It started with an innocuous drive to school. Former Notre Dame linebacker Adam Shibley was on his way to class at Cleveland’s St. Ignatius High School one morning when he saw youth football players going car to car at stoplights fundraising for their upcoming season.
He couldn’t shake the image that day. that week. That year. Or ever, really.
“That stuck with me,” said Shibley, a walk-on graduate transfer linebacker for the Irish in 2021. “I grew up in the suburbs and never had to think about anything like that.”
A couple years later, as a sophomore walk-on at Michigan in 2018, he acted on it. He saw a teammate’s success with a non-profit and decided to launch his own, calling it The Uniform Funding Foundation (TUFF.) Four years in, it has raised about $500,000 to help youth football teams with uniform and equipment costs.
TUFF’s latest venture is its Takeoff Tour, a series of youth camps this summer that Shibley runs. Saturday afternoon, it stopped in South Bend at St. Joseph High School. Assisting Shibley were about 30 current Notre Dame players who played with him last season, including quarterback Tyler Buchner, running back Chris Tyree, defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola, linebacker Bo Bauer, cornerback Cam Hart and most of the offensive line.
The camp was open to anyone entering Grades 4-12 and had no admission fee, but participants had to donate at least $1 to TUFF. The money raised from the camp’s donations will be given to a pair of youth teams in Chicago, Shibley said. More than 100 campers were present Saturday for 90 minutes of instruction from Irish players.
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Shibley saw camps as a new way to spread awareness about TUFF and give youth football players a chance to learn from college athletes. He hopes they help young players on the field and create fond memories for them. Shibley remembers looking up to high school stars when he attended Ignatius’ youth camps while in elementary school.
“We wanted to reach another demographic of children,” Shibley said. “A lot of our donations have been strictly to programs that needed it badly and aren’t able to afford camps. While we want to still incorporate that with our camp, we wanted to get in front of more kids in the South Bend area that might be more privileged and give them a chance to meet players as well.
“If I was able to meet Brady Quinn or Tyler Buchner, it would’ve been amplified by a million. I hope that’s what happened here today, a lot of kids were excited and that this will serve as a lifelong memory.”
Notre Dame players were not paid for their appearance as camp counselors and instructors, but Buchner’s picture was on the camp advertisement. (So was tight end Michael Mayer’s and defensive end Isaiah Foskey’s, but they were unable to attend). This spring, Shibley began gauging his former teammates’ interest in helping at the camp. He learned he’d have no shortage of volunteers.
“He texted in April asking if I was free some day in June, and I said, ‘I’ll be free for you, Shib,’” Bauer said. “He doesn’t ask for much, but you can look around and see there’s a bunch of smiling kids here. A little bit of your time goes a long way. I’m more than happy to do it.”
Saturday was a light workout day for Notre Dame players, who began summer training sessions with strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis on June 6. They were free for the day after a morning lift.
South Bend was the second stop on the Takeover Tour, which held its first camp June 5 in Ann Arbor, Mich. Shibley found a similarly enthusiastic response when he asked many of his former Michigan teammates if they wanted to coach at it. Among TUFF’s donors and promotors are FOX Sports announcer Gus Johnson, NBC Sports’ Maria Taylor and several NFL players – including Carolina Panthers’ running back Christian McCaffery.
“It’s really cool just to know our work is meaningful to a wide range of people,” Shibley said.
The next camp is June 26 in Cleveland, and players from several college programs have committed to volunteer. Word of TUFF’s mission spread to South Carolina’s football team and led Gamecocks players to reach out to Shibley about holding a Takeover Tour stop there. That one is scheduled for late July.
Shibley’s Notre Dame career ended after six games last fall when he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Before it, he made three tackles and was a fixture on special teams units. He played at Michigan from 2017-20 and worked his way up from walk-on to scholarship player. In his final season there, he made 23 tackles and started one game. He will begin working in the Big Ten offices next week.
His football career didn’t slow his efforts in getting TUFF off the ground. He doesn’t plan on letting a full-time job get in the way of growing it.
“I’m going to be putting my weekends and my nights into it,” Shibley said. “I’m not stopping.”