We want to give them a college-type feel during the workouts we have here. Seven-on-7 passing drills is a big part of what we do here and we structure it fast and as intense as we possibly can to give these kids the best feel for what they’ll go through in a college practice or, at least, at a college camp. —Riley Jensen, former Utah State quarterback
TAYLORSVILLE — Top prep basketball prospects have AAU basketball to prepare themselves for their upcoming high school seasons while showcasing their skills in front of college coaches. Top football prospects, however, don’t have anything close to AAU — at all.
For this reason, among others, former Utah State quarterback Riley Jensen formed the Mountain West Elite camp, which wrapped up eight total sessions last Saturday at Salt Lake Community College.
AAU basketball allows top prospects to play in an extremely competitive environment for almost the entire offseason. Teams are generally formed locally and then have the opportunity to compete regionally and even nationally.
Local prep football prospects, meanwhile, are generally restricted to highly regulated — and limited — team workouts and individual camps, most of which are administered by local collegiate programs.
“Without the team opportunities available to football players here locally, we determined to get players here individually and get them in a team environment,” said Jensen, whose program is in its second year of existence. “We want to give them a college-type feel during the workouts we have here. Seven-on-7 passing drills is a big part of what we do here and we structure it fast and as intense as we possibly can to give these kids the best feel for what they’ll go through in a college practice or, at least, at a college camp.”
For this purpose Jensen has put together a staff of top names, including Kevin Curtis, who starred at Utah State and in the NFL, former BYU players such as Jan Jorgensen, Dustin Rykert and Ben Criddle, and former Utah Utes Jeff Kaufusi and Bradon Godfrey.
“Our coaching staff brings over 100 years of collective college and NFL coaching and playing experience,” Jensen said. “A lot of us have been sitting together for the last seven or eight years at the football championships thinking that we could do so much more for these kids to prepare them for the next level. There is great talent in this state and it’s improving every year, so we want to do our part in helping teach and develop that talent.”
Some players attending the camp, such as Zac Dawe (BYU) and Jamar Fox (Utah State), had already been identified as top talents, but most others were hoping to get noticed.
Kavika Fonua from Syracuse High School, for example, was hoping to make a name for himself while improving his skill set for upcoming college camps and for the 2013 prep football season. Fonua started camp as a relatively unknown, but after earning defensive MVP honors, he's likely to capture a lot of attention from potential recruiters moving forward.
“There were a lot of great athletes out here and it gives me a lot of confidence that I was able to do well against them,” Fonua said. “I love football and I love competing and this camp just helped me improve on playing the game that I love and fortunately I was able to do well.”
Fonua is a safety prospect who will be a senior this coming season for the Titans. He plans on attending camps at BYU, Utah and Utah State and is hopeful for at least one Division-I offer.
Meanwhile, Lone Peak’s Baron Gajkowski is coming off of a highly successful campaign as his team’s starting quarterback, but attended the Mountain West Elite camp to hone his quarterbacking skills for next season. Like his predecessor, Chase Hansen, Gajkowski wants to prove himself as a quarterback capable of beating a defense by his arm, and not primarily with his legs, which is what he mostly did last year.
“This camp gave the opportunity to focus entirely on sitting in the pocket, going through my progressions and reading defenses correctly,” Gajkowski said. “You can’t tuck and run here in this camp, so it’s all on me to beat a defense with my reads and my arm and last year it was mostly running the ball. So this will help me.”
Gajkowski would love to follow his good friend Hansen at Utah and has received a lot of attention from Ute coach Kyle Whittingham and his staff.
“I love the energy they have at Utah and how the coaches treat the players there,” Gajkowski said. “If Utah is good enough for (Hansen), then it’s good enough for me. I hear on their recruiting board that they call me 'Little Chase,' and that couldn’t be a better compliment. I’m also considering Harvard a lot, so those are my two top schools right now and I’ll be attending both of their camps this summer.”
Overall Jensen and his staff were pleased with the progress the camp has made in just its second year.
“We all love this game that has given us so much in our own lives, so we want to give that back and help these players love the game as much as we’ve learned to,” Jensen said. “Helping players succeed as best they can is the goal and to help these players realize that they’re all elite individuals capable of great things. Hopefully we’ve done that with these players and we want to continue and grow this thing as much as we can.”