By Karette Fussell, PIO
Ventura Youth Correctional Facility
and Ike Dodson, CDCR PIO
Office of Public and Employee Communications

It took 49 years for the Los Angeles Rams to move their National Football League franchise to St. Louis and another 21 years to make an emphatic return to the City of Angels in 2016.

Two years later, the program has its sight set on Ventura ― for outreach, not relocation.

Rams players Troy Hill, Ethan Westbrooks and Dominique Hatfield joined a team of former players and Rams Community Affairs staff at Ventura Youth Correctional Facility (VYFC) May 19 for a special event, reaching the hearts, minds, and even feet of youthful offenders.

An innovative collaboration between Rams Head of Community and Football Engagement Johnathan Franklin, Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Director Chuck Supple, VYCF Superintendent Maria Harper, and Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) founder and President Scott Budnick staged the setting for the Cleats for Character Football Clinic with the Los Angeles Rams.

Rams players donated jerseys and cleats to youth who earned the right to participate by avoiding serious behavioral misconduct for a month. Ninety-six youth listened to Franklin tell his inspiring story. Afterward, Franklin led youth in the completion of vision boards. Participants shared aspirations during round table discussions with DJJ and Rams staff and enjoyed football drills with current and former players.

The Rams shared an enigmatic video showcasing strength of an underdog and set the tone for youth to walk their own path to rehabilitation and redemption.

The clinic included high-intensity drills that mirror NFL workouts along training stations constructed with cones, flags, pads and bags provided by the Rams.

VYCF Assistant Superintendent Kenny Fewer cooked for attendees and the institution’s culinary department welcomed players with cookies crafted with the Rams logo.

“Involving our youth in structured activities like Cleats for Character with the Los Angeles Rams inherently instills goal-directed behavior, teamwork, observance of rules, respect for others, fair play and graciousness in losing,” Harper said. “These qualities are those we seek to develop in our youthful population through the Integrated Behavioral Treatment Model.

“Participating in sports provides a perfect opportunity for our youth to practice and re-enforce pro-social cognitive skill sets as they learn good sportsmanship.

“Today really shows the power of sports as we have three current players and nine former Rams out here with us,” said Franklin, a star at UCLA who medically retired from the NFL in 2014. “We aim to provide hope where it might not exist and try to maintain it where it does.”

Hill, a Ventura native, was especially proud to represent the organization at VYCF just four months before the start of the regular season.

“At one point I was living in Ohio and I wasn’t going to school, so I felt like this was a situation where I could relate to them a little bit,” said Hill. “I just wanted to provide them some knowledge given some of the things I’ve been through and some of the things I’ve seen.”

Rams alumni George Andrews, Reggie Doss, David Hill, LeRoy Irvin, Johnnie Johnson, Phil Olsen, Isaiah Robertson, Ivory Sully and Joe Sweet also participated in the event.

“Success in sports requires preparation, perseverance, integrity and resilience in order to achieve one’s goals and it is our objective to help our youth develop and build upon these qualities to indemnify them from the uncertainties of life,” Harper added.

Rams spokesperson Chase Isaacs said Franklin and the organization are dedicated to developing community partnerships and said the Rams hope to cultivate their relationship with CDCR.