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Old man winter -- North junior starts to come of age on field

September 09, 2009|By BOB PARASILITI/bobp@herald-mail.com

Even at a tender age, Anthony Winter is a changed man.

That's pretty tough to fathom at this "shaving optional" period of life, but North Hagerstown football coach Dan Cunningham can see it.

That's what a brush with greatness does for a person. Winter isn't great ... yet ... but he got a first-hand look at what it takes to entertain the possiblity of what it takes when he competed at the NFL High School Player Development 7-on-7 national tournament in July in Minneapolis.

"I see a big change in him this year," Cunningham said of his junior tailback/outside linebacker. "He's been going out there playing harder. You can see it in his attitude, his drive and his focus."

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That's what meeting NFL players and coaches, facing some of the nation's best high school players, playing at an NFL training facility and doing things the "NFL way" will tend to do for impressionable young players.

"Football-wise, this was the best experience to see my competition in the nation just by going out of this area," Winter said. "It was a different pace. All the teams could play. Seeing something like that makes you want to work harder."

Winter was one of a handful of players and Cunningham was the assistant coach to Frederick's Vince Ahearn on the Baltimore Ravens' entry into the tournament. The passing-only tournament, sponsored by the National Guard, pitted 16 teams representing their local NFL team. A team for the Washington Redskins also competed in the tournament.

It was a three days' worth of intense experience, which included eight tournament games, along with NFL-styled team meetings, practices, community service and sightseeing events and role-playing skits about life decisions.

The players also got the chance to meet members of the Minnesota Vikings, including owner Mark Wilf, coach Brad Childress, running back Adrian Peterson and lineman Steve Huchinson. All took time to come see the players and give messages.

"I got to meet Hutchinson and shake hands with Peterson," Winter said. "That was a handshake.

"There was a couple of speeches by the players that really hit home. They told us about turning things down to get to what you want. They told us about the decisions they made, turning things down so they could get to the NFL."

Childress impressed upon the campers about "surrounding yourself with the right people." He also reminded the campers that great talent isn't everything as long as they possess heart and desire.

It was the third trip of Cunningham as the team's offensive coordinator while Ahearn ran the defense.

Players who attend the HSPD camps are eligible to play on the "all-star" team.

Each team was allowed up to 12 players and two coaches on the three-day trip to pro football Wonderland. The games were played on a 50-yard field with two 10-minute halves of running clock. Each team started with the ball on the 40 and had to drive for scores with only one first down at the 20. Interceptions were worth three points.

The tournament was taped by NFL Films. Each player received copies of their games and experience. A documentary of the event is shown periodically on the NFL Network.

"It is all credit to the kids," Cunningham said. "They were dedicated because all the players were scattered all over the state. We had players from Walkersville, Catoctin and Linganore on the team. I thought we were the most disciplined team there."

Discipline was a big lesson at the tournament.

When teams flew into Minneapolis, they were greeted and escorted to camp by the National Guard. The trip, the accommadations and the dining was provided by the NFL.

But it came at a price.

"When we walked in and sat down, the NFL director tell us that we have to adhere to NFL rules," Cunningham said. "They told them how to dress ... to put away the jewelry and the do-rags ... and about cellphone use. They called it a rookie symposium. It was their way or the higway."

The NFL provided gear the players were to wear and use, all items from companies that sponser the league, like pass-catching gloves and shirts.

It was three days of constant motion with the meetings, skits, pubic service, sight-seeing and, oh yes, football. And the football was eye-opening to Winter, who was hampered with an injury for part of the trip.

"For Anthony, it was huge," Cunningham said. "He got the opportunity to face Division I talent. When we played Miami, six to eight of those kids already had D-1 offers."

It showed, because Miami won the tournament.

"Going there is going to help me," Winter said. "It showed me that if you are not going 100 percent all the time, you are going to get burned. There was no slacking because these high school players could get by you.

"You never stop going full speed. When we got back and started playing in our 7-on-7 league again, I tried to use what I learned about running routes and about making sure I knem my assignments on defense."

It also gave Winter the itch to improve to become one of those D-I guys with a possible future in the NFL.

"It makes me want to compete more," Winter said. "It gives me an edge because I know I can compete at this level and I keep drawing from it."

But it was more than just football.

"The character things were as big as the football," Cunningham said. "That's because it came from real-life guys. Those (Vikings players) talked and they kids hung on every word. They were precise with their message."

So, on his summer vacation, Anthony Winter grew up in many ways.

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