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Weinke finds perfect fit with IMG

Sports gave so much to Chris Weinke.

A magnificent college football career, punctuated with a national championship in 1999 and a Heisman Trophy one year later.

An opportunity to play both professional baseball and football.

And chances to learn from coaching legends such as Bobby Bowden.

Now, Weinke is excited to start giving back.

As the director of IMG's new Madden Football Academy, Weinke hopes to help youths from around the country pursue the same dreams he once chased.

"I knew I wanted to coach, but I didn't know where," said Weinke, who retired after a seven-year NFL career. "I put some feelers out, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to work in high school, college or the NFL. Then this came up, and it was a perfect fit."

It appears to be just that. Just 10 years removed from the height of his Florida State career, Weinke still has plenty of name recognition with aspiring young athletes.

And because he actually trained at IMG's Bradenton campus when he was preparing for the 2001 NFL Draft, Weinke has first-hand knowledge of the amenities – from the sprawling facilities to the elite-level instruction.

"It was an eye-opener," said Weinke, who went through a six-week course. "Just to see the transition that took place for me personally. From top to bottom, it was the best training I ever had."

IMG originally was created as a tennis facility more than 30 years ago, but it has since expanded into eight different sports, with football being the latest. Athletes from all sports come each year for the mental conditioning and other performance training that is available.

The Football Academy is going to start relatively small, with a series of camps this summer. And Weinke already is working full-time at the Bradenton facility, helping assemble a staff of coaches.

But the former star quarterback insists he will do more than simply coordinate the camps and run the academy.

"A large part of my job will be on-the-field coaching," Weinke said. "One of the things I wanted to make sure of when I took the job was that I would be on the field teaching. I will probably work mostly with the quarterbacks, but I will also be with the other areas."

While there was some thought to moving the camps around the country to reach a broader base, Weinke said that would minimize the impact of IMG's facilities.

"We feel like this is the premier training facility for athletes," Weinke said. "There are so many things we can offer an athlete here that we wouldn't be able to offer on the road.

"Kids travel all over the country for position-specific training. And with 350-plus acres, we're able to house more campers than anybody. We can house them here, and the parents can feel comfortable that they are in a safe environment."

While the camps will be available for ages 10 to 18, Weinke said the majority of the participants will be high school age. The coaches will come from a variety of backgrounds – from high schools to the NFL.

And, if Weinke has his way, some of the camps might have a touch of Bowden as well.

"I would love Coach to be involved somehow," Weinke said. "Whether it's on the field or even speaking to the kids. He has been a big influence in my life and one of the reasons that I wanted to go into coaching. So I definitely want to get him involved in our academy.

"But that's only if he has any time. He's busier now than ever."

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