AMERICAN FORK — Christian Jensen is a running back at Murray High School and one of the top returning rushers in 5A prep football this past year. Last Saturday, he stood side by side Utah-bound quarterback Chase Hansen and BYU receiver commit Micah Hannemann.
On that day, the sun that shined on all their heads was the same. But for Jensen, a 5-foot-8, 185-pound running back and 1,100-yard rusher who doesn't have a college scholarship, the day was far more important.
The event was a combine staged by VIP Recruits at American Fork High School. He was timed, filmed, profiled, stamped and packaged for marketing.
Exposure is everything.
Getting it can be expensive.
For high school football players, the dream of playing college football can be wispy smoke from a pipe dream if they are not noticed. However, some argue if you are good, recruiters will know you — regardless of where you come from or how many press clippings you amass.
VIP Recruiting isn't even a month old yet, but the upstart recruiting service for potential high school football players is drawing rave reviews from prep prospects and parents eager to get their name in front of college coaches.
"I thought it was really good," Jensen said. "Those coaches who were there all played at the next level, some in the NFL, and it was good training. The thing that stood out to me is their encouragement to get to the next level."
Those counselors at the combine Jensen praised included former Ute defensive lineman Richard Seals, a 10-year NFL veteran, former BYU and Miami Dolphin and Tampa Bay receiver Margin Hooks and former Doak Walker winner Luke Staley. Former BYU running back Will Snowden directed the camp and is a principle partner in VIP Recruiting.
For being one of Utah's top running backs as a junior, Jensen said he hadn't received as much recruiting attention as everyone thought he'd get. "But I'm still getting letters and emails. Hopefully they will turn into something big."
His father, Michael, said the VIP Recruiting gig has helped his son and he didn't have to break the bank. "Some recruiting services want you to spend an arm and a leg, but this was very reasonable. I'm impressed."
Where some national services charge up to $750 to $1,400 to profile, film, test and market a high school kid to recruiters, VIP charged $150 for a three-year package that included Internet exposure on VIPrecruits.com. There are some recruiting services that charge $5,000 and guarantee a major college athletic scholarship. Thing is, they only accept athletes who are at that level. Duh.
Saturday's camp was better than a Nike Combine staged earlier this summer at Millcreek Junior High, said Michael Jensen. There, times were inaccurate, equipment didn't work, athletes were tested on up-hill 40-yard dashes on grass with dips and holes. "It was the worst."
The one last Saturday? "It was completely worth my time," said Lone Peak linebacker Bennett Lloyd. "Since I signed up, I've received six letters from recruiters showing interest. The combine was really a top-notched camp. They showed us how to increase our 40 times. They knew what they were talking about."
The combine drew 65 athletes from northern Utah after being in business just three weeks. The recruiting service boasts the ability to showcase players to coaches across the nation, elite training from experts, direct marketing to colleges and universities, letters of recommendation to schools that fit skill levels, data base profiling, films and information in NCAA requirements.
"The fact is there are a lot of junior colleges, Division II and Division III schools that do not have full rosters," Snowden said. "The reason they don't fill their rosters is they don't have the budget to go out and find athletes and recruit them like big Division I schools do. We have access to those schools and can help fill their rosters."
Snowden's partners include Joel McElroy from Texas and Chuck Burgess from Cedar Hills. "We have contacts all across the country to help these kids."
"I appreciated the fact that their times were accurate and professionally done," Michael Jensen said. "I like how they've got the word out about their profiles on the Internet because those aren't always seen by recruiters."
Snowden said Lone Peak's Lloyd looked great in all his tests. He ran a 5.0 forty and impressed in his 10-yard shuttle with a 4.6. "Not bad for a big guy. Has great work ethic and he'll be a senior."
Snowden claimed Jensen is faster than a 4.7 time (4.5 time on a track). "He will compete as the best back in the state this year. He's being recruited by SUU and Utah State among others."
On Colin Argyle, a tight end and defensive end at Spanish Fork High, Snowden said, "I'm impressed in his skills. He has great feet and good knack for the ball."
Commenting on Taylor Smith an offensive tackle and defensive end at Brighton High: "He moves well for a big man — very good explosion," Snowden said. "He's receiving attention from SUU, Eastern Washington, and Idaho."
Snowden's son Dredan is a corner and receiver at American Fork and has received attention from Utah and BYU. "He ran a 4.6 forty and a 4.18 in the 10-yard shuttle. He's being recruited by Hawaii, Utah, Colorado, Idaho State, and New Mexico State."
Other potential prospects who hope to receive more attention leading up to their senior seasons are Orem sophomore quarterback Parker Overly, Mountain View's Atunaisa Palu, and Brighton QB Andy Jones.
The Jensen family had their son Christian work out with former Ute and Oakland Raider John Madsen, who operates Flex Athletic Performance in Draper. VIP Recruits has partnered up with that gym and VIP elite members can receive their first training session free with discounts on other visits.
"We've been building this business for the past nine months," Snowden said. "Seeing all these recruiting sites and business out there who were charging an enormous amount of money, I decided to so something that I knew was affordable. This is a business I know. My brother and father and I all played. I wanted to do something that could help these kids.
"When my son started playing high school a few years ago, I noticed how many kids there were out there who could really play but nobody knew anything about them. They were flying under the radar. I decided to do something."
Snowden said he's worked with coaches at every level the past nine months, from NAIA schools to Division I, II, III and IA and asked them if they were building a business, what would they do. "This is what they said they would do if they started the business."
It isn't all about athletic skills, although that is what triggers interest.
Snowden said the first question a major college recruiter like Utah's Kalani Sitake or BYU's Brandon Doman asks him when investigating a kid is the same. "They want to know about academics, if they are qualified."
That's good to know.
It is college, after all.