“We want to validate that they’re more than just football players or athletes, and to realize the power they have beyond sports.”
Photo by Jeff Lewis, courtesy of Los Angeles Rams.
If you could walk a mile in an NFL player’s shoes, what could you learn? According to the Los Angeles Rams: humility, character, persistence.
That’s the idea behind their Cleats for Character initiative, in which the Rams donate football cleats and athletic shoes worn by players on the 2017 roster to L.A. high school football programs.
Having relocated from St. Louis in 2016, the team has been eager to grow its roots in the community and is particularly interested in inspiring hope among local youth through increased access to the game. Through its youth football camps, clinics, and other related academic initiatives, the Rams are looking to reach out and recognize some of the region’s best high school athletes who are achieving excellence in the classroom and serving as community stewards.
Photo by Jeff Lewis, courtesy of the Los Angeles Rams.
In the second year of the Cleats for Character program, the Rams donated a total of 600 cleats and athletic shoes to athletes on junior varsity and varsity football teams at seven local schools, including Inglewood High School, Morningside High School, Hamilton High School, Compton High School, Camarillo High School, Hueneme High School, and Carson High School.
“We meet with the football teams or sometimes with the entire school,” says Rams executive Johnathan Franklin, who leads each school in a discussion about goal-setting and the values of good character. “We want to validate that they’re more than just football players or athletes, and to realize the power they have beyond sports.”
Following the discussion, the student-athletes create vision boards with goals written on them before being sized for the cleats or shoes of their choice. “The cleats are there to be a reminder of the power they have inside — and the talents and abilities they have to be all they’re being called to be,” Franklin adds.
Photo by Jake Juels, courtesy of Los Angeles Rams.
Franklin knows all too well about the danger of allowing yourself to be defined only by athletic performance. A former All-American running back at UCLA, he holds the school’s career record for rushing with a total of 4,403 yards. But after being drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 2013, he suffered a career-ending spinal contusion injury only 12 games into his professional career.
He shares his story with the next generation as a way of reminding them that who you are as a person matters most. The experience left him humbled and determined to find his purpose beyond the football field — though he didn’t cut away too far, working first in the front office for the Packers, then a stint in community relations for Notre Dame prior to finally joining the Rams.
Now, he encourages student-athletes to consider the power they have on the inside versus external sources of identity as they grow and develop into successful leaders both on the field and off. Younger members of the community have also had an opportunity to learn about the importance of character — and about the fun, competitive nature of the game — in free football clinics offered throughout Southern California.
The Rams have established partnerships with local non-profit organizations and youth football clubs, such as The Watts Bears, Heart of Los Angeles, and The Los Angeles Boys and Girls Club to host seven free football clinics for boys and girls in grades 2 through 8 throughout Southern California in March and April. The clinics include football drills and some competitive flag football contests and have impacted nearly 700 youth in the L.A. region
Photo by Jeff Lewis, courtesy of Los Angeles Rams.
Youth interested in fine-tuning or expanding their football knowledge and skills are encouraged to register for one of the Rams Youth Football Summer Camps, offered in partnership with Cedars-Sinai during June and July. The camps include a ticket to a Rams regular season home game and an opportunity to attend a free Hyundai football clinic with Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.
These non-contact, co-ed camps are designed for elementary and junior high school students and are open to all positions and skill levels. Each camp will consist of football instruction for all positions from USA Football-certified camp coaches, leadership development programming, character education, and the opportunity to compete for prizes.
Rams alumni (including some Rams legends) will be on-site at select locations to help teach fundamentals, as well to lead discussions covering the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and the qualities of teamwork.
In addition, the team also will host the Junior High Skills Academy for students in July adjacent to the Rams’ practice facility at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. The session will feature position-specific instruction from Rams alumni and the opportunity to compete for prizes.
Potential participants may click here to register or learn more.