adidas vintage trainers Jason Witten gives back through Gatorade’s Beat the Heat program
They say, which Witten echoes, that the game was untapped back then, that it wasn’t a job. And sharing memories with their true brethren childhood pals, kids to whom they already connected at the heart bone is precious and pure.
“With those guys, there were such bonds, such connections, you really did leave it all on the field,” Witten said.
It’s no wonder then Witten is eager to give back to the prep game. He’s doing so now by preaching the good word of hydration and body climate control in a Gatorade “Beat the Heat” program.
The eight time Pro Bowler who, at 31, is already the Cowboys’ career reception leader with 806, encouraged a group of high school campers at TCU last month to follow their dreams, but to be smart, cool and hydrated along the way.
“I know a lot of middle school and high school kids try to prove their toughness,” Witten said. “Part of that is going without water breaks or playing through the heat. It’s so important in this day in age that they and coaches understand how vital it is be smart and drink your liquids.
“It’s not only common sense safety stuff, but it (keeping hydrated) helps you give your best all the time.”
Many have put their best foot and resource forward since the death of NFL star defensive lineman Korey Stringer due to complications of heat stroke in 2002.
Stringer, of course, was the highest profile case possible and caught the attention of the national media. It wasn’t until many more youth aged heat related deaths were reported that the movement and education caught like wildfire.
Since 2006, more than 20 high school football players have died from exertional heat stroke, according to the University of North Carolina’s National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research.
Combine that with the avalanche of head trauma injuries leading to concussions,
paralysis and even death and safety has become the No. 1 topic and concern among those interested in the game of football.
The NFL and USA Football have unveiled a Heads Up program that covers every facet of safety in the game, including heat issues.
Gatorade’s Beat the Heat program, endorsed by the NFL and MLS, has flourished over the last nine years and has raised awareness about proper hydration. Research conducted by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) revealed that as many as 70 percent of high school football players showed up for practice inadequately hydrated.
It’s information like that which pushed Witten to inform the kids. The words of prep coaches, unfortunately, sometimes fall on deaf ears. All Pro tight ends, for whatever reason, speak volumes.
“It’s a great campaign Gatorade puts on,” Witten said. “I want to coach these kids and let them know how important it really is. I’m thrilled to be a part of it.
“I’ve walked in their shoes. I want them to achieve their dreams. I remember very well being a high school kid and having those dreams and was so thankful others helped keep me on track.”
He recalled growing up in the swelter of the south, full body cramping from lack of water, salt and other fluids.
“It was dangerous for sure,” he said. “I probably didn’t know how dangerous back then. But in extreme cases, people and kids die. It’s nothing to joke around about or take lightly.
“Honestly, I’m not trying to scare kids. I’m trying to encourage them to have it on their minds.”
Still in his head were his fond prep days at Elizabethton, where he played for his grandfather with his brother Shawn, the team’s quarterback.
Witten was also a star linebacker, collecting a school record 450 tackles over four seasons including 163 as a senior, leading the Fighting Cyclones to a 36 3 record his final three years.
Unfortunately, all three losses came in the state semifinals, something that pains Witten to this day.
His fondest prep memory was hauling in a game winning 20 yard touchdown pass from Shawn the night officials named the football stadium after his grandpa.
“That’s just a memory you can never forget,
” Witten said. “Everything I love about the game was provided in that moment.”