Young Rams gear trainee catches one-handed passes, banana punts and respect

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IRVINE, Calif. — Kyra Bishop isn’t walking — nowhere.

The 18-year-old equipment intern for the Rams takes to the field at a full sprint each day, about an hour before the start of practice and about 30 minutes before special teams players leave the locker room for their training period. separate facility. Bishop, who will only hold this position during training camp, knows that every extra second she can spend on this ground is precious.

After helping set up special teams gear each day, Bishop herself also warms up. She wears duct tape on one hand and a wide catcher’s glove on the other, and pitches for a few minutes with Tim Lee, another equipment assistant. One morning, defensive tackle Marquise Copeland saw Bishop running through the air (in tennis shoes instead of cleats) and stretching for one-handed catches. He and the special teams players started chatting.

“(Copeland) thought I could beat another trainee one-on-one,” she said, “so people were talking about it a bit.”

The players wanted to see the game. So Bishop spotted Rams punter Riley Dixon, because she knew he could throw.

“Quite flattered, she goes, ‘Hey, I need a quarterback, will you pitch for me? I’m like, ‘Sure!’ “Dixon said with a smile. On a practice day earlier this month, and before the start of the special teams setup, Bishop got a play from Dixon and punt returner Brandon Powell and lined up in the end zone in front of the player-chosen trainee.A crowd of defensive linemen – who had heard of Copeland from the young equipment assistant who performed one-handed catches – began to gather to the side.

Dixon mimicked the snap and backed off as Bishop headed for the end zone, twisting her way midway as she caught her much taller opponent leaning slightly in the other direction. Defensive linemen screamed as Bishop, in nothing but air around her, pulled the catch.

She doesn’t even wear cleats,shouted one of the players. Defensive tackle Bobby Brown did a stuttering celebration dance as Bishop returned the ball to Dixon and lined up again, briefly snuggling with Powell to ask what would be the best move to open up as he drew a route for her on her hand.

“She can catch a soccer ball like any other boy here,” Powell said. “She can grab it with one hand, like, it’s crazy how much she can do…with sneakers!”

Working on the kit team of an NFL team is grueling, often unglamorous, but absolutely crucial work. During training camp, they facilitate the entirety of training 90 players and the thousands of tasks and details that it entails. Bishop is at the facility with his colleagues at 8:15 a.m. before early afternoon practices, and they set up positioning equipment before taking care of laundry and jersey maintenance. After that, Bishop puts on her one glove (she wore two, but found she couldn’t spiral so compactly with a glove in her right hand) and heads out into the fields. According to her smartwatch, she takes between 22,000 and 25,000 steps in a single day of work (like many equipment staff), but because Bishop, a rugby player, is preparing for her first season of rugby as a rookie at Bowdoin College in Maine this fall, she also trains with weights or cardio during the week.

“She works so hard and she’s not afraid of anyone,” Dixon said. “Something that I took for granted, I think my first two years in the NFL — you realize the people around you are what it’s all about. You work with these people and we play a kid’s game for fun. To keep this part of the game alive and well, that’s why we do it.

One morning, Dixon was working on a technique called “banana punt”, in which the punter is able to bend the ball and make it nearly impossible to catch, and a nightmare to follow (former veteran punter Johnny Hekker went viral for performing one of them in a game in 2017). Bishop appeared in the returner position – and began catching Dixon’s punts and returning them to him.

“It’s crazy, that punt — you hit a lot of returns, our guys are pretty good with that, but a lot of returns don’t like to catch that because it’s spinning funny, it’s moving all over the place,” Dixon said. “I hit her a couple and she settles right under it, looks easy.”

Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis usually walks a few laps around the practice fields in the hour before practices start – when bettors are warming up – and has seen Bishop and Dixon work on punts . DeCamillis doesn’t impress easily, but Bishop made it stop.

“She’s here day one and we watch her start catching punts, and I’m like, ‘holy moly, who is that?'” he said. DeCamillis – a tough, no-nonsense veteran coach with a trademark drawling snarl that belies his genuine kindness – walked up to Bishop and started chatting with her about what she was seeing and her rugby background. Soon, she had a nickname from DeCamillis: “Maine”. He trains him like he trains his players – like there’s nothing unusual in his mind about having a line of kick returners with full-face helmets and running pads, and then Bishop recovering kicks. extra footballs and bouncing punts and maybe sneaking in a rep of his own, his ponytail sticking out from under his hat.

“I say, ‘Hey, Maine, come over here,'” DeCamillis said. “And she did everything we asked her to do. What’s cool is that on Saturday nights I show rugby clips every week, men’s and women’s. I tell you, by far the best tacklers… You watch it every week, then you watch her run and you get it.

“It’s natural. It’s a really cool thing for her. I know she’s going to look at it fondly and I know those other guys too. I have a lot of respect for her, I can tell you that. Pullin’ for her.

Powell said DeCamillis actually includes Bishop’s reps when he shows special teams players the bettors’ warm-up practice movie.

“You’ll see her in exercise, she’s running full speed ahead,” Powell said. “She’s out there catching punts like it’s nothing… Maybe we should make room for her, because it’s crazy to be able to catch punts like that.”

Powell, who was a journeyman receiver and return specialist before joining the Rams midway through the 2021 season, has an added appreciation for Bishop’s obvious love of football.

“She comes up to us and asks questions and it makes you want to help,” he said. “She’s cool… She wants to learn football, and that’s good because at camp, you have to learn a lot. So being able to teach someone else the little things that we do is good for us.

“Football is for everyone… Just the fact that she’s here with us asking us questions makes you want to work harder because you’re like, ‘I just taught you this and now I have to go. to show you.'”

Bishop, who was initially directed to a less practical internship but asked if she could take an active role, is blown away by how naturally she has been welcomed into the fold by players, coaches and fellow staff members. equipment.

“I knew I was going to interact with the coaches and the players, but I didn’t think they would be so openly supportive of my sporting endeavors, as an equipment trainee,” she said. “It’s been so much fun…I feel really lucky.”

Bishop isn’t sure she wants to pursue a long-term football career, but she loves it. She doesn’t know exactly why, or how she became so enamored with the sport.

But I do. I see it in her as she takes to the field at a sprint every day, fingers taped on one hand, glove on the other, grinning from ear to ear under her bucket hat emitted by the team. Football is a mixture of fearlessness and joy. Bishop too.

(Picture: Los Angeles Rams)


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