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Youthful Exuberance: Players, Kids Interact Enjoy 7-On-7 Tourney


IRVING, Texas - The final day of OTA practices was easily the most enjoyable for the Cowboys players.

In fact, there wasn't even a practice at all.

Head coach Jason Garrett added a much-appreciated change on Thursday, turning the players into coaches for a one-day football camp for 160 kids across the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The inaugural Dallas Cowboys U was a 7-on-7 tournament, coached by all of the players.

Garrett, who has done a similar camp for years through his foundation at Princeton, assigned eight captains from his team. Those players then drafted their own coaching staff, which consisted of about 10-11 players for each.

Those staffs then each coached one of the eight youth teams in a round-robin tournament.

Jason Witten's squad, aided by Brandon Carr, Dez Bryant and Barry Church, went 4-0 to win the championship, ousting Doug Free's team in the championship game.

The other team coaches were Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jay Ratliff, DeMarcus Ware, Gerald Sensabaugh and Sean Lee.

Witten said it was a nice break for the players, but not without a little competition, and all for a great cause.

"I appreciate Coach Garrett doing that for us," said "Coach" Witten. "Obviously this could make an impact for these kids. We were going to compete when we got out here to play ball. And we definitely did that. We had a great coaching staff. It was great to be out there and the kids had a lot of fun."

Witten, who ran a hurry-up style offense, used code words to call out the plays, something that impressed all of his teammates, and especially his head coach.

"I'll tell you what ... they did a great job," Garrett said. "Our players coached really well and really quickly. They took the playbook that we gave them and said, 'Ah, I don't like many of these plays.' So they put their own in. And Witten did an outstanding job."

Overall, Garrett said he was pleased with how his players and the high school kids handled the event, which also included a steady rainfall throughout most of the morning.

"I was really proud of everybody," Garrett said. "I think the kids understood the opportunity they had coming out to interact with the players at our facility. But our players were really off the charts. They had so much fun out here.

"We think it's good to do for a lot of different reasons, the chemistry and camaraderie on our football team first and foremost, but then to reach out to the community. Get these very deserving kids to have a day they will never forget, interact with our players, have a fun day, teach them about football and maybe teach them about some life skills as well. We think it's a win-win for everybody."

After the games, an award ceremony and lunch were held, which was served in and outside of the Cowboys' locker room. The kids were then treated to a Q&A session with the eight captains, along with speeches from both Garrett and owner/GM Jerry Jones.

Garrett made all of his eight team leaders stand up and say what college they attended and the round they were drafted.

For Romo and Austin, two undrafted players from small schools, it helped Garrett deliver his message that anyone can make it big, despite the challenges they have faced in the past.

Jones delivered a similar message, relaying stories from his past, including a time when he was about 20 years old and went to Houston just to make eye contact or shake hands with the players from the Houston Oilers of the AFL. Jones encouraged the kids to soak in the moment and make sure and cherish the time interacting with these great players.

Romo said it wasn't just a great break for the players, but also a great way to give back to the community.

"I think Jason (Garrett) has a great sense of understanding that when much is given, much is expected and I think he wants to give back to the community and give back to some people who at different times can use it," Romo said. "It's a great way to get out there not just for the kids but also our football team. It was great to see."

With Thursday's light day for the players, the Cowboys will have some time off before getting back to the only mandatory minicamp of the offseason, which occurs June 12-14. That will be the final organized events until the Cowboys begin training camp in the last week of July.

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