Dick Harmon: Are summer sports camps worth it?

Published: Monday, July 4 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

PROVO — Summer football camps: Why bother?

Trent Hatch drove his 13-year-old son Kaleb 12 hours from El Paso to Provo to attend a football camp at BYU this past week. He'll later take his son to a camp at Pearland, the Texas 5A high school state champion that defeated Euless Trinity for the title.

Hatch also hired a personal QB coach out of Chicago, Steve Gregory, and once drove 12 hours from El Paso to Houston for Kaleb to spend a day with Gregory.

Is all this necessary or worth it?

"Yes," said Hatch. "We've received a lot of instruction; we understand what they're talking about. If Kaleb is serious about football, he needs to mentally put in that kind of effort."

Experts say a talented kid can receive a Division I football or basketball scholarship without going to camps, but it is the exception, not the rule. If you don't go camping, you're in the ocean on a raft with no paddle.

If your son is any good at all, the best way for him to navigate the politics, media, Internet and coaching contacts at a major university is through camps — some of which you can only attend by invitation.

This has been the experience of Steve and Kelly Heaps, parents of BYU sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps. They first took him to a camp at age 11, right after the fifth grade. He quickly drew attention and increased his abilities to where he became an elite college prospect.

Recruiters at Cal-Berkeley gave the Heaps the skinny by breaking down the bare bones statistics for them: There are 1.1 million boys playing high school football. One out of 18 will receive a college scholarship. Only 0.3 percent of those college players will go on to the make an NFL roster. The average playing career of an NFL player is 3.5 years.

In other words, the hopes of gaining an academic scholarship to college, sometimes worth up to $250,000, is worth paying $400 or more a summer to attend a three to four day football camp. "It's an investment with a hope of return," said Kelly.

"It's cost me my retirement," said Hatch. "It's cost me not only financially, as an investment, but emotionally, physically and a lot of time. It is important to take what we've learned from these camps and practice them and learn from them to improve with your kid in the offseason and over a period of time."

Hatch has noticed a "significant" improvement in Kaleb, especially with the one-on-one coaching. When Kaleb attends a camp, he appears to be more advanced and knows more about the game and is familiar with techniques and drills.

The Heapses say these times demand a high commitment and summer camps are a big part of it. "We used to plan ahead six to eight months on what camps Jake would go to and save for it."

Because of their son's talent, they learned quickly the value of getting the right instruction. That led to exposure. Eventually that exposure led to exclusive invitations that led Jake to participate in the U.S. Army All-America game on ESPN and the Elite Eleven Camp, at which he earned MVP honors.

When Jake was just 11, the Heapses took him to Greg Barton, a one-on-one QB coach, and devoted time to driving him back and forth to Oregon during summers for personal instruction.

Even 20 years ago, parents followed this same pattern. Parents of Cougar quarterbacks Steve Sarkisian, John Walsh and Kevin Feterik hired a guy named Steve Clarkson to tutor their sons in California. Now director of the Air 7 camp, Clarkson received more than $30,000 to tutor former Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, now slated to start for the Carolina Panthers.

At university camps like those at Utah, Utah State, Weber State and BYU, younger players are not normally coached by the main staff; that attention is reserved for high school aged campers who are recruitable athletes and a captured audience.

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