During the past 15 years, one of the markers of the start of summer for area football players and cheerleaders has been the Tyjuan Hagler Foundation Kidz-Kan-Do Football and Cheerleading camp. After COVID-19 put a pause on it last year, the free camp returned for its 14th year at Bishop McNamara on Saturday.
Tyjuan Hagler, a Kankakee native and 2000 Bishop McNamara graduate, started his foundation in 2006 as a way to give back and inspire others as was done for him before he climbed to the top of his profession as a linebacker in the NFL from 2005-11 with the Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks, which included a Super Bowl XLI championship with the Colts in 2007.
“It’s a great day out with great weather and great kids ...” Hagler said of Saturday’s latest installment of the camp. “It’s just awesome giving back to the community and seeing the smiles on all the kids’ faces.”
This year’s camp kicked off with a special ceremony for Bishop McNamara football coach Rich Zinanni, who announced earlier this year he will retire after this upcoming football season, his 47th as coach of the Fighting Irish. In front of several local mayors and community members, Hagler presented Zinanni with a plaque and gave a speech honoring his former high school coach.
“He’s done so much for me personally,” Hagler said of Zinanni. “He brought me into Mac, made me a better man and prepared me for college and to go on and be successful in life.”
For Zinanni, who has been used to presenting Hagler with awards the past 20-plus years, the fact Hagler continues to not only give back his own time but also bring in former college and NFL teammates is what makes Hagler’s camp such a success.
“It’s the most impressive camp in the area as far as ex-NFL and ex-college players continuing to come back,” Zinanni said. “There were 10 to 15 guys there [who] introduced themselves [who] played with Tyjuan in high school, college and the NFL, and every one of them put an emphasis on education, and they all have college degrees, so it’s a great example.”
One of Hagler’s former high school teammates who joined the camp was Alan Rood, who will serve as Zinanni’s co-head coach this fall before taking over completely next season. Rood said Hagler’s desire and ability to continue to give back is a result of the lessons they both learned under Zinanni, with Saturday’s ceremony for him a great symbol of that.
“I think that’s what Tyjuan captured from Coach is just how special he is to many people,” Rood said. “He just wanted to honor [Zinanni] in the sense of thanking him for everything he’s done and surprise Coach a little bit.”
The community will feature another free camp this month with NFL backing when Jonathan Ward, a 2016 McNamara graduate and current running back for the Arizona Cardinals who grew up going to Hagler’s camp, will host his second annual community outreach weekend June 25-27.
“I think it’s awesome what Jonathan is doing,” Hagler said. “Now there [are] two weekends like this instead of just one, just spreading the love.”