PASADENA — When asked if he would be able to place his finger on a map and identify the state of Michigan, 11-year-old Pasadena native Rolandiss Whitener Jr. said he didn’t think so.
Yet, when asked who he thought was the odds on favorite to win the 2012 Heisman Trophy, Whitener Jr. knew exactly where to point — right at University of Michigan senior quarterback Denard Robinson.
Now, in all fairness to Whitener Jr., Robinson was standing right in front of the Pasadena Ponies player as he and about another 20 senior players were part of a Michigan delegation that hosted near 80 local youths at a football skills clinic at Jackie Robinson Park on Thursday afternoon.
The camp was put together by members of Michigan’s athletic department, including athletic director Mike Vollmar, along with the City of Pasadena.
“This is part of the growth and development of my players as young men,” Wolverines second-year Coach Brady Hoke said. “When they go through the game of football, there are life lessons that are taught — them being accountable and having great commitment to each other.
“One of those commitments is to also come out and give of themselves and teach a great game of football to young kids.”
The camp was broken up into two parts, the first being a skills clinic and the second an autograph session with a question-and-answer portion.
At the clinic, the Wolverines divided into six sections for defensive lineman, defensive backs, quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends and offensive linemen.
Each section had specialty drills such as practice with tackling dummies for defensive linemen, an obstacle course for running backs and hitting pads for the offensive linemen.
Each youth participant spent eight minutes in each section before rotating into the next group.
Eight-year-old Altadena resident Tyrikk Lawson elicited some good-natured ribbing from fullback Paul Gyarmati when Lawson jogged into the running back training session with his Pasadena Trojans shorts, which bear the same logo as that of USC.
“Remember, we’re all Wolverines now,” Gyarmati said as Lawson hopped over tackling dummies in one drill.
“They’re real big,” Lawson said of his new mentors. “This was a lot of fun.”
Pasadena Recreation Supervisor Kenny James proved instrumental in setting up the clinic for the Big 10 Legends Division runner-up.
“We have a partnership with the Tournament of Roses and any time we do camps and clinics, I’m their point of contact,” James said. “So, when we found out Michigan wanted to come out, they gave me a call and said they wanted to come to Pasadena and asked me if I could help organize a program.
“Mike Vollmer was the first person to contact me and we started putting things together. I’m just happy it worked out.”
City officials, including Mayor Bill Bogaard (a Michigan Law alumnus), police chief Philip Sanchez and officer Dave Thomas (a Michigan native), were on hand.
In an area rife with talent, but also known for gang violence, Pasadena Director of Human Services and Recreation, Mercy Santoro, said it was “great to showcase Northwest Pasadena in a positive light,” since the area was filled with “heart and passion.”
As for Michigan’s involvement, according to Wolverines strength and conditioning coach, Aaron Wellman, the mentoring program that Wolverines’ players partake of is part of a leadership curriculum that he and Hoke devised in 2006 when both were at Ball State.
“The one thing we noticed about these great athletes and men that we were around, is that after they left football they just didn’t know how to be leaders,” Wellman said. “They didn’t understand what a leader is and what is expected of a leader and that’s something we wanted to change.”
In 2006, the Ball State leadership program was born for seniors and the next year also included juniors. By 2008, both Hoke’s and Wellman’s last year at Ball State (both moved on to San Diego State in 2009), a program was set up for freshmen through seniors.
While at San Diego State, Hoke sparked a relationship with the U.S. Navy Seals that has continued until his current post at Michigan, as members of the Seals met the team Wednesday evening at the squad’s hotel in Huntington Beach.
Along with the mentoring aspect, Hoke is also using the trip as motivation. Prior to the skills camp at Jackie Robinson Park, the Wolverines took a tour of the Rose Bowl, while they also planned to head to Lawry’s after the camp, site of the famous “Beef Bowl.”
“We’d like to be back here in January and this is just another tool to get us ready,” Hoke said.