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Pandemic slammed his clinic business, but former pro holding private ones in Prineville

LON AUSTIN - John Charles looks on as California resident Amare Brooks readies to pass during a private quarterback clinic taught by Charles in April. Assiting on the day were Crook County High athletes Kyree Willis, left, and Cameron Carr. Charles has operated a clinic business for 10 years.

John Charles played quarterback for Portland State University, before having a brief professional career with both the Atlanta Falcons and the San Jose Sabercats in the Arena Football League.

Charles, who was inducted into the Portland State University Hall of Fame in 2018, moved to Prineville about a year ago.

For the past 10 years, Charles has run the Airone Football Academy, hosting 22 clinics a year, mostly in the Portland metropolitan area.

However, with COVID, and his move to Prineville, Charles has changed his focus from big camps to one-on-one tutoring. Head to Ward Rhoden Stadium on any given Saturday and there is a chance that Charles will be on the field working with a player.

Charles' tutoring runs the gambit from high school to major college. Although he generally focuses on quarterbacks, he also works with running backs and receivers.

"I discontinued the camp because of COVID," Charles said. "We had 12 coaches and would have over 100 kids each week. Kids would come from Seattle, from Idaho, California, Michigan, New York. We would run camps from January to June, taking off just for Mother's Day. Right now I am doing private training, but I will get back to doing group training."

One of those recent private trainings came on April 23-24 when Amare Brooks, a sophomore quarterback from Mountain House High School in California, came to Prineville for the weekend.

Brooks, who started some games as a freshman, is expected to be the starting quarterback for Mountain House next year.

"He's one of the top quarterbacks in California, especially for his age group," Charles said. "He has in-game speed. He's fast and elusive and he relies on his arm a lot, because he has a really good arm. Charles spent hours working with Brooks on footwork, throwing technique, reading defenses, and the mental part of playing quarterback. Their time together included both on-field drills and watching film.

"He will be an amazing, amazing quarterback when it's all said and done," Charles said of the work that Brooks is putting in to improve himself. "Right now we are working on trying to get his body and his feet underneath him when he throws. He will be more accurate, stronger, consistent, and his arm will stay fresh during a game that way."

In addition, on Sunday, Charles had Brooks run up Barnes Butte as well as work on a public service project.

"I don't know what that project will be yet," Charles said on Saturday. "We might feed the homeless, whatever God calls us to do, we are going to do it tomorrow as part of this training. We want to develop not just good athletes, but good citizens."

For his part, Brooks was excited to work on improving his game.

"My dad is a close friend with John and he wanted me to come up and work out here, and we made it happen," Brooks said. "I just want to get better and work on the tools I have as I go on about my career. The past couple of years Mountain House hasn't been doing so well, so I'm trying to change that so more people will actually come to the school and make it a top program."

Brooks noted that it was a unique experience for him to come to Prineville.

"The trip is a great experience," he said. "It's different out here, not what I'm used to seeing. The environment is different, I will say that. I'm just thankful for the opportunity and hopefully I can come out here again."

Brooks added that working with Charles is doing more than just making him a better passer.

"I've learned different things on my throwing mechanics and we are looking at film to help me read defenses and everything," he said. "I'm trying to just get as much time in as I can and take it all in and keep going with it. The biggest benefit is this stuff is going to translate into games. Say I need to make a certain type of throw, I can make that throw easier and not have to think about it."

In order to work with a quarterback, Charles said that it takes several receivers.

And, Charles has enlisted several Crook County High School receivers to catch passes.

"For those guys to come out on a weekend when they could have been home doing other things just shows who they are," Charles said. "They choose to be out here for six hours a day, to catch balls and they are ready, willing and waiting. It just shows who they are."

While Brook was working on technique, Eli Freauff, Cameron Carr and Kyree Willis, all members of the CCHS football team, waited patiently until Brooks was ready to throw. Then, the trio caught pass after pass from short routes to deep balls.

Although the clinic was all about helping Brooks, both Freauff and Willis said that it was improving their skills as receivers.

"It's very helpful for me, since I plan on going to college to play ball," Willis said. "Just getting these private times to practice – shaping my craft – it feels good. It's just a good opportunity. I'm mainly getting receiver work, but from time to time John helps me out, telling me how the corners and safeties think so it's going to help me in game situations."

Freauff was also excited about the opportunity.

"It's helpful," he said of the opportunity. "I'm not just catching passes, I'm also learning what the quarterback is supposed to do. I'm getting a lot of reps and I'm learning where I'm supposed to be, where the quarterback is looking and all of that."

Charles said that although he believes that Brooks is going to be a special player, he is far from the only player who is going to visit Prineville this summer. In the future he has players from Oregon State and several other universities penciled in to come to Prineville. In late June, Eastern Oregon's quarterback is scheduled to be in town, and Charles said that over time there will be players from all over the country.

"I love the area," he said. "I love the people. It's good that we are able to bring top athletes in from other places. There will be kids from Michigan and New York, from all over the country coming to this town, and I'm just glad they can see and get a piece of Prineville."

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