TAMPA — After becoming the most scrutinized subject of college football's offseason, satellite camps made their first major splash across Tampa Bay this month.
More than 1,100 high school players worked out in front of representatives from 40-plus colleges over a 16-day stretch. At least seven Division I-A head coaches attended the instructional camps away from their campuses.
Despite the criticism from Alabama's Nick Saban and initial skepticism from the NCAA, the camps went off with seemingly no major incidents or drama.
"No, the sky hasn't fallen," Tampa Catholic coach Mike Gregory said after his Crusaders hosted Florida International's camp June 19.
Maybe not. But after attending all four major camps in the area, the Tampa Bay Times came away with five lessons in a controversy that will likely continue to be dissected next spring.
1. Some of the concern is justified.
Consider one scene during a lightning delay at the Sound Mind, Sound Body camp at Jefferson High. A counselor reminded the nearly 400 players there that the camps aren't for recruiting; they're supposed to be instructional. And they were, with lessons about domestic violence and drugs, plus football chalk talk and drills.
But with time to kill, the counselor said it was time for a different kind of instruction. He told the recruits to get out of the bleachers and learn how to network — by introducing yourself to any of the 100-plus college coaches present.
The NCAA prohibits recruiting during camps but allows for coaches and prospects to engage in "recruiting conversations." With dozens of coaches and blue-chip players in one place, the line between the two can get blurry.
2. It's not ALL about recruiting …
A lot of instruction happens, from positional drills to 7-on-7 drills.
"You've got to coach," USF coach Willie Taggart said after his joint camp with Michigan's Jim Harbaugh. "You're not supposed to be evaluating."
And that's the focus for some players, too. Quarterback Chaddrick Cann said FIU head coach Ron Turner was giving him pointers on where to place his feet to become more consistent. That's a tangible lesson he'll take back to his high school practices at Dixie Hollins this fall.
"I came here to get better," Clearwater Academy International lineman Hudson Regensburg said during the camp at Jefferson. "But if I get recruited, that'd be amazing, too."
3. … But it's pretty much all about recruiting.
Especially for colleges. "Obviously it's for recruiting, for us to evaluate guys and to see guys," FIU's Turner said after the camp at Tampa Catholic. "I'd be lying if I said otherwise."
At each bay area camp, players were assigned shirts with numbers, presumably to help identify the more talented campers. Florida A&M's camp began with height measurements and the 40-yard dash. The USF/Harbaugh camp was heavy on sprints and agility drills.
Amid assessing fleetness and footwork, coaches also get a chance to see how a player handles coaching and criticism.
"How does he respond?" FAMU head coach Alex Wood said after a steamy and wet camp at Skyway Park. "If he's got a (poor) attitude, put a line through that guy's name."
But if he has a good one, coaches can circle it to look into him more. Wood said his Rattlers signed eight recruits from satellite camps last year. Gaither's Decalon Brooks and Sickles' Jordan McCloud landed offers from Iowa State and Maryland, respectively, shortly after their coaches saw them at satellite camps.
4. They're still only part of the recruiting puzzle.
Coaches hope satellite camps let recruits see how their staff works and become intrigued enough to visit campus later.
Christa Watson estimates she spent almost $10,000 on recruiting camps, combines and visits for her oldest son, Tre, before he eventually signed with Illinois. Because of satellite camps, her youngest son, Plant High receiver Christian Watson, has gotten the exposure for less than $200 and a gallon of gas.
Watson still expects to make a few trips to see campuses in person, but coaches coming closer to home allows her family to be pickier. "They do a circuit," Watson said, "and then we do a circuit."
5. More changes are coming.
Because the NCAA overturned its ban on satellite camps in April, there wasn't much time for tweaking. What resulted was chaos. Florida State and Clemson both hold top-10 classes despite ignoring them, while Michigan has its own top-10 ranking after staging a nationwide tour.
"I think it's completely out of hand," Turner said.
The SEC has talked about holding its own league-sponsored events to centralize the effort. Turner hopes the NCAA steps in and implements some limits — say, two coaches at five camps per school. "I think that would solve it," Turner said.
Times staff writer Joey Knight contributed to this report. Contact Matt Baker at [email protected]. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.