Two-a-days started early for 500 children Monday at Seneca Valley High School.
Ben Roethlisberger’s annual youth football camp has been a two-day event in the past. But with the Steelers starting a mandatory minicamp Tuesday, Roethlisberger and ProCamps — which organizes the event — decided to condense the camp into one day with two sessions and a lunch break.
“I really didn’t want to miss a day,” Roethlisberger said. “Because I haven’t missed even a minute of this thing. We decided to jam it into a two-a-day and make it more like what I do.”
Boys and girls between first and eighth grade joined Roethlisberger for morning drills followed by afternoon two-hand-touch scrimmages. Each youth left with a photo with Roethlisberger, an autograph, and they can each say they caught a pass from the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
Roethlisberger joked that his arm might be a little sore after throwing 500 passes.
“It’s worth it for me because the kids get excited,” he said. “It’s something that we did a couple years ago — throw a pass to every kid. The kids loved it, I enjoyed doing it, so it’s kind of become a ritual here.”
Roethlisberger’s wife, Ashley, and their two young children, Benjamin, Jr. and Baylee, also were in attendance. Eighteen-month-old Benjamin, Jr. was eager to get on the field.
“I’ve got to make sure he’s not out there now,” Roethlisberger joked, scanning the sideline to find his son. “He’s just enamored with all the kids and everything going on.”
Roethlisberger said he would have no problem with Benjamin, Jr., playing football when he’s older, just no tackle until fifth grade.
Also making an appearance was Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who spoke to the campers before lunch. He was joined by quarterback coach Randy Fichtner and offensive linemen Kelvin Beachum and David DeCastro.
And while it was all smiles at camp, Roethlisberger did take a moment to pay homage to legendary Steelers coach Chuck Noll, who died Friday. Roethlisberger said he only met Noll once, at a Steelers event in one of his first years with the team. Even so, he realized the impact Noll had on the organization and the city.
“If you ask the people who know the game of football, I think he gets all the credit,” Roethlisberger said. “He’s the greatest coach of all time, if you look at what he did and what he’s done for the Steelers organization. For anyone that comes in knowing the tradition of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it started with him. His legacy is why we play today.”
Roethlisberger said he has enjoyed seeing clips of the old Steelers teams of the 1970s on TV the past few days. When asked if he wished he could have thrown the ball to receivers like Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, Roethlisberger laughed and said, “They ran the ball a lot, too.”
After youth camp Monday, the focus will turn to minicamp and his 11th season in the NFL, all with the Steelers.
But Monday it was all about the kids. Roethlisberger, wearing a shirt with his name and No. 7 on the back, included himself in that category.
“I’m the biggest kid out here,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I do it. I enjoy coming out here and running around with them.”
Sean Hammond: email@example.com, 412-263-1466 and Twitter @sean_hammond.