As he does when coaching Rams players, special teams coordinator John Fassel bent his knees, got into an athletic position across the line of scrimmage and prepared to offer instruction and encouragement to an individual preparing to run past him.
The Rams were off Sunday, but Fassel, several Rams coaches and about a dozen players were on the field at the team’s Thousand Oaks facility. They were assisting other volunteer coaches in a one-day football clinic for children of incarcerated parents.
The camp was sponsored by the nonprofit Prison Fellowship, which serves prisoners, former prisoners and their families. More than 100 boys and girls ages 7 to 14 participated.
“When you make someone feel like they’re valuable and important, they come to life,” Fassel said. “You get little kids, you make them feel valuable, they come to life.”
Prison Fellowship has sponsored similar events in the Bay Area since 2005, and has conducted clinics for kids in football, basketball, soccer and figure skating, said James Ackerman, the organization’s president and chief executive officer.
The event Sunday was the first with current NFL coaches and players.
Ackerman said the main focus of the camp was building hope.
“We want these kids to see that they have potential to do whatever they are called to do in life,” he said.
The camp had its genesis in Fassel’s desire to contribute and give back to those less fortunate. Through a donor to the organization, he connected with Jennifer Matthews, Prison Fellowship’s West Coast director of development who is the sister of new Rams linebacker Clay Matthews.
Six weeks later, Fassel and other coaches were addressing eager campers.
“It’s a great way to introduce these children to their role models and show them that they can go a different path,” Jennifer Matthews said.
The Matthews family was out en masse Sunday. Clay Matthews II — a USC All-American who played 19 NFL seasons — jumped in and helped oversee a drill station. Sons Kyle, who played at USC, and Casey, who played at Oregon, also were on hand before Clay arrived in the afternoon.
They joined a Rams contingent that included cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant, receivers coach Eric Yarber, offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, pass game coordinator Shane Waldron, kicker Greg Zuerlein and rookie cornerback David Long among others.
“Any type of support you can give by being in the position that I am, I think, can be profound,” Pleasant said. “These are memories that sometimes kids keep for a long time.”
April Hubbard of Los Angeles smiled as she watched her son and nephew go through drills. She said the boys were excited to be with the Rams, and with children of similar circumstances.
“To be around other peers that are going through the same situation as them, it gives them a little bit of hope and makes them feel more secure that they are not alone,” she said. “This is awesome for them.”
Laughter and congratulatory exclamations filled the air as campers performed drills at various stations. They were treated to lunch and goodie bags before the camp ended.
Two boys smiled when recounting their experience.
Robert, 10, said he learned teamwork during the drills. Camden, 10, said the highlight was “hitting a curl route” during a pass-catching drill.
Fassel seemed to sum up the mood.