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Rams Unveil NFL's First Youth Training Academy

Posted Jun 18, 2013


For St. Louis area kids dreaming of one day wearing the horns for the Rams or kids just looking to learn a little more about football while staying active, there’s a place they can go to get a little bit closer to those aspirations.

The St. Louis Rams Training Academy powered by Elite Football officially opened on Monday afternoon with a football camp for about 175 area kids. The academy, located in Chesterfield, is the first team-branded youth football training facility of its kind in any NFL market.

“We want the Rams Training Academy to be the place where kids want to go to learn the best instruction and really learn how to play the Rams way,” Brian Killingsworth, the Rams vice president of marketing and brand strategy said.

While the facility is a new idea that seems to have popped up overnight, rest assured that reaching this point and executing the idea has been many years in the making.

A LABOR OF LOVE

Matt Biermann is a former wide receiver at the University of Missouri. When his playing career came to a close, he had little doubt that he wanted to find a way to stay involved in the game in some way, shape or form.

Biermann made the obvious move, opting to teach and coach at a local high school and middle school, a career that began in 1999. Soon after, Biermann realized that he was coaching on a staff of about three with more than three times as many kids on the team in need of instruction and fundamental help.

So Biermann began working with his players on an individual basis on his own time. It didn’t take long for him to see that there was a serious void that needed to be filled.

“I started training some of them on my own time and I realized this is something I wish I would have had when I was in high school to prepare me for the next level,” Biermann said. “It really just spawned from that.”

From 1999 to 2006, Biermann continued to work with players on his own, specializing in coaching more than just the speed and agility drills that can be found at various national chain facilities. Biermann wanted to do more football-specific training and found a niche working with quarterbacks and receivers.

By 2006, Biermann had decided to go all in on the personal football training idea. He found a facility in Chesterfield that was owned by Velocity Sports and rented space as a sub-letter. With a defined destination, Biermann’s plan began to take shape.

Just six months into the new venture, Biermann saw nothing but positive growth potential and predicted that one day the space would belong to Elite Football and the need to rent would disappear.

Meanwhile, the Rams found themselves stuck in something of a rut in terms of involvement with youth football. While they had managed to form connections with things like flag football and Punt, Pass and Kick competitions, they didn’t have as much of a footprint at the grassroots level as they would have liked.

Biermann began developing a relationship with the Rams but it didn’t materialize into much right away. In the past few years, though, Biermann began to see a shift in not only the relationship but the Rams’ involvement on the youth football side.

Spearheaded by Manager of Fan Development Kyle Eversgerd, the advent of the High School Player Development camps and subsequent national tournaments created an easy synergy between Biermann’s goals and the vision of Eversgerd.

“There’s been a huge shift with the Rams that is very community focused, cares about the game,” Biermann said. “We want to build from the ground up and be very grass roots, cares about every kid that is playing football or is even a fan of football. That’s the exciting thing for us.”

ALL ABOUT TIMING

By his own admission, Biermann said that any initial attempts to do something like what the Rams and Elite Football unveiled Monday would likely not have succeeded had they happened seven or eight years ago.

The Rams weren’t yet in position to get behind such a project and Biermann said his business wasn’t quite at the level needed to support it, either.

“We have had a lot of doors shut in our face,” Biermann said. “We’ve had a lot of people tell us we don’t need to do this. It’s been a battle of one player, one family, one team at a time. It is a labor of love. The Rams validating what we are doing, it’s one of those things you couldn’t even really ask for. It’s one thing for a high school team to say these guys are good. It’s another thing for the top of the ranks, the NFL team in your city, to stand behind you and say ‘Hey, this is the real deal.’ That’s very humbling. We are excited about it but at the same time, it’s going to make us raise our game to another level which goes back to what I said. Six or seven years ago we weren’t ready for that.”

So the two sides began taking baby steps. Biermann was asked to speak at one of the HSPD camps and went and delivered a message on time management to the campers in attendance.

Three years ago, Biermann and his group attempted to buy the current building but couldn’t make a deal work. Finally, this year, the building became theirs. It didn’t take long for Biermann, Eversgerd and Killingsworth to sit down and hash out a plan for what the academy could become.

“Kyle  and Matt have been working together the last four or five years and they have such a great relationship that when the opportunity presented itself to potentially build a facility like this and have it be Rams branded, we jumped at the opportunity,” Killingsworth said. “Matt, Kyle and I sat down and discussed what it would mean to the community and to the Rams to have a facility like this that is open year round and can be the central hub for all Rams activity on a youth level for kids ages 3 to 18. It was something we could do to plant our Rams flag in the community to have offseason events, in season events and really a home where kids can learn how to play the Rams way on and off the field.”

For Biermann and the people at Elite Football, the timing couldn’t have worked out any better. Having the Rams involved served as a validation that hard work and doing things the right way can pay off.

“I think the Rams being involved is really going to expose the mission of what we are doing and why we are doing it to the masses,” Biermann said. “It can completely transform how the game is being taught not only here but across the country. The legitimizing factor is the St. Louis Rams.”
 
FULL SERVICE TRAINING

While in many ways, the Rams Training Academy is still a work in progress; the current state of the facility is already top notch.

At 23,000 square feet with a turf surface for training, a 60-yard track for speed and running work, a full Olympic weight room, cutting edge video technology that allows for classroom and tape study and even more space for expansion including possible rehab facilities, the academy offers full service training to any young athletes who seek it.

Football players can take part in the “Football 360” program which includes sports psychology, skill development, learning to read defenses or offenses and understand the game at a higher level to on field skill development to the actual performance of teaching the athlete to run faster.

For example, a quarterback can go for a training session that will include not only on-field fundamental drills but also mental training. In one room, aspiring signal callers can go in and play a coverage recognition game where the television will flash a coverage on the screen and then go blank, asking the player to identify the coverage as fast as possible.

And though the facility is aimed at football players, it’s open to athletes from all sports with the elite training academy.

According to Biermann, what really sets the academy apart is the coaches who work with the kids on a daily basis. Elite football boasts a stable of 34 talented coaches from all over the area, each with a specialty and an expertise.

Rather than run-of-the-mill, cookie cutter instruction, kids can request to learn a certain position and learn from a coach who does nothing but teach the finer points of that spot on the field.

“We don’t ask them to coach anything else,” Biermann said. “We ask them to coach what they coach and be experts at what they teach. In the future, some of the things we want to do are have our coaches learn more from the Rams and then taking it back and bringing it back here.”

In the time since it’s opened, Elite Football has worked with eight players who have gone on to the NFL and dozens of others who have played at the collegiate level. During Monday’s camp, one of the academy’s most prominent alumni, Rams undrafted free agent cornerback Robert Steeples, returned to his old stomping grounds and took notice of just how far the academy has come.

“I was pretty proud,” Steeples said. “I have been a part of the elite path and known all the people since I was a freshman in high school. I have always been raised to believe if you keep doing well, people will take interest and eventually want to follow. That’s exactly what’s happened. They started pretty much on the bottom, worked their way up, got good followers, put out a product that was legit to prepare their players. Eventually the Rams followed and now they are just bolstering it as partners.”

THE FIRST OF ITS KIND

Considering the nation-wide popularity of football, the growth potential for the idea of a team-affiliated youth training academy would seem to be off the charts. Still, the Rams Training Academy became the first of its kind in any of the 32 NFL cities when its doors opened officially on Monday afternoon.

Upon entering the building, players will be greeted by a large Rams logo followed by the NFL shield and the Elite Football Academy logo. The facility is dedicated to Biermann’s father, Bill, who was a huge Rams fan and an even bigger fan of his son.

Adorning the walls on the inside are wall-sized prints of players like Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan throughout the hallways. Upon entering the actual training area, the walls are covered in banners. One side features Rams legends such as Isaac Bruce, Deacon Jones and Dick Vermeil and the other is full of current Rams such as Jake Long, Sam Bradford and James Laurinaitis.

In addition, the opening of the facility also comes with an advisory board which will continue to find ways to help the academy grow. The Rams Training Academy Leadership board is led by Rams coach Jeff Fisher and also includes Bruce, Jack Youngblood, Aeneas Williams, Marshall Faulk, Orlando Pace, Torry Holt, broadcaster Kara Henderson Snead, NFL executive Joe Browne, professional wrestler John Cena, motivational speaker Paul Vitale, ESPN.com contributor Anna McDonald, Biermann and Eversgerd.

Each participant that goes through the Rams Training Academy will be taught a leadership curriculum, put together by the advisory board and will receive a leadership certificate upon completion.
 
“We felt like it was the perfect synergy between Elite Football and the Rams to partner on this and pioneer this facility here in St. Louis as the first of its kind,” Killingsworth said. “We hope that other markets will catch on and realize the value in bringing the right way to play to every NFL city.”

Although the Rams Training Academy just opened its doors officially, plans are already in the works for what comes next.

Biermann believes the connection with the Rams will allow his coaches more access to what Rams coaches do and for his coaches to gain tips and pointers to bring back to the academy for work with young players.

Other plans include the development of player safety training in conjunction with the league’s “Heads Up” initiatives as well as a space for meetings and training on everything from dealing with injuries to handling the recruiting process.

Likening the on-going progress of the academy to that of a football player who only works harder after he gets his first Division I scholarship offer, Biermann and the Rams have no intention of slowing the progress they’ve already made.

“Having a center of excellence here and being the first to do it, this is something that didn’t happen overnight,” Biermann said. “It’s been on a course for many, many years and now it’s coming together. This could be the spawning of something for every NFL city to take on the same idea. The Rams being the leader of this is a very unique situation for us because it legitimizes for us everything we have been doing for a long time and it’s going to bring even more focus to football.”

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