Seven and eight years ago, Logan Ryan and Eli Apple were the young guys they will be helping and coaching at the end of the month. And inspiring.
The two NFL cornerbacks from Eastern High School are providing “Thursday Night Lights” football camp at their alma mater on June 29.
“We put in hours on that exact same field that we are doing the camp,” Ryan said earlier in the week. “And that is why it was so important for me to get Eastern’s field and under the lights because we had one of the first turf fields and playing on Friday nights was a great environment.”
The camp promises to be an encouraging environment as well.
And it is free.
“It was only right for me to make the camp absolutely free,” Ryan said. “It's all coming out of me and Eli's pockets and we felt like it was worth it.”
And the camp will be splashed with South Jersey flavor.
“Everything we are doing from every drill to the live logos to all the advertising is home-grown up,” Ryan said.
It will run from 6 to 10 p.m. on the Eastern turf field where Ryan and Apple starred for the Vikings and also worked out to become the professional players they are today.
“The field, no matter where I am in the country, is a place I call home,” Ryan said.
Ryan and Apple have certainly made South Jersey proud. Ryan won two Super Bowls in four seasons with the New England Patriots before signing a free agent contract in the offseason with the Tennessee Titans. Apple was a first-round pick of the New York Giants last year and moved into the starting lineup.
“It's going to have a whole South Jersey feel to it,” Ryan said. “It's going to be fun and hopefully it goes well and we can make it an annual camp that everyone can look forward to.”
The camp is for 3rd through 8th graders from 6 to 7:30 p.m. while 9th through 12th graders will be instructed for the full four hours.
A week after the camp, Ryan and Apple will be flying to Arizona to work out together.
“We have been training our whole lives together in a sense,” said Ryan, a third round (83rd overall) selection by New England in 2013.
It will be a special week for Ryan, who led all NFL cornerbacks last season with 92 tackles while also recording two interceptions. He will be inducted into the South Jersey Football Coaches Association (SJFCA) Hall of Fame on Wednesday, June 28 at Masso’s Caterers in Glassboro.
“I've been extremely fortunate and it's been a lot of hard work.” Ryan said. “It isn't easy, but I have good people behind me and good parents who keep me focused and on the right path, so it's working out so far."
His father, Lester Ryan, was a sophomore when Mike Rozier was a senior at Woodrow Wilson and played in the same backfield with the future Heisman Trophy winner.
“I told my dad I wanted to do this but wanted to make sure that people would come and I wanted to make sure that I had accomplished some stuff,” Ryan said. “And now with Eli having all the success that he's had so far in his young career, we just felt it was the right time after the second Super Bowl and after what Eli has done, to partner up and to do this the right way.”
Apple, the tenth overall pick of the 2016 draft, collected 51 tackles and one interception last season.
Really, it is quite amazing the quality of football playe that Eastern has produced with Ryan and Apple along with Adam Taliaferro, who suffered a spinal injury his freshman year at Penn State University.
“When I was in high school I wanted to be so much of who Adam Taliaferro was because he was the greatest player to play there and probably still is,” Ryan said. “Going through all that he has gone through, he has been an inspiration to me and he reached out to me in high school and I kind of did the same thing to Eli in high school … he wore my jersey number and he trained with me at Eastern’s field when he was in eighth and ninth grade.”
Ryan, who played at Rutgers, and Apple, who played at Ohio State, will be hands-on with the campers.
“I'm doing all the drills that I did in college and the drills I did in the NFL and I will make sure I teach,” Ryan said, “but also to have a lot of fun.
“Hopefully we bring a little blue-collar toughness,” Ryan added. “My dad was tough on me.”
Lester Ryan, who retired in 2014 as a sergeant with the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, has been a martial arts instructor for 42 years.
Logan Ryan first started playing youth football for the Jersey Pines Wildcats.
“I didn't make it on my own and I look back to all the people I looked up to and the connections,” Ryan said.
Ryan can tell the young campers how he never won a championship in little league or in high school or in college, but the “next thing I know I have two Super Bowl rings at 25.”
The Patriots beat the Seahawks in Ryan’s second season and the Falcons this past year.
“I'm happy I've waited for those championships in my pro career,” Ryan said. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
And Ryan, who grew up in Berlin Borough, won’t change how hard he is working to make the camp memorable and productive for the young kids.
“I want to make sure it's a special thing because I feel like we are putting our blood sweat and tears into it,” Ryan said. “It's my first year, but I want to do it the right way and make it a camp that I would want to go to.”
Ryan and Apple would’ve went to a camp like this when they were working out together on Eastern’s field seven and eight years ago, but they had each other to push.
“They will see this is the field we put the work in at,” Ryan said, “and hopefully it will inspire the next Eli apple or Ryan Logan or Adam Taliaferro because I know it's there, we just have to inspire kids to work hard and we know it is possible.”
You can register for the camp at www.TNLFootballCamp.com.