How would you like 150 potential football recruits dropped right on your doorstop on a near perfect summer day?
Well, Michigan and Ohio State experience "it." So do Miami, LSU, Stanford and USC. Penn State coach Joe Paterno once complained when "it" didn't return to his campus, a place way out of the way.
"It" is called a Nike Training Camp and it's for high school football players, a key step in getting labeled as a two-, three- or four-star recruit. After 10 years of lobbying hard to host one of these, BYU finally got one on Saturday.
It's a coveted event. Nike schools like BYU are candidates. Reebok or Adidas or Under Armour schools need not apply. Sorry, Notre Dame.
This one in Provo was small by Nike standards. The Stanford or USC camp can draw more than 600 athletes. But the BYU camp is one of the last in the circuit, and because of that, it drew campers from all over the country who wanted to get noticed just one more time heading into their junior or senior years next fall.
"This just didn't drop in our lap," said BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe. "Our relationship with Nike goes way back with LaVell Edwards and Phil Knight. We earned it."
Like most things this side of Tiger Woods irons and golf balls, Nike decides things.
"They pretty much tell us where to go," said Brian Stumps, the national football director for Studentsports, a marketing firm contracted by Nike to stage such camps that draw the top high school players in the nation to various venues each year.
At these camps, Stumps has two "elite" coaches for each position who take campers through rigorous skill sets. The NCAA outlawed Nike from doing a "combine" event on any Division I campus, where 40-yard-dash times, shuttle runs, vertical jumps and other measurements are taken. That portion of this camp took place in Murray on Friday. BYU benefits because all this talent is on campus and the Cougars are the hosts but Bronco Mendenhall's staff was prohibited by the NCAA to be present when drills started. Make no bones about it, his staff was pressing a lot of flesh, pumping hands and patting backs for more than an hour before things got under way. Then the staff slipped out of its indoor practice facility as Stumps' staffers began the training session. "No question, this is a benefit," said Holmoe, when quizzed about the event on Friday. "This is a big deal for BYU to get a Nike Camp at their place," said Brent Eads, a Studentsports associate. "To have these kids and their parents visit your campus, see your facilities in person is a nice bonus. Many of these players would never have come on campus. I've been to these all across the country, and I'd say BYU's facilities, for this event, are probably in the top four." The BYU Nike camp drew athletes from 24 states including Florida, New Hampshire, Georgia and Alaska. Four came from Hawaii, including BYU defensive back commit Jray Galea'I (Kahuku), Trend't Marson (Mililani), Kala Freil (Kamehameha) and QB-TE Kimo Makaula (Punahou). The two top prospects in camp were likely John Martinez, a lineman from Cottonwood High, and receiver Rock Fritz from Wayzata High in Plymouth, Minn. On Saturday, former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin worked the quarterbacks more than two dozen of them.
"Our coaches will go home and file a report by e-mail. We'll assemble information on each player, and if college recruiters are interested in them, we'll give them our information," said Stumps. Don't kid yourself, these camps are important. Sure, there are camp wonders, guys who post all kinds of numbers and look good and end up being a bust. But reports from these camps can make all the difference in how a kid is recruited. The star rating systems deployed by Rivals.com and Scout.com are, in part, handed out after these camps. High school players and their parents seek stars like diamonds. That's why Alan Pulsipher, a former BYU football player whose younger brother Dan was a kicker for the University of Utah, brought his son Andrew up from Temecula, Calif. He's had Andrew work out with Southern-California QB guru Steve Clarkson (John Walsh, Steve Sarkisian, Kevin Feterik). Here, exposure is everything. In his seven years, Stumps has done 12 Nike camps a year and personally evaluated 3,000 athletes, plus another 1,000 on tape because they could not attend a camp in person. In all, he's kept tabs on some 20,000 high school football players.
Greg Biggins, who works with Stumps and is a popular recruiting expert on Rivals.com, also immerses himself in the minutia of high school talent and the recruiting game. He was on hand to help with the camp. "I've never been here before," said Stumps. "It's beautiful here. It's nice to travel around the country and see different facilities. This one is perfect for what we need to do, it's nice to have it indoors to keep the kids out of the sun."
With BYU's junior day Friday, this Nike Camp on Saturday, summer football camps that begin next week and an 80-team passing-league camp, Mendenhall expects more than 4,000 youth hanging around BYU's football facilities and program in June.It's a potential recruiting trough he doesn't mind tending.