Downey High football coach Jeremy Plaa will speak at the USA Football National Conference later this month, joining a guest list that also includes NFL legends Cris Carter and Mike Singletary.
Plaa has been given a platform to speak about a hot-topic issue: Building and sustaining participation during a time when concussions and protests have clouded the sport.
Despite ever-improving technology and safety standards, Plaa believes the game of football “is under attack because of its exposure and money," he wrote in a message to The Bee. Concussion testing and national anthem protests have threatened the sport's popularity at all levels.
“My topic is about getting kids out for football at your school,” he said. “But it’s also about keeping kids in the football program once they are in the program, especially with the negativity out there."
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The national conference is Jan. 26-28 in Orlando, Fla. Other speakers include Villanova University Director of Athletics Mark Jackson, national high school hall of fame coach Chuck Kyle of Cleveland St. Ignatius, five-time state champion coach Jason Mohns of Scottsdale Saguaro High in Arizona, and University of Arkansas coach Chad Morris.
Last year more than 1,200 coaches and athletic administrators attended the event, which is billed as the largest annual gathering of high school and youth football leaders in the country.
“We are pleased to have coach Plaa share his insight as a speaker at our national conference,” USA CEO and Executive Director Scott Hallenbeck said in a press release. “Education and development is at the heart of this three-day event as leaders unite to advance football together. Coach Plaa’s knowledge and experience will benefit the audience and the young athletes they serve.”
Plaa believes every coach has a responsibility to grow the sport, using camaraderie and personal development as selling points, among other benefits, to reach the curious and uncertain and keep the committed. The game is safer than it’s ever been and remains a unifying force on campus and in the community, he said.
His words connect with the students at Downey.
This past fall, 146 players were rostered on the program's three teams, according to MaxPreps, including 68 at the varsity level. In the last two seasons, 46 student-athletes have played all four years.
“There isn’t much that can be done, honestly, except to keep the good highlighted in the game,” Plaa said when asked how he would combat the negativity surrounding the game. “As a coach, I think it’s our responsibility to promote our game. Football always had a risk, but the game today is so much safer than it’s ever been.
“So much good comes from team sports, any team sport, and our society needs that, as you know. … The thing I love about football is it gives kids in our community, from any and every socioeconomic background, a chance to be a part of a football family."
Plaa was asked to speak after a guest appearance on a USA Football podcast last spring. The podcast was hosted by Keith Grabowski, a clinic director and former college coach who had learned of Plaa’s speaking engagements with the Nike and Glazier clinics.
Plaa has traveled the nation sharing his thoughts on coaching and the game of football — stops include Memphis, Chicago and Phoenix — but he’s never been to Florida.
“He asked me after my podcast if I’d be interested in speaking in Orlando,” said Plaa, who guided Downey to five consecutive Modesto Metro Conference championships from 2012 to '16. The Knights are 76-44 with seven Sac-Joaquin Section playoff appearances since Plaa arrived in 2007. “I’ve never been (to Orlando) and one of the best things about talking at clinics is going to a place you’ve never been.
"I’ve been a clinic attendee for 22 years and I love to learn new things from other coaches. And I enjoy sharing what I know in the same manner that other coaches have done for me."