Behind The ScenesNFL

ESPN’s Eric Mangini leads volunteer effort for ‘mini-camp’ on familiar Hartford turf

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Tomorrow, ESPN NFL analyst Eric Mangini will play host to his 12th annual Football Fundamentals Mini Camp at Bulkeley High School in ESPN’s backyard in Hartford, Conn. A native of the area, Mangini spoke with Front Row about his high school days, how he got into coaching and his plans for the camp.

What aspect of the camp are you most proud of?
Everybody volunteers. Nobody is paid to come. Everybody who takes part does it because they want to create a special day. Thousands of kids have gone through it and we typically have over a hundred coaches that volunteer, well over a hundred volunteers that help make the day work.

It’s 45 dollars if you can pay. Nobody’s ever turned away for financial reasons. We don’t ask for any proof. If you can you can, if you can’t you can’t. Typically, 80 percent of the kids don’t pay anything to come because we’re very lucky with sponsors. Any money that we raise goes into the foundation and that money is then put toward programs like our computer scholarships for kids and mini grants for teachers. We’ve sponsored a passing league in Hartford, helped replace equipment that had been stolen, sponsored track meets. We’ve done a lot of things that help get kids doing something that’s really positive and the camp’s been a big fundraiser for that, too.

Share some of the success stories from the camp.
Brian Sanford is a former camper who is still with the [Cleveland] Browns. He actually went to Hartford High, where my brother-in-law coaches and [Sanford] broke into the league with me when I was with the Browns [Editor’s note: Sanford entered the NFL in 2010, Mangini’s last season as head coach of the Browns]. I never told the coaches that I knew him or had a connection with him, and he made the team on his own merits. Brian comes back each year to coach.

We had another former camper [Asaph Schwapp] who went to Notre Dame and then had a tryout in the NFL and ended up playing for the [United Football League] team in Connecticut. He also came back to coach. [Asaph] actually just passed away from cancer at 26 years old . . . We’ll take time at the camp to honor him.

You played linebacker at Bulkeley. How did the experience shape your future?
When I was 16 I lost my dad (Carmine), and my high school coach Graham Martin ended up filling a lot of the roles that my father played and was a really important part of my life. He’s a huge part of the camp now and a part of the [Carmine and Frank Mangini] foundation. We’ve been friends for a long time.

[At Bulkeley] I played with a very diverse group of kids. It was an inner-city school with all the inner-city problems, and there were a lot of those kids that chose some paths they shouldn’t have chosen, made some decisions they shouldn’t have made. Both my brother and I played at the same school and when we got out we thought these kids needed better opportunities. They’re not bad kids. And that’s why we started the foundation. We thought maybe we could create some better opportunities.

Editor’s note: Girls and boys in 8th-12th grades are invited to take part in the June 1st Football Fundamentals Mini Camp. To sign up or to sponsor a camper, please visit: www.cfm-foundation.org.

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