The sidelines of Wednesday’s practice were crowded.
Two high school teams from Chicago, representing Al Raby High School and Simeon Career Academy, made the trip up to Halas Hall to watch the practice as guests of coach Matt Nagy.
D’Angelo DeReef, who has coached Al Raby since the school was built in 2004, said the relationship with the Bears has been encouraging. Two years ago, the team donated helmets and shoulder pads to the Garfield Park school.
“Since coach Nagy came, the Bears have really, really been going into the city and doing things for the inner-city kids,” said DeReef.
For this visit, Nagy gave both teams brand new cleats. He spoke to the players as a table loaded with shoeboxes was. wheeled onto the field behind him.
“That mean’s y’ all gotta score a lot of touchdowns and get a lot of interceptions,” said Nagy.
Both teams, as if on cue, bellowed “Yes, sir.”
DeReef felt that the interaction was an essential motivator for his students. He tells his players to follow the example of Cowboys linebacker Chris Covington, who played at Al Raby under DeReef. While the NFL may be the goal, there is a crucial first step.
“It shows them how much work they’ve got to put in,” said DeReef. “They’re getting to see that work, and they can’t get here without going to college, standing beside the guys, standing beside Tarik Cohen, some of the smaller DBs. They’re saying ‘I’m almost their size right now. All I got to do is go to college, put my work in college, and I’ll have the opportunity to go there.'”
Even before practice had officially ended, a few Bears players went over to meet the eager high school crowd. Linebacker Danny Trevathan took off his gloves and gave them to an excited Al Raby player.
“It means a lot,” said Simeon coach Dante Culbreath. “For the kids, it’s a good opportunity to see professionals, to see where they’re trying to go, how the professionals practice. How professionals handle themselves.”
Culbreath acknowledged some similarities between his team and the Bears. Both are loaded with young talent, and both exited the playoffs earlier than they would have liked. Like DeReef, Culbreath can cite NFL players that have come through Simeon during his 18 seasons as coach, including former New Orleans Saints linebacker Martez Wilson.
For his part, Nagy echoed the two coaches. He talked about hard work and good grades but kept most of his focus on teamwork.
“The advice that I can give you guys is, number one, football is such a great sport,” said Nagy, “and the biggest thing about that is being a good teammate, right? You guys are doing it.
He told the players of a sign in the Bears’ locker room that says “Good teams have good players, great teams have great teammates.”
Above all, Nagy told the players to make the most of the season ahead of them.
“To tell you the truth,” said Nagy, “I remember more about my high school days, then I do any other position.”