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IMG Academy football program Vets in it for the Long Run

Atlanta's Justin Haymes and Meshack Ledan are making themselves at home in Bradenton, Florida. Arriving early this summer, Justin, 15, has been here for six weeks while "Meesh", 16, has been here for three. They have officially spent more of their summer break in Bradenton than in their home city. Justin arrived at IMG's 400 acre campus first. After his first week, Justin recognized vast improvements and his father, Craig, thought it was a place Meesh could thrive in as well. Through a phone call to Meesh's mom, Merline, Craig convinced her to send Meesh down to the IMG Madden Football Academy. A couple weeks after the fateful phone call, Justin arrived in Bradenton to join his friend of three years on the field.

But sharing the field together is nothing new. As freshmen at Alpharetta High School in Alpharetta, a large Atlanta suburb, Justin, OL, and Meesh, WR/S, propelled the Junior Varsity team to a 6-1 record. But this year, the two will be propelled to the next level, joining the Varsity team. As sophomores on Varsity, physical challenges await them but it is in the once a week mental conditioning sessions they are gaining confidence to deal with them.

"Before going through the mental conditioning, I was nervous about the season. I was worried about going up against guys that were older, bigger, and stronger. But than I did the mental conditioning and I realized, 'I can do this.' I have a more positive attitude and I am more confident about the season," said Justin who feels his biggest improvement is his strength.

"The biggest change for me mentally is that I learned to stop thinking about myself. You know; when things start to fall apart, let's get it all back together so we can get it right. I learned to keep my mind focused and to be confident," who identifies footwork and speed as his biggest improvements since arriving almost three weeks ago.

While Justin and Meesh are veterans around the Academy, they still recognized the improvements after just the first week. "One or two weeks can affect you. They are on you 24/7 to make sure you get everything right before you leave here. You can tell a difference after only the first week," said Meesh.

"The first week I was sore and tired but I could still tell a big difference and

Meshack works on his routes at a recent WR/ QB session that included high school, collegiate, and pro players
Meshack works on his routes at a recent WR/ QB session that included high school, collegiate, and pro players

by the beginning of the second week, I already felt faster and stronger." Justin's favorite part of the Academy is his time spent at the Athletic & Personal Development program, in particular the four times- a- week weight training sessions with performance specialist Corey Stenstrup. To ensure he reaps the full benefits of his time spent here, he also keeps a close eye on what he eats, with guidance from IMG's nutritionist, Dr. Sally Parsonage.

These students of the game are also students in the classroom. They both love school. Justin is a Literature fan and aspires to be a sports agent while Meesh thrives in the science lab and is looking to take his football skills to the next level.

Justin's parting piece of advice? "Focus on the little things. You can get bit by an alligator or stung by 10,000 bees. Which hurts worse?"

And for Meesh? "It's not one, it's all. If one falls, we all fall."

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