YOUNGSTOWN - For many young players, the National Football League can seem like a distant dream.
This week at Cardinal Mooney High School, visions of playing on Sundays was a little more tangible thanks to a host of NFL figures in attendance to guide the young players.
"This camp wasn't around when I was their age, but we were all their age once, and you never know the potential that can be out here," former Cardinal Mooney quarterback Kyle McCarthy said. "I was out practicing in the heat for so many summers, so I know what they're going through and the challenges they face. This is a chance to give back to my school, and maybe help these kids reach their potential."
McCarthy led the Cardinals to the 2004 state championship, the program's first since 1987. He played four years at Notre Dame, and then signed a free-agent contract with the Denver Broncos. This season, he is in Kansas City Chiefs camp ready to compete for a spot in their defensive backfield.
"You're out there with the some of the best athletes in the world, so it's a great challenge no matter where you are," he said. "Kansas City is a great place to play football - there's great fans and a great stadium, so I'm excited about the challenge."
In week five this season, McCarthy may be on the field the same time as fellow Mooney alum, Ishmaa'ily Kitchen, who signed a rookie free-agent deal with Baltimore after playing four years at Kent State.
"So far I've noticed the speed of the game - it's incredible," Kitchen, who was an offensive lineman on the 2004 and 2006 state championship teams. "This is a very physical division the Ravens play in, so I think my time here at Mooney and Kent State helped me be competitive. It's good all of these kids get a sense of the tradition here."
Also a 2006 grad, defensive back Desmond Marrow will be playing with the Houston Texans this season.
"The speed of the game in the NFL can really overwhelm you if you're not mentally and physically prepared," he said. "I guess it's like that anytime you jump up a level, so I hope I can help these kids stay prepared and be ready."
Marrow has a special approach to life on the gridiron.
"All I know is that when I played at Mooney, Ron Stoops was my defensive backs coach," he said. "So, there's nothing I haven't heard from a coach - I can take anything they throw at me to get me ready to play."
Former NFL players Bernie Kosar and former Penn State and Jets, Cardinals and Eagles defensive back Mike Zordich were also at Mooney this week.
Their goal was to provide a little more philosophical support to the young players.
"So many people tell these kids that it was so much harder when they were young," Kosar said. "But these kids have a lot of challenges at very early ages, and it's important that they have a solid foundation so they can get to college before they seriously think of the NFL."
Former Ohio State assistant Nick Sicliano is in an NFL state of mind now. This season he will be a volunteer coach with the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I've helped players from a lot of age groups, and they all face different challenges," the Austintown Fitch and Youngstown State grad said. "Going to the NFL is a big jump whether you're a player or coach, but it's a great challenge. In order for these kids to reach big goals, they have to start somewhere. Camp of Champions is a great place to come and help young players develop that foundation."