Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Former Fresno State and current Oakland Raiders Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Carr signs autographs for Madera South football players after training camp practice Tuesday.
NAPA — More than 25 Madera South football players received a once-in-a-lifetime experience by visiting the training camp of the Oakland Raiders in Northern California.
New Madera South football coach Matt Johnson set up the trip with his ties to Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio, a former college teammate of Johnson’s at USC.
“They were excited,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t looking for any thanks and they were very appreciative. They were excited to see the big boys for real. It was some good memories. I was more happy with the good bonding experience and having the kids get together.”
The wide-eyed football players were able to watch an NFL practice up close and also see some of their favorite players like former Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, All-Pro Khalil Mack and Pro Bowlers Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Sebastian Janikowski.
“It was real fun,” senior Brandon Mora said. “I liked how they go 100 percent all of the time. It was very organized. I liked their tempo. After the play, they kept going and going.”
“Watching their drills, a lot of the times, certain things they do, we can do and put it into our repertoire and that makes it easier for us,” senior David Thomas said.
“It’s very important to see how they play football at the highest level,” Johnson said. “They are able to see the game at a different level. I also like to give the young men an experience they would never forget. That’s a memory they’ll keep. It’s a good experience for all of us and I get a kick out of watching the kids faces watching the big boys. Football is no different. Everything we have in our schedule, the big boys have in their schedule. The difference, their effort was different on every level. When I get to show them how the big boys work, that’s beneficial to any coach.”
However, the highlight of the day was the chance to gather autographs after practice. After chants of “Fresno State,” the Madera South contingent was able to draw in Carr for autographs before he had to go to post-practice events.
“I tried to teach the kids about accountability,” Johnson said. “We had to change it from the original time. It was a hodge podge of getting the calendar right. All the thanks go to Coach Del Rio. That’s kind of the bonds you create with a college teammate.
“The reason behind those types of deals is about we’re developing a relationship betwen the team, the coaching staff and me. It’s about working hard and they get rewards like this.”