Who could have imagined that a dinner at P.F. Chang’s involving former college teammates would lead to holding a football camp in China?
“It started with just an idea at P.F. Chang’s and we just made it grow a little bit,” Giacomini said Friday.
Giacomini and Barnidge already were holding summer football camps in Boston and Jacksonville, their respective hometowns. So the idea of going international seemed like a logical – if very long – next step.
“China hopped onboard right away,” Giacomini said, adding that the original plan to hold the original international camp in Egypt had to be switched because of the political turmoil in the region.
Joining the former Louisville teammates for the two-day camp at Xie He Wan Yuan High School earlier this month were trainer Joe Tronzo, a former fullback for the Cincinnati Bengals; and three other members of the Panthers – wide receiver Steve Smith, running back DeAngelo Williams and defensive end Thomas Keiser.
Their combined experience was just one more example of how global the game for American football has become.
“There were a lot of Seahawks fans; tons of Seahawks fans,” Giacomini said. “It was all fun, and those kids just loved it.”
Another indication of the broad appeal of the sport is the interest AFWB is generating. Next year’s international camp will be held in Brazil, where they’re expecting to cap the enrollment at 300 campers because of the already heightened interest. Giacomini said he and Barnidge also have heard from 20 other countries about being future hosts.
“It’s an incredible deal,” said Giacomini, adding that he plans to recruit some of his Seahawks teammates for future trips. “But we’re just going to take it one step at a time and just go one country at a time.
“Everything is free for the kids. Everything is nonprofit, and we plan on keeping it that way. Hopefully we can get some sponsors and just keep this thing expanding.”
For Giacomini, whose social conscience matches his 6-foot-7, 318-pound body, taking the game he plays for a living around the world is about as good as it gets.
“We gave back a little bit, too,” said Giacomini, who also visited an orphanage while there. “That’s the mission of this whole thing, is to give back to the community and go around teaching kids how to play football and expand our sport.”
The camp in Shanghai was co-hosted by the China Sea Dragons American Football Program, whose coach – Memo Mata – and players helped with the combine-like drills and other on-field instruction for the 70 attendees who ranged in age from 8 to 22.
“One of the things coach Memo wanted to do was a combine,” Giacomini said. “So the first day, we just setup stations and tried to teach them as much as we knew right away just to get some rough numbers down, because those kids were really excited about that.”
That first afternoon and the entire second day was devoted to football drills.
“Those kids wanted to learn so quick,” Giacomini said. “They weren’t blind to the sport, or the techniques. And these kids got better in eight hours of drill work. It was unbelievable, and it was good to see. Some of them couldn’t speak English, and we were giving them techniques and they were getting better.”
The trip also included stops at a couple of other schools, as well as the Great Wall in Beijing.
“It was just an unbelievable trip,” he said.
Just the first of many to follow, from the sounds of it.