Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud!
PUM Contributor Isaiah Beckham presents football stories taking place in the region and nationally. From the pros to local high school football stories, if it is taking place in the end zone Beckham has it covered.
June 2021 - EXPLOSIVE, RELENTLESS and INSPIRING Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams Defensive tackle proudly represents Pittsburgh on and off the field, PUM Contributor Isaiah Beckham caught up with Donald as a participant at his annual football camp.
Three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald comes home to Pittsburgh to host a free, youth football skills camp for athletes ages 6 to 18 at his alma mater, Penn Hills High School. Donald, AD99 Solutions, and 2 Tenths Speed & Agility Training presented the Living in the Pocket Youth Football Skills Camp for close to 150 athletes held on June 26th. Donald, who also played for the University of Pittsburgh is recognized as a unanimous All-American and was drafted by the Rams with the 13th pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Eager Athletes from all over the country participated in the camp and best of all we had the opportunity to meet and learn some valuable football techniques on the field with the legendary NFL superstar.
Donald is currently rated as the best player in the NFL and I would agree with RAMSWIRE.com he is a serious force to be reckoned with: “Donald doesn’t play a premier position for the Rams, but he’s established himself as the best defensive tackle in the NFL and the most dominant player at any position. You earn that title by winning three Defensive Player of the Year awards, earning six All-Pro selections and setting the NFL record for the most sacks in a season by a defensive tackle (20.5). At the age of 30, he’s shown no signs of slowing down, either. He’s coming off a season in which he had 13.5 sacks and 28 QB hits, winning Defensive Player of the Year for the third time. And as a result, Pro Football Focus continues to view him as the best player in football.”
For a student athlete striving to make it to the NFL, this was truly a privilege to be in Donald’s presence and better yet, to take a photo and get his autograph well that is a keepsake memory to be cherished. Meeting Donald, I was a little nervous but his personality is very laid-back and he is super chilled. I watched as he patiently greeted each camp participant with kindness and sincerity.
THE CAMP EXPERIENCE: WHAT THE WORKOUT CONSISTED FOR ME
For over three hours in the extremely humid 88 degree weather we worked our butts off while having a blast. We started off with warmups and stretching to get our body’s ready for the intense work ahead of us. Then we all separated into various groups to go through some tough agility drills. I did pretty well on the agility drills because as a running back you have to have quick feet, something I have been working on all summer. Once the agility work was complete, we focused on defensive back drills which was a great experience for me because guarding someone closely one on one is essential in football. We worked on pass drops and shifting our speed at the correct time to learn to get the interceptions. There was one rep where I jumped up and caught the ball with one hand and that seemed to get everyone around me hyped up. My Shady Side Academy football team mate, Deacon Durham and I were on fire, and many of the coaches continued to challenge us with harder drills.
While participating in the camps, I usually like to start off on offense drills but decided to switch it up and get on defense and I did not hold back because this was a great time to show off your skills. Once the ball was snapped, I was as physical as I could be and barely let the player off the line and once we got to start his route I was right there with him and I grabbed the ball out of the air for an interception. That had to be my best DB play, I am finally getting a feel for how you properly guard someone, thanks to camps like this one and my SSA football summer training. I then proceeded to run six more routes against the players and I dominated each one. I focused on two key people to run against because everyone else seemed to be no competition. Near the end of the camp we went back out to run some more 1v1s and this is where it got interesting and competitive. Everyone crowded to one spot to watch five players including Deacon and myself go against each other in more 1v1s. Once it was my turn to run on the first route I was jammed at the line by a player and couldn’t even get off to run my route. I was caught off guard, but I didn't just give up there, I told everyone to run it back so I could redeem myself and that’s exactly what I did. I exploded off the line and dusted the DB then I turned around and the ball floated in the air, it wasn’t really a good pass but I didn’t give up, I hunted the ball down and got the completion. Don’t give up, the play is still in action, I learned to trust myself. (Check out the play on my twitter account: https://twitter.com/ReignBeckham
At the end of the camp, well known Pittsburgh King of football training, Dwayne Brown (aka D. Brown) owner of 2 Tenths Speed & Agility Training, who trains Donald, offered the best advice to camp participants. “You did an excellent job today, you got to keep moving and keep improving, that’s the most important, you need to have good grades, listen to your coaches and parents. You need to know how to take direction. A lot of you guys who have some talent but you need to learn how to take directions or you are not going anywhere.”
I loved this football camp experience and it was one of the best I attended so far this summer. I would definitely recommend this camp to future athletes who want to improve their football skills and techniques. At the end of the day, what made this experience extra special was the legend himself, Aaron Donald who truly demonstrates on and off the field that he has the Heart of a Champion. Not only does he provide this free camp, but he also holds an Annual Prep Forward Program for male African American high school student-athletes to be able to receive access to the organization’s tuition-free academic, athletic, and life skills programming. This tuition-free educational program is offered to African American student-athletes, ages 13-18, throughout Allegheny County.
For me, the most important lesson I learned from one of the greatest NFL players, our Pittsburgh hometown hero, Aaron Donald, “is don’t talk about it, be about it.”
June 29, 2021
Isaiah Reign Beckham
AD99 Solutions Accepting Applications for Annual Prep Forward Program Applications due by July 12th for male African American high school student-athletes to receive access to the organization’s tuition-free academic, athletic, and life skills programming.
NFL veteran Aaron Donald's AD99 Solutions accepts applications now through July 12, 2021 for its Prep Forward program. This tuition-free educational program is offered to African American student-athletes, ages 13-18, throughout Allegheny County. Services for the selected students will begin in early September 2021.
AD99 Solution's Prep Forward curriculum bridges the gap between traditional education and the real world. The year-round program is specifically designed to help prepare African American students and their families for the rigors of higher education, the demands of an evolving job market, and the complexities of a changing world.
Prep Forward services include mentoring, academic support, i.e., tutoring, life skills and job readiness development, holistic health and family support services, and athletic training. Students selected for this program are eligible to participate from the year they're chosen until they graduate from high school. As AD99 prepares for its third academic year, the Prep Forward program has already successfully graduated two original cohort students.
Remaining cohort students have seen a rise in overall grade point average and a reduction in in-school and at-home disciplinary challenges through the program. To learn more or apply, visit https://ad99.org/prep-forward-application/.
Founded in 2019, AD99 Solution's mission is to change the trajectory of Pittsburgh's most vulnerable youth by providing necessary resources in a free, safe environment where they can be empowered to excel academically, socially, and athletically. Visit www.AD99.org to learn more.
Source: AD99.org / images courtesy of AD99 Solutions.
Over 400 athletes from around the country showed up to attend The University of Pittsburgh’s Rising Star Camp 1, held June 6th at the UPMC Sports Complex, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
From Compton, California to New York City, the athletes sporting their new gear, with their game day faces intact, stepped into the facility prepared to showcase their talent.
As a rising sophomore at Shady Side Academy, who signed up in the running back category, this was going to be my first football camp experience, and I really had no idea what to expect, but I felt I was in shape and ready to enjoy the day. The venue was held where the Steelers train and to be able to practice in this magnificent facility was a dream come true. Just knowing the Pittsburgh Steelers new running back Najee Harris' was just practicing on the field, made the venue extra special especially for someone like me who would love to play for the Steelers. Having the Pitt Panthers host this sold out event, you can especially appreciate the fact they have nine championships and to be able to interact one on one with the Pitt coaches was worth the sixty bucks for the camp.
The high school athletes understood this was a great opportunity to show off their skills to the college coaches who came to watch, teach and elevate our game. For some of the athletes this just might be the last chance to get noticed, so its serious business to impress the coaches.
We first broke off to participate in a combine which consisted of the 40 yard dash, broad jump, and line runs. These are the basic skills you need to work on, because the coaches are keeping stats on these particular skills. This felt like the American Idol competition of football, you really just don’t know what exactly coaches are looking for in a high school athlete especially at these camps. I am told, they perhaps have already identified some of the athletes they are interested in, and of course always looking for new talent.
In the running back category, there were about thirty athletes who joined me for our drills. Decked out in my shiny new all black helmet (which got really hot) one of our coaches proceeded to teach us how to get off of tackles when using a stiff arm more effectively and also how to have quicker feet when making cuts and spins. The Pitt coaches were willing to help us improve our game, they were very encouraging in their training details. I really enjoyed most the 1v1s (player vs player) because I was able to show off my skills and also get direct coaching that can help in an in-game situation. This was an opportunity where the coaches and players can watch you closer instead of a large group of players.
I learned while attending this camp, it’s not all about the brawn, you have to get your brain focused while in High School. The resounding message from the coaches is the fact that academics does matter, you need to keep your GPA up as high as you can (prefer over 3.5) because that will help you get noticed by more college recruits. When it comes to your overall effort, that is where you need to have the heart of a champion, you need to give 100 percent effort in your preparation to play football. You need to get faster in your running game, build a stronger body through weights, keep your body healthy by always hydrating and eating healthy meals. You need to also improve your agility by setting up cones or an agility ladder and just going through simple footwork drills. It is the small stuff that counts and if you focus every day on one aspect of your body then you will see the biggest change when you step onto the field, your game will ultimately improve.
Overall this camp experience was worth going to because it showed me new ways of improving my techniques as an athlete and as a student. If you dream of attending a D-1 college like Pitt, this camp provides athletes exposure to their coaches, other talented players and more importantly you have a better idea of what colleges are looking for in future players.
This camp was the real deal, no one was sugar coating the process, if you even get looked at from college recruiters it’s going to take that extra effort work ethic on and off the field. Character matters, researching schools matter, having your social media highlight tape current and available for busy coaches to review is also important.
At the end of the camp day, after experiencing six hours going through training drills in 88 degree weather, I was exhausted, hungry and even more encouraged to pursue football because of the Pitt camp experience. Just keeping it 100, the talent is fierce, but I will encourage you to participate in the Pitt camp in the future or any upcoming football camps because it truly opens your eyes up to the dedication and determination you need to get recruited by colleges. When you walk away from the camp experience hopefully you feel like I did that you love the game of football even more.
The Steelers signed rookie running back Najee Harris, the team's No.1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Harris, who played at the University of Alabama, finished his college career as the Crimson Tide's all-time leading rusher with 3,843 career yards. He also led the school in all-time touchdowns with 57, including a school-record 46 rushing touchdowns and another 11 receiving. Harris' 4,624 all-purpose yards rank second in school history.
Harris rushed for 100 plus yards 13 times in his career, including six both his junior and senior seasons. He won the Doak Walker Award, presented to the top running back in college football, in 2020 and was a unanimous first-team All-American (Associated Press, AFCA, FWAA, The Sporting News and Walter Camp).
Harris said during the team's rookie minicamp that the key for him is to just come in and learn.
Stability has always been a staple for the Steelers, and that stability is evident today as the team announced head coach Mike Tomlin has been signed to a three-year contract extension. The extension will keep Tomlin at the helm through at least the 2024 season.
"I am pleased to announce we have extended Mike Tomlin's contract through the 2024 season," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "Mike is one of the most successful head coaches in the National Football League, and we are confident in his leadership to continue to lead our team as we work to win another championship."
Tomlin, who was hired in 2007, will enter his 15th season with the team in 2021 and is only the third Steelers head coach since the 1969 season, joining Hall of Famers Chuck Noll (1969-91) and Bill Cowher (1992-2006) during that time frame.
"I am extremely grateful for this contract extension and want to thank Art Rooney II and everyone in the organization for the support in my first 14 seasons," said Tomlin. "We have a goal of winning the organization's seventh Super Bowl championship, and I couldn't be more enthusiastic about this upcoming season."
Tomlin is currently the third longest tenured head coach in the NFL. In 2020 he tied late coach Marty Schottenheimer, joining him as the only two head coaches in NFL history to have 14 consecutive non-losing seasons to begin their NFL careers.
From the time he arrived in Pittsburgh, Tomlin found success. He became the youngest head coach in NFL history to both coach in and win a Super Bowl when the Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals, 27-23, in Super Bowl XLIII. At the time Tomlin was 36 years, 323 days old. By winning the Super Bowl in only his second season as a head coach, he also became the fastest to win a Super Bowl title in Steelers' history.
In 14 seasons Tomlin led the Steelers to seven AFC North titles, including 2020, nine playoff berths, and two Super Bowl (XLIII and XLV) appearances.
Tomlin has a 145-78-1 (.650) regular season record, ranking 12th in NFL history with a regular season record of 67 games over .500. The 145 regular season wins are tied for 21st overall in NFL history and are third most among active NFL head coaches. In addition, his .650-win percentage in the regular season ranks second among active head coaches, with a minimum of 100 games, in the NFL and ranks 11th in NFL history.
CNX Resources Corp. (NYSE: CNX), Bettis Brothers, and The Bus Stops Here Foundation announced a partnership intended to bring greater awareness and access to opportunities in the natural gas industry to disadvantaged urban and rural communities within the Pittsburgh region. Additionally, CNX laid out comprehensive goals related to its supply chain and sourcing efforts in the critical area of local workforce diversity.
"With a 157-year legacy in this region, our responsibility to our local communities is something we never stop thinking about and never stop working on. So, the opportunity to partner with Jerome and John Bettis, and their foundation, to help advance this important topic was a no-brainer for us. Jerome is a Pittsburgh legend, and we share his passion for the wellbeing of the people and communities here in our backyard," said CNX Chief Excellence Officer Yemi Akinkugbe. Mr. Akinkugbe continued, "At CNX, we have a home-grown, diverse team and our desire is to continue to build and expand the local talent pool through tangible 'hire local' and diversity targets and goals that help advance middle-class opportunities for all in our region."
With a growing need for local family-sustaining jobs, CNX announced it will purchase all services and materials from providers that, in aggregate, maintain at least a 90% local resident employee base (southwestern PA, eastern OH and northern WV) and will dedicate 40% of the total CNX small business spend to companies within the tri-state area. CNX also committed to a 6% Diverse Business Enterprise (DBE) spend and 7% DBE representation on the CNX vendor roster in 2021.
"Our hope and expectation is that this partnership will advance the conversation and bear tangible results when it comes to opening doors to opportunities that exist in the natural gas industry to the communities that need these opportunities the most. We're proud to help lead this effort within the region we love," said John Bettis, Chief Operating Officer of Bettis Brothers.
As part of the partnership between CNX and The Bus Stops Here Foundation, Jerome Bettis and CNX President and CEO Nick DeIuliis will soon visit Sto-Rox High School to deliver needed technology solutions and speak with students regarding career opportunities in the natural gas industry. This follows recent CNX-led classroom technology efforts with West Greene School District and other community partners in the region. Additional details regarding the Sto-Rox event and other future events related to the partnership are forthcoming.
CNX President and CEO Nick DeIuliis commented, "To us, the concept of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) performance means that we, first and foremost, focus local. We want to be that pipeline that connects local, disadvantaged populations within our region to family-sustaining jobs in energy and manufacturing. Our industry builds broad value for the region and underpins the middle class, and this partnership will help sustain and grow those efforts."
To learn more about CNX's unique Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) approach, accomplishments, and goals, please visit: https://responsibility.cnx.com/esg-overview.html
Jerome and John Bettis
Who could have prepared my football teammates and I at Shady Side Academy for the summer of 2020, for me, it is going down in history as one of the most unpredictable, frustrating, upside down you turn me seasons I have ever encountered. Of course, this is due to the COVID-19 pandemic scare which hit our team with such a great force like a lineman tackling a quarterback without much protection.
Let me backup, it was Spring, March 2020 to be exact, and as an eighth grader, I was anxiously trying to get out of middle school, when COVID-19 reared its ugly head. Students were forced out of our daily school routines and rushed into an online learning experience to be located at home for about three months without much notice or preparation. The online experience was confusing and a little strange in the beginning, it did not feel normal to not be around my classmates, but once I got my ZOOM skills down, I persevered. Needless to say, I missed connecting with my friends and my teachers in person, its hard to recreate the excitement and action that takes place in a classroom, for me it is an important part of the overall learning experience. During my online instruction in the spring, my mom was always looking over my shoulder while I sat at the kitchen table and my dogs were enjoying biting my toes during my endless ZOOMS, but still online learning could not take the place of being at Shady Side Academy for a regular school day with my classmates and teachers.
Like many people surviving the pandemic here in the United States and around the world we believed by summer COVID-19 would be a thing of the past, this horrific historic disaster, would be brief and just like that life would soon be back to normal, at least by summer, right? Not. Unfortunately, here we are in the middle of August and the virus still has deadly tentacles that continues to spread ferociously, touching everyone’s lives in unpredictable and sadly harmful ways even for us athletes who dream of playing football. I was excited about participating in summer football camp at SSA that kicked off in June. I envisioned my life as a football player taking off especially since this is the first time I would be practicing on a High School team. I was relieved when football practice for the summer was not cancelled, however while the powers that be sorted out our football destiny, we had a few moments of interruption and uncertainty. When we got the green light to continue practice through the summer most of my teammates and I were relieved and we understood we would have to practice differently under COVID-19, no doubt this would not be your regular football season.
Your football game strategy and techniques needs to be on point especially with COVID-19 looming over the field, social distancing with my passionate teammates who are eager to run a cool play and throw a football is a new challenge. You better keep your stride and forget about the fact that we had to wait four long weeks before we could even touch a football. On the long hot 90 degree days, you better make sure you have your own water jug, no sharing sips and stories around the big Gatorade cooler, remember to stand 6-feet apart (this is always on your mind.) Don’t forget your plays and get into formation, run the ball, COVID-19 rules, they exist, they are real and required.
While COVID-19 has tried to take away everything good this summer, I’m thankful that our team, one of the few in the region is still able to practice and come together. While the politics continue over whether or not we will have a season, I still enjoy my football practice even with the extra safety precautions and the major changes required and necessary. As part of the precautions, every morning our temperature is taken and we are asked questions regarding our travel activities. My teammates diligently wear our masks for most of our practice and we place our items in a small hoop, making sure not to contaminate anything. Overall, everyone is working hard at following the social distancing rules because we understand the importance of why we have the guidelines in the first place is to help keep us safe and alive.
My favorite part of every practice is when we go to lift weights, in smaller groups, with masks secured, my teammates and I turn up the music and focus on our goals of winning. Moments like this help me escape the harsh reality of COVID-19 and I am thankful that our football camp was not canceled. I appreciate the camaraderie of the players and how important it is for my mental and physical growth overall. I realize so many other players in other school districts have already canceled their football seasons and fall athletics, and I understand the difficult decisions that many people have to make because of COVID-19. These are tough decisions for families, school administrators, coaches, lawmakers, and the athletes but in the face of adversity we are all learning important lessons about life and how precious these moments are sometimes we have to run the most difficult plays to get to the end zone.
My coach, Chuck DiNardo at Shady Side Academy emphasizes during practice to work hard at everything that you do, and when you show up for practice be ready to do your best. He also tells us to thank our parents and others who are making sacrifices for us to be able to practice, and more importantly we should not take them for granted especially during this deadly pandemic.
TO BE OR NOT TO BE, indeed, this is the question that sums up our football season-- whether or not we will have a season come fall is still up in the air and a heated political hot potato, I am not sure who really wins in the end. While the politics about the season continues to be sorted out, I can appreciate that everyone on my football team still comes to work hard every practice and we all have respect for each other, our coaches, and our equipment and stadium. More importantly, our team focuses on respect and trust the most. Coach DiNardo, aka “Coach D” says that he wants to be able to trust us to keep working hard even when we are tired. We are tired of this pandemic, but our spirits are not broken by the desire to continue to play a game that means so much to us young athletes.
As our social distancing rules continues, for me football is still a great escape from this pandemic, sincere props go out to Coach DiNardo, Coach Charles Calabrese “Breezy,” Coach Dave Havern, Coach Josh Frechette, and Coach Alex Bellinotti for their dedication and leadership throughout the summer practice. Indeed, I am a better player because of their relentless commitment and support through this highly unusual, unpredictable but need I say, worthwhile summer of football. Whether we play football or not will continue to be debated, I hope those marking the decisions understand most of us athletes still care about what actions take place. What resonates with me during these turbulent times, is our SSA football chant after each practice where my teammates and I come together to shout loud and proud: “Family on 3. 1. 2. 3. Family.” Family is what matters the most and sometimes it comes in the form of a football team, and sometimes in a family we learn crucial life long lessons during difficult situations like this dreadful pandemic, these are the moments that you need to be strong, stay focused and keep grinding!
Isaiah Beckham, PUM Contributor
August 17, 2020
Isaiah Beckham, Shady Side Academy Football player, 9th grade student.