Joe Costello raced down a sideline of the Broad Run football field Friday afternoon, and his face lit up with anticipation. He was being defended by former Washington Redskins running back Ricky Ervins in a drill, and was about to catch a long pass from one-time Redskin and current New York Giant Brian Mitchell.
The lighthearted seven-on-seven competition -- thanks in part to a touchdown by Costello, Mitchell's team won -- drew a football-only crowd on the last day of a six-week conditioning, speed and agility camp. The rest of the camp had been much more serious, as more than 60 area boys and girls used the three-day-a-week training sessions to prepare for football, soccer and lacrosse seasons.
"He let us play around today because it was the last day and Brian was here, but this was the most intense camp I've ever been to," said Costello, a senior at Broad Run. "And because of it, I'm in the best shape I've been in my entire life."
Such is the goal of many area athletes who, starting as young as 10, are turning to personal trainers in the offseason to advance their skills and become faster and stronger before their next season starts.
"The industry has just exploded," said Rob Rose, founder of the Reston-based Explosive Performance. "It has a great deal to do with demand. This whole area is just dominated by youth sports. Youth leagues, travel leagues and club teams are more prominent now than ever, even with the younger ages. It's amazing."
Rose's company was one of the area's first when it opened in 1995, and he has worked with individuals and teams from nearly every Loudoun County high school and has seen his clientele grow from about 15 athletes a month to between 150 and 200 a month.
"People are just finding so many benefits to it," said Rose, a former three-sport athlete at Park View. "Yes, we're going to improve the athlete and make them faster, stronger and quicker. But there are also a lot of things that we do that are under the surface, like the confidence we build in athletes. You can see it develop."
Stone Bridge football coach Mickey Thompson has been sending his players to Rose since 1997, and he now has several who also train with Ervins' company and others.
Thompson said it is a luxury not only to have kids report to the first day of high school practice already in shape but also with knowledge of the proper ways to train.
"I don't think many football coaches know how to train a kid for speed and agility specifically, so that's why I gravitated toward it," Thompson said. "And the other thing is it's hard to get kids to train and get ready to play, football especially, without somebody standing over them making sure they do it.
"Kids won't fall behind if they're doing the same training on their own, but if mom and dad are forking over money for the training, they're going to make sure the kid gets there and then the trainers are going to make sure they do the work the right way."
Costs for the training range from $180 per month to $260 for a six-week session, but players have found that the rewards far outweigh the price.
"My parents split it with me, but I would have paid for it all if I had to," Costello said. "To go through something like this in the summer before practice even starts, you know going in that you're a big step ahead of everyone who didn't do it."
Ervins said the key is to get athletes in great condition before trying to increase their speed and footwork.
"You can't be fast if you're not in shape," Ervins said. "That's why conditioning is so important. But you also have to teach these kids how to be a player, how to be a winner. You have learn to think when you're tired, perform when your body is saying no and where your limits are, too. All of that is a part of being an athlete."
And in the ever-changing and always-growing world of sports, no one seems willing to be left behind.
"Size and speed has changed at every level, from high school to college to the pros," said Stone Bridge senior linebacker Stephen O'Brien. "If you're not committed to your sport, even in the offseason, you're going to fall behind. There are going to be others out there doing the work. So if you're serious about it, you have two choices -- either move with them or lead them."