BOUNTIFUL — Hundreds of football players from around the country gathered in Bountiful Thursday to learn football from some of the most respected coaches in the business.

But before they could even put on cleats, slip on a helmet or touch a football, they had to show their unofficial high school transcripts and sit through four classes aimed at making sure they understand that if they want to play college football, they have to be students first.

"We want them to bring their transcripts so we can go through everything and they will know exactly where they are," said Alema Te'o, founder of the seven-year-old event that brings college coaches into teach high-caliber high school players in a three-day camp that ends Saturday with a scrimmage and luau.

"We have some kids who don't even understand how to read their transcripts. And then there are those who do know how, but they can help the others. They can all help each other."

He said this is the first year they've attempted actually asking players to bring their school records. If they don't show their grades, they don't play football.

"We've got a lot of great football players here," Te'o said. "But, hey, you've still got to get into school."

He said the goals of the All-Poly Camp are attitude, athletics and academics. Various college and professional athletes have addressed academic issues during camp lectures, but this is the first year, Te'o said, that they've attempted hands-on academic training.

Each of the nearly 300 players attended seminars on ACT and SAT testing, NCAA Clearinghouse rules, and life skills/goal setting. Then all of the student-athletes took the reading portion of the ACT test.

"They grade it themselves and keep it," Te'o said. "It doesn't do any good if you can't measure them. We chose the reading test because it's the most important aspect of the ACT. It affects all of the other tests."

Players didn't even suit up until 3:30 p.m. Thursday.

"This is not just a football camp," Te'o said. "They come here to learn football from some of the best coaches in football. But all of this means nothing if you can't qualify."

And as some students found out in the seminars, more and more Division I programs are raising the standards for prospective football players.

Jason Linders, assistant director of academics for UNLV's football program, said the Rebels are raising the grade point average football players are required have from 2.3 to 2.5.

"If you meet (the NCAA) requirements and are a qualifier (in high school), you have a lot better shot at playing college football," he said. "The first place we go when we visit a school is the counseling office. If we see a lot of Cs, Ds and failed classes on a transcript, we'll just move on to the next guy. I don't care how good a player you are."

The camp is filled with some of the best and most sought-after athletes, especially in the northwestern United States. Te'o said nearly 700 student-athletes applied, but as all the funds are raised privately, camp officials had to turn more than half of those players away.

Te'o, who is an assistant football coach at Bountiful High, said the All-Poly football camp was created in 2001 to serve Polynesian youth.

"Our kids couldn't pay $300-400 to go to football camps," he said. "Parents just couldn't afford it."

So Te'o, who played at Snow College and SUU, said he called other coaches of Polynesian ancestry and offered them a deal they couldn't refuse.

"I said if they came here and take care of these kids, I'd feed them a nice barbecue," he said grinning. The coaches who teach at the camp all still work for nothing more than food and the chance to interact with some of the country's most talented youth. The event has grown so popular that Te'o said he actually had to turn away a few volunteer coaches.

"They are happy to do it," he said.

The camp was named the All-Poly Football Camp because all of the coaches were of Polynesian decent. Just seven years later, the camp attracts players of all backgrounds and utilizes coaches from the Pac-10, WAC, MWC, Big 12, Big Sky and some NFL players.

"Some people ask us why we don't change our name, but I don't want to change the name," he said with a smile. "Give our people some credit for starting this. That's who we are. That's how it started. I don't mind telling the story."

He said fund-raising limits the number of players they can serve, and most of the biggest financial supporters are out-of-state companies. Players are assessed on athletic ability, financial need and past experience.

"If you're a sophomore whose never played football, this is not the camp for you," Te'o said. "This is varsity-level players, with the potential for college."

He said one-third of the participants are unable to pay for the camp.

"Funding something like this is not an easy thing to do," he said. Most of the athletes are from out of state — including 20 players from American Samoa. There are a number of top local recruits at the camp, including Richard Wilson, Spanish Fork, Xavier Su'a Filo, Timpview, Latu Heimuli, Highland, and Percy Taumoelau, Cottonwood.

University of Utah head coach Kyle Wittingham was scheduled to speak to players Thursday afternoon, with UCLA's Norm Chow giving the last address of the day. BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall was scheduled to speak Friday morning, Te'o said.


E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com