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Amani Toomer Remembers Learning the Fundamentals Playing Youth Football

Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.

Amani Toomer remembers his time in youth football as if it were just a few years ago, not 35.

Toomer, the former New York Giants star wide receiver, began playing youth football in Berkeley, California at the age of 12.

That first year, with the Berkeley Cougars in the Golden Empire League, didn’t go quite as planned.

"I was one of the fastest guys on the team and they made me a guard," Toomer said. "I played there for one year and then I left. I really didn’t enjoy that."

Toomer got to switch positions when he joined the Richmond Steelers of the same league.

"The Steelers made me a running back," Toomer said. "We did sweep right, sweep left, and I scored a bunch of touchdowns."

More importantly, he learned the meaning of hard work from his youth coaches. 

"It was great," Toomer said. "We had coach Herb, he was the best. And coach Miller, too. It was just what I needed at that time. They were strict, and I needed that. We worked hard. We really worked hard. We outworked everyone.

Toomer said he and his youth football teammates had to learn the fundamentals of the game because the team couldn't afford equpiment for everyone. 

"Our team was so poor that we had to share helmets with the Junior Midget team," Toomer said. "We went whole practices sometimes without helmets. So we hit less, but every time we did hit, we looked at it like a privilege.

"We had good form, and we were schooled in where we needed to be," Toomer said. "We honed in all of that because of necessity." 

And that added up to success on the field.

"We had talent, but we weren’t the most talented team. But when we got to a game, our practices were so hard, it was like a celebration."

Toomer went from his youth days to De La Salle High School in Concord, California, a football powerhouse featured in the 2014 movie "When the Game Stands Tall."

"High school was even harder," Toomer said. "They took football seriously. We didn’t have a lunch period. During lunch, we would go in and watch film of the team we were playing that week. The only day we had lunch during the season was Friday and we weren’t supposed to talk to anyone else because we had a game that night.

"And we would work out pretty much all year around for football. We practiced all summer, three days a week and every Saturday at 8:30 in the morning. So you really had to make a commitment."

Toomer earned a scholarship to the University of Michigan. The wide receiver left as the school's second all-time leader in scrimmage yards with 2,657.

The Giants made him a second-round pick in the 1996 NFL Draft. Toomer spent his entire 13-year career with the Giants, registering five 1,000-yard seasons and 54 career TDs. 

After his retirement in 2009 he spent time in the media with NBS Sports and ESPN. He still does some radio and television work for the Giants post-game show.

"I like being around the team," he said. "It’s been fun."

Photo: AP/Tim Larsen


  • NFL Players and Legends
  • Youth Football