Game Recognize Game: Neumann-Goretti High School’s Brett Kwoka is our December Athlete of the Month

Game Recognize Game: Neumann-Goretti High School’s Brett Kwoka is our December Athlete of the Month

Each month Eastbay is highlighting a top high school athlete by spotlighting their accomplishments both in and outside the game. This month’s winner is senior Brett Kwoka from Saints Neumann Goretti High School in Philadelphia. Brett was nominated by his football coaches for his allaround excellence and leadership both in and outside the game.

“Brett has been the heart and soul of our team this season. Since joining our team and from day one, he has been a leader on and off the field. Brett is a prime example of what a student athlete is all about. He has a 3.55 GPA and was voted 1st Team All Catholic for Offense and Defense.” – Coach Barnes,  Saints Neumann Goretti High School football

Here’s what Brett had to say about what it takes to be a successfull player, student, and leader:

What is your definition of a successful student athlete?

To me, a successful student athlete is somebody that shows excellence both on and off the field, like maintaining A’s and B’s in the classroom, not getting in trouble much, and trying to be a good role model for the community. And then on the field, somebody who’s a leader who dominates with their athletic ability and with their personality.

As a football player and wrestler, what benefits do you see to being a multi-sport athlete?

Wrestling really translates to football, and it’s been a great experience for me to do both. I’ve seen success in both sports because of the skills that help each other out. Wrestling helps maintain my balance, handwork – since I’m a defensive lineman – so it helps with me working on staying lower than my opponent.

What has been the highlight of your athletic career so far and what makes that moment stand out for you?

The highlight of my athletic career was actually this year! I haven’t played offensive line since I was in middle school, but my coach needed an offensive tackle and I said, “Sure, Coach! I can do it for the team.” I went in not expecting much, really, and I got First Team All Catholic, I was dominant on both sides of the football, and it was a cool way to end my high school career.

What was the most challenging part of picking up that position again after so long?

The plays, the timing, just working with my quarterback. I have a very mobile quarterback, so just the timing of when he wants to run out of the pocket and where I have to push the offensive linemen or how I have to really set the pocket. It was fun, but it was definitely a challenge relearning something I haven’t played for four years.

What do you love most about competing?

I like looking across the line of scrimmage and just knowing that the guy in front of me can’t stop me, can’t get by me, can’t block me. I like dominating on both sides of the ball no matter what. That’s why I love competing.

That’s a little different than when you’re wrestling – what’s that change in mindset like for you?

Well the mindset for football is, I do really want to be the best player on the field, but I don’t always have to be. I have teammates I can rely on – especially this year, I had really great teammates who, if I made a mistake, they would make it up for me. But in wrestling, it’s you vs. another guy. It’s one-on-one and everyone’s looking at you. If you mess up, it’s done. You have no one to fall back on or rely on. You either go home or you win in wrestling.

Who would you say is your role model in athletics?

I have two. Aaron Donald and Shaquil Barrett. Out of high school those guys weren’t very heavily recruited. They were a bit undersized like myself, there were a lot of people saying they couldn’t do it, and they found a school that believed in them and they went on to have great professional careers, just proving everybody wrong.

How important is it to you to be a role model for younger athletes who are coming up?

Oh, it’s very important for me. It’s like my driving goal. I don’t really go out to parties, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke. I try to give kids rides to and from practice, or back to their homes from school. I just try to be a positive role model in any of my teammates’, opponents’, anybody’s lives. When you’re a good football player, a lot of people have eyes on you, and they always want to look up to you. They’re always trying to look for you to be a larger-than-life human being – to be perfect – and a lot of times people fail at that. But I feel like it’s very important for us to try to be positive and try to help bring up these kids, because they’re the next generation of players and they learn from our mistakes.

Jalen Hurts recently came out and spent some time with your team. Can you tell me a little bit about what that was like for you?

That was an awesome experience. I mean, that guy’s day is massively busy, probably with deals and working out and training and practicing and film. And it was just cool for him to take time out of his day to give back to the community, which is really important, especially for me. Like we were talking about, he’s a role model and is trying to be a positive influence in the community and give back to the city he plays for. So, it’s really cool to see him interacting with us and talking with us, he asked questions and seemed like he genuinely cared about what we played, how we’re doing, things like that.

I know he spoke with you guys a little bit about the different types of adversity you face in or out of season. How do you handle adversity like that in the game? And what do you think is the best way to kind of overcome that?

You just gotta keep your head up. You just gotta keep moving forward, because the worst thing you can do when you’re facing adversity is to stop and drop your head. It’s really easy just to fall back and say, ‘Why me, why this? Why is it happening to me? Why can’t it be someone else?’ But the real question is, “Why not me? Why should it be somebody else?’

Adversity is put in front of me so I can get over it and be better. No truly successful person had an easy life. Everybody who’s successful had a ton of adversity in front of them. If you ask any professional athlete. Any successful businessman. Anybody who’s successful ever.

They always had a mountain to climb.

So, I think adversity is not something we should look at as negative, but positive. Because it’s forcing you to change, forcing you to be better.

I handle it by knowing you just gotta get through it no matter how tough it is. You just gotta keep your head up and keep moving forward, no matter how tough it gets.

So, when we spoke to Coach Barnes, he told us that you have been kind of the heart of your team. What does that mean to you? Is it leading by example? Is it doing what you can to lift up other players around you who are also maybe going through some adversity?

It just really comes naturally to me because I feel like I can relate to a lot of my teammates. Even if they’re going through something I can’t relate to, at the end of the day we’re both football players, so that’s something that we can both relate to on any level. If you’re having a problem at home, if you’re having a problem with your girlfriend, if you’re having a problem with anything or with anybody, you can come onto the football field and you can just forget about all that. And that’s something that I tried to reinforce with all of my teammates.

You come onto the football field, we forget about our worries, and after practice we can talk about it. I can give you a ride home. I could give you some help. I just try to be a positive influence in any of my teammates’ lives.

Do you think there are lessons from the game that will go on to help you face adversity in your life outside of football?

Yeah, there are a ton of lessons in football. You gotta learn how to lose in football. That’s the number one thing. There’s nobody who goes undefeated their entire life. You gotta know how to take a loss like a man and you have to know how to overcome adversity. I mean, we’ve had two comeback games this season that helped teach us that we have to overcome adversity.

And we have to be able to take a loss and to get better from it. Look at the film, reflect on what we did wrong, and keep moving.

What are some of the goals that you would like to accomplish after high school?

I would love to have a successful college career – hopefully win a few Bowl Games, have my school get into the playoffs with deep postseason runs, and get a National Championship. After that, if I’m able to, I’d love to play a professional career. And if I can’t, I would to take over my mom’s business. She’s a financial advisor, and I’m really interested in finance and economics. My parents and coaches have been really adamant about me having a backup plan just in case I get hurt or in case everything doesn’t pan out. I have to have a backup plan to fall on. They said it’s great that I have a dream of playing professional football, but it doesn’t always happen.

What are you most looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to continuing my athletic career – I just can’t wait to take that next step. I’m very excited to start the college process, commit to a college, find a home for the next four years, and then hopefully go pro.

 

 

 

To nominate a deserving athlete for Eastbay’s Game Recognize Game series, fill out the form here.

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From The Pros: The Five Tools You Need To Make It To The League

From The Pros: The Five Tools You Need To Make It To The League

Do you have big dreams of making it to the league one day? To some, that might sound like a longshot, but every pro football player started out right where you are now – playing the game they love and dreaming of turning it into something more. So we asked some of the game’s best what it takes to turn those dreams into reality. From the pros themselves, here are the five tools you need to make it to the league.

1. Accountability

If you’re going to set big goals for yourself, you have to be ready to make sacrifices and put in the work. Coaches, trainers, teammates, and parents can give you the tools and support to play your best, but the fire you need to overcome obstacles and make it to the top can only come from within.

“My biggest goal for this season is to push myself against competition and get better every day,” said 2021 Minnesota draft pick Kellen Mond. “I will always have a super high standard for myself and I want to be able to set the bar high in everything that I do. The best advice that I would give to another kid with dreams of making it to the league would be to be your biggest self-critic. Do not allow others to have a higher standard for you than yourself.”
 
“Coaches, people who are working with me and helping me succeed and accomplish my goals, they matter,” said Philly QB Jalen Hurts. “Their voices matter. But as a leader, I try to be a man who’s going to do my job. I hold myself to the highest standard possible. So anything anyone else says, it doesn’t mean much to me.”

2. Work Ethic

Being accountable to yourself first means that every new workout, practice, and scrimmage is a chance to run tighter routes, make cleaner catches, or hold coverage better than the athlete you were yesterday. In a game of inches, most of the important growth happens when no one’s watching. It’s incremental improvement over time that’s going to make all the difference on game day, whether you’re lining up at a JV scrimmage or a Division I State Championship.

 

“Don’t let anyone outwork you,” said Los Angeles safety Derwin James. “You can’t control how much natural talent you were born with, but you can control how hard you work. Be early to practice. Stay late. Make sure you’re getting extra work in in the weight room or watching film. That’s the only way to make it.”
“You see my success on Sunday,” said Green Bay lineman David Bakhtiari, “but the work that goes in is Monday through Saturday. It’s in the offseason where I really sharpen my iron, put myself in the best situation so when I do come back and play, I can ask my body to do what’s necessary, to go through all the obstacles of a long, rigorous season.”
“You get out what you put in,” said Jalen. “I pride myself on putting something in every day – mentally, emotionally, physically – whatever it is, it all matters. You have to compete at everything you do.”
“It really comes down to just working hard, being a good teammate, and focusing on improving every day,” said Tampa Bay wide receiver Chris Godwin. “If you’re able to focus on that, then I think you’ll continue to improve and you’ll see your game take new strides and you’ll be a better player overall.”

3. Teamwork

It takes more than just a roster of talented players to build a championship team. You need chemistry, and that means building trust with your teammates and making sure you’re in sync on game day.

 

“You’re only as strong as your weakest link,” said David. “The offensive line is one of the few positions where all five of us need to be working together to have success. You can’t have individual success. I would say offensive line is the team position within the ‘ultimate team sport.’”
“The biggest lesson I learned from Tom Brady was just how simple you have to make the game,” explained Chris. “So many coaches are used to sticking to their formulas and philosophies, but really it just comes down to percentages. You’re trying to put yourself in the best position to be successful by adjusting plays at the line, being on the same page as your quarterback, and just making sure you’re putting your team in the best position to be successful.”

 

4. Resilience

In such a physical sport, setbacks are bound to happen. Suffering an injury can feel devastating, but the key to getting back in the game is to focus on healing and rebuilding your physical strength. After a season-ending meniscus tear in 2020, Derwin James had to face watching his team from the sidelines, but he refused to let adversity ger the best of him.

“It’s been tough for sure,” said Derwin. “Every time you watch a game and you’re not on the field, you keep thinking about all the plays you could make to help your team out. You have to be mentally tough to keep doing the rehab day in and day out, because it can get grueling for sure. Thankfully my teammates are always there supporting me, because a lot of them know what it’s like. I also lean on my family pretty heavily – they’ve always got my back encouraging me, telling me that I’ll come back stronger.”

 

If you make it to the top, it won’t just be physical injury that can derail you. The business of pro football can be overwhelming, and mistakes or losses on the national stage can be tough to recover from.

 

“As a team, you have to forget quickly in this business,” said David. “It can be very ‘what have you done for me lately,’ and that can leave a sour taste in your mouth. You should use it as motivation, but you shouldn’t dwell on it, because dwelling on something isn’t going to get the job done. Hard work, dedication, preparation, facing adversity, and making the necessary adjustments to get over that adversity is what you need to do in this league.”

 

5. Belief

Playing college ball or making it to the pros takes more than talent. It takes dedication, drive, and – maybe most importantly – belief.

“If you believe in yourself, anything is attainable,” said Jalen. “Put your mind to it, and you can go get it. That’s the message I send out to all kids, everywhere. Do what’s right because it’s right and go get it. You’ve gotta believe in yourself before you do anything.”

 

And when that belief pays off? Well, there’s nothing like it.

 

“Hearing my name called on draft night was an unbelievable feeling,” said Kellen. “One of the best feelings ever. You only have one opportunity to get your name called and it was something that I have worked for my entire life. Knowing all the work that it took to get to that point makes that moment extremely special.”
“Playing for my hometown team has been awesome,” said Chicago tight end Cole Kmet. “Growing up I loved watching some of those guys – Brian Urlacher and Charles Timmons – how they played, how they went about their business, it’s something I try to emulate. So, my advice to anyone trying to make it to this level is continue to work hard and enjoy playing the game you love.”

 

 

Now that you’ve got the tools, it’s time to stock up on the gear you need to make it to the top. Kick off your season with the best football apparel, cleats, accessories, and equipment – all in your team’s colors – when you shop Football By Color at eastbay.com.

Five Draft Sleepers You Should Keep an Eye On

Five Draft Sleepers You Should Keep an Eye On

Leading up to the annual draft, football prospects everywhere are dealing with a unique pre-draft process that we’ve never seen before. Athletes are taking to social media to promote their skill sets and teams around the league will rely on these Instagram workouts to see who is staying in shape and who’s not. This makes life a bit tougher for lesser-known draft hopefuls, so today we’re highlighting five possible sleeper picks that could be undervalued in this year’s draft, but have the potential to make an immediate impact for their future teams on the field.

Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor

In just about any other draft, Mims wouldn’t be considered a sleeper because of his experience (three-year starter at Baylor), size (6’3”, 207 lbs), and athleticism (4.38 40-yard dash, 6.66 3-cone drill). However, this year’s wide receiver class is loaded with talent such as CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, and many others, meaning Mims could easily fall to the early second round and become a steal for one lucky team. Overall, Mims boasts insane straight-line speed and demonstrates the ability to go up and get the ball when needed. He’s in the perfect scenario to be first-round talent who gets overlooked during the draft process and break out immediately once he enters the league.

Logan Wilson, LB, Wyoming

Playing for an undervalued program at Wyoming, Logan Wilson will probably fly under the radar for most teams picking in the first couple rounds. But what the average eye didn’t see during his four years in college is that Wilson is an elite-level tackler with unteachable intangibles that could be a huge help for any team looking for consistent, solid production from down to down. The three-year captain might not have the level of output in the pros because of his lack of athleticism to cover pro-caliber receivers and tight ends, but, if he’s still available in the later rounds, he shouldn’t be overlooked.

K.J. Hill, WR, Ohio State

Another late-round wide receiver steal to look at is K.J. Hill out of Ohio State. He predominantly played slot receiver in his last two years in college but made his presence known in almost every single game. Even after having three different starting quarterbacks in his last three years, Hill ended up setting the school record in catches (21), breaking David Boston’s 21-year-old mark. Hill won’t overpower at the pro level, however, he does posses all the traits to continue his slot dominance with a professional team. As stated before, this is an extremely deep wideout class, so if a team can scoop up Hill in the fourth or fifth round, they could be landing themselves a longtime slot starter.

Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma

Hurts isn’t your traditional sleeper pick, since everyone and anyone who’s watched college football knows his name. After playing in the National Championship at Alabama, Hurts transferred to Oklahoma and set the college world ablaze by compiling 3,851 passing yards and 1,298 rushing yards in his lone year as the starter there. Questions continue to pop up about his passing skill set and questionable decision-making, especially at the next level where he’ll face more athletic defenders. Still, Hurts has the potential to be a dangerous, dual-threat option with a low-risk, high-reward pick after the top-tier quarterbacks are off the board.

Troy Dye, LB, Oregon

As a four-year starter for Oregon, Dye will undoubtedly bring his experience and his knowledge of the game to the next level. He was originally a safety recruit out of high school and uses his speed and excellent athleticism to predict and plug up holes in the run game. Scouts have noted his lack of size at the linebacker position and injury history as potential concerns, but if Dye plays with as much ferocity as he did in his four years at Oregon, he’ll definitely be a nice hybrid plugin to any scheme at the professional level.

As these prospects keep grinding to make a name for themselves, they rely on the best gear in the game. Check out eastbay.com for a full selection of football and training footwear, equipment, and apparel.