BOUNTIFUL — Hundreds of football players from around the country gathered at Bountiful High on Thursday to attend the All-Poly Football Camp, where they learned various aspects of the sport from respected college and high school coaches.

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.

"It's the first time I've been to a camp where they actually explain all that," said Kimo Makaula, the quarterback at Punahou High in Honolulu, Hawaii. "At this camp, academics come first."

The majority of players at the All-Poly Camp, which is open to athletes of all races, have the talent to play college football. But Alema Te'o, the founder of the 7-year-old event and an assistant football coach at Bountiful, said one of the purposes of the camp is making sure the players have their academics in order so that they can take advantage of their talents at the next level.

"We want them to bring their transcripts so we can go through everything, and they will know exactly where they are," he said. "We have some kids who don't even understand how to read their transcripts. And then there are those who do know how; 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."

Academic help is just one of the benefits the nearly 300 players at the camp are receiving.

The athletes are getting priceless exposure, competing in drills in front of coaches from the Pac-10, WAC, Mountain West Conference, Big 12, Big Sky and some NFL players, such as the Cleveland Browns' Marvin Phillip. It's a chance for players who are under the radar to get noticed and for the top players to solidify offers.

Tosh Lupoi, the defensive line coach at Cal, learned about the All-Poly Camp online and wanted to be a part of it. He admits that part of his motivation to be at the camp is to get a firsthand look at some possible prize recruits, but it's not the main reason why he's here.

"I wanted to be a part of something that isn't just about ball," Lupoi said. "It's about so much more than that. It's about structure, the importance of academics and also incorporating this great game. I'm very thankful for the invite. It's been a great camp."

The camp's participants began their day by attending 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.

"I thought it helped a lot," said Bingham quarterback Jake Soffe.

The players listened to speakers such as Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh and UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow during the first day of the camp.

In the middle of the afternoon, on one of the hottest days of the year, the players donned full pads and participated in spirited full-contact drills that spanned all of Bountiful High's spacious practice fields. That gave some of the camp's most recruited players — like Punahou's Manti Te'o, Bingham's L.T. Filiaga and Timpview's Chris Badger — the chance to shine in front of their peers. The camp continues today and wraps up on Saturday with a scrimmage and luau.

"This camp is full pads, and it's a lot more intense (than other camps I've attended)," said Timpview receiver Travis Van Leeuwen. "You get a lot more work."

Te'o started the All-Poly Camp in 2001 to help serve Polynesian youths. He said many Polynesian parents couldn't afford the cost of having their kids attend pricey summer football camps, so he called on other coaches of Polynesian descent to help with his project, offering them a deal they couldn't refuse.

"I said if they came here and took care of these kids, I'd feed them a nice barbecue," he said grinning.

The event has grown since it began in 2001, as close to 700 players applied to attend this year's camp. It has kept the name All-Poly Camp because all of the original coaches were of Polynesian descent.

The name and concept is a source of pride in the Polynesian community.

"I love to play within my own race, my own culture," Filiaga said. "It's very fun, very active. It brings the inner self in me out."

He added that he enjoys having players from all races participate in the camp. "I'm proud of them (the non-Polynesians) for coming out because I know it's really different for them," Filiaga said.


E-mail: aaragon@desnews.com