From a small town in Northeast Iowa --population approximately 80 -- that has three streets running each direction and is without a stoplight, defensive end Aaron Kampman has worked his way to football's grandest stage.
Now in his second NFL season, Kampman recently took advantage of the opportunity to recognize one of the people most responsible for his successful journey from Kesley, Iowa, to one of football's most storied franchises, the Green Bay Packers.
Ed Thomas coached Kampman for three seasons at Aplington-Parkersburg High School in Parkersburg, Iowa, and thanks to Kampman's nomination is now one of five finalists for the 2003 NFL High School Football Coach of the Year Award.
"Coach Thomas is a special man," Kampman said upon hearing the news Thursday. "He's been in that same program for over 20 years, and has had only one losing season. He just goes about instilling the game of football the way it's meant to be played, with passion and emotion and with fundamentals."
The latest of four current NFL Players that Thomas has guided to the NFL (Casey Wiegmann, Chiefs; Jared DeVries, Lions; Brad Meester, Jaguars), Kampman credits his former coach for the highly developed work ethic the Packers have grown to love from him. Having started six games his rookie season, Kampman just recently was named starter at left defensive end for the Packers.
"He wasn't the only one, but his reinforcement of work ethic and doing things the right way are what stand out," Kampman said. "Coach Thomas is a big believer in that it all comes down to choices. If you make the right decisions and do the little things right and work extremely hard, he always says that good things happen to good people."
Under Thomas' direction, while also intercepting 8 passes and recovering 6 fumbles, Kampman set school records for career tackles (447) and single-season tackles (26 his senior season) on his way to Parade All-America honors and recognition by the USA Today 'Elite 25' team and Super Prep's top 50 national players. In the three years that Kampman lettered at both middle linebacker and offensive guard, Thomas' team posted a record of 26-7.
"We always took pride in being the best conditioned team in the state," Kampman said. "Coach Thomas is just a guy that taught all of his players how to be good young men, regardless of whether or not you played football, he did a great job of applying things that happen in life to things that happened in football, the way you respond to adversity and things like that."
NFL High School Coach Of The Year Award
The NFL High School Football Coach of the Year Award was initiated in 1995 by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the NFL clubs to honor coaches who profoundly affected the athletic and personal development of NFL players.
"We have more than 1,600 players on our 32 teams," said Commissioner Tagliabue, "and they all have at least one thing in common -- they all received outstanding guidance from high school coaches. These men have dedicated their lives to teaching young players how to become leaders both on and off the field. I congratulate our finalists and all high school coaches for the integral roles they play in developing the game of football and guiding the youngsters who play the game."
Each finalist will receive a $2,500 cash award, and a youth/high school football program selected by the coach/nominating player will be presented with $5,000 from the NFL Youth Football Fund, a $150 million foundation established by the NFL and NFL Players Association to support youth and high school football initiatives and promote positive youth development.
The 2003 NFL High School Football Coach of the Year will be announced at the end of the NFL regular season. The winner will be invited to attend Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston, TX as a guest of the NFL and will receive a total of $5,000 in cash awards. In addition, his designated youth/high school football program will be awarded a $10,000 grant.
A blue-ribbon committee of sports leaders appointed by the NFL selects winners. The panel is comprised of Jon Butler, executive director, Pop Warner Youth Football; Sid Edwards, 2001 NFL High School Coach of the Year; Jack Fleischer, veteran sportswriter; Dick Galiette of the National High School Athletic Coaches Association; Chuck Noll, former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach; Grant Teaff, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association; Bill Walsh, former San Francisco 49ers coach and current consultant; and Doug Williams, head coach of Grambling State University.
The NFL High School Coach of the Year award is one of many youth/high school football coaching initiatives that the NFL has developed.
In August, the NFL hosted its third annual Youth Football Summitt during the 2003 Pro Football Hall of Fame Weekend in Canton, Ohio. The league invited more than 150 coaches, administrators and other supporters of youth and high school football to attend educational seminars and learn how to help create better citizens and football players.
Several football experts and NFL coaching greats were on hand to salute the nation's leading youth football coaches and to discuss topics vital to the continued success of youth and high school football.
The NFL and the National Football Foundation also have teamed to elevate the quality of coaching at the youth and high school levels by hosting NFL-NFF Coaching Academy programs throughout the country. This educational initiative is designed to ensure that youth and high school football programs have trained coaches prepared to focus not only on football skills but also on the game's social benefits and character-building attributes.
Topics that are addressed include life-skills development, program management, safety, health and nutrition, as well as the Xs and Os of coaching.
The NFL High School Football Coach of the Week Program recognizes nearly 400 high school football coaches and their teams in 32 NFL markets and Los Angeles while also providing high school football programs with financial assistance.
During each week of the high school football season, a local panel of club personnel, sports media, and other VIPs name a coach of the week.
The NFL Youth Football Fund donates $1,000 to each of the selected high school football programs and posts the names of the winning coaches on NFLHS.com, the NFL's high school football website.
After the high school playoffs, each NFL team selects a Coach of the Year, who receives an additional $1,000 donation to his football program.
Finalists for the 2003 NFL High School Football Coach of the Year:
Coach (School) City -- Nominated By
*Dominick Ciao (Jesuit HS) Tampa, FL -- Jay Feely, Atlanta Falcons
*Tony DeMatteo (Somers HS) Lincolndale, NY -- Jimmy Kennedy, St. Louis Rams
*Patrick Masters (Meadowdale HS) Clayton, OH -- Peerless Price, Atlanta Falcons
*Ed Thomas (Aplington-Parkersburg HS) Parkersburg, IA -- Aaron Kampman, Green Bay Packers, Casey Wiegmann, Kansas City Chiefs
*Rick Tomberlin (Washington County HS) Sandersville, GA -- Takeo Spikes, Buffalo Bills