alford’s brother, Tony, an assistant coach at Ohio State, has taken the reins for the camp (now called the Aaron Alford Memorial G.O.A.T. Camp) and has run it for the past two years.

On Monday morning, the third year of the camp began at Park City High School’s Dozier Field, complete with a star-studded roster of visiting coaches and college and NFL players working alongside local youth coaches and high school players.

Detroit Lions players Theo Riddick and TJ Jones, whom Alford coached at Notre Dame, showed up to help coach the Park City athletes. Both Riddick and Jones said Alford’s impact on their lives made the decision to help a no-brainer.

"Coach Alford coached me my whole career at Notre Dame," Riddick said. "I got close with him and his family, so when we heard the news that his brother had passed away unexpectedly, it was a hard hit — not just for him, but for us, too. We never really had time to make it other years, but this year, a slot opened and we had a chance to make it, so we’re here."

"I lost my father the year after he lost his," Jones added. "He was very close to my dad after recruiting me since my junior year of high school, so he sort of stepped in as my father figure. Coming in to help with this camp, it’s almost like if my dad would have asked me to work a camp. If I’m able to make it, which I was, I’m going to come out here."

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Tony Alford said he was thrilled with the turnout for the first day of the camp.

"I thought it went great," he said. "We had 200-plus kids and it seemed like they were all engaged and having a good time."

Alford credits the passion the coaches — including Montana State’s Bo Beck and Top Gun QB Academy Director and Founder Bill Reagan — bring to the game for making the camp successful.

"It’s a great group," he said. "The visiting coaches did an amazing job, as did the local coaches and the high school kids."

Riddick and Jones said giving back to kids through camps like this show that, in addition to being role models for the kids, NFL players are just regular guys, too.

"I remember the influence of players my dad knew and how they rubbed off on me," Jones said. "Being able to return the favor, it says a lot about the kids they’re hopefully going to grow up to be one day. Hopefully I can be the role model they’re looking for."

"They’re the next generation," Riddick added. "We know what it takes [to play at higher levels] and that goes a long way for them. They see us on TV and they view us as being untouchable — like a god or some superhero — when we’re just as normal as their parents or their cousins or older brothers."

For Alford, the camp provides a chance to instill good values in children while teaching them a game he loves.

"This is the best game in the world," he said. "I’m biased, but I’m OK with that. There are so many valuable life lessons that are taught in this game that you can’t get anywhere else."

Jones said he had a blast on the first day, sharing his receiving knowledge with the campers.

"I had a great time with the kids, running around," he said. "The elevation got to me a little bit and I got a little dizzy, but other than that, we had a great time. It was the most fun I think I’ve ever had at a kids’ camp."

Fortunately, Riddick added, he and Jones got a bit of a break during the later portion of the camp.

"We were running around the first half," he said. "Luckily, the second half was all defense and we don’t know much about that. But it was a great first half — the kids were enthusiastic about everything."

Alford said he hopes to continue the camp next year. He wants to keep Aaron’s vision alive.

"With my brother’s situation and his vision of this camp, that’s where it really started," he said. "You’re talking about a guy, I don’t know if I’ve ever met a better person, a better human being, a person who was more invested in kids than he was. I never really could figure out what he loved about this community because I only came out and saw him once. Our schedules were so busy and unfortunately, I didn’t make the time to come out here. Now that I’ve been out here, I can see why he wasn’t leaving this place.

"He was trying to give to his community, and if I can help continue that vision and that legacy, then God bless, I’m going to do it. It’s not about these college coaches or the NFL guys or me — it’s about this community and this youth league."