Saturday, September 22, 2018
Colleges

Fennelly: Football camp seems beneficial, still feels like recruiting tool

TAMPA — It was a madhouse at one point Sunday. Thunder, lightning, rain delay. Nearly 370 high school football players, some elite, some not, some very not, and coaches from 37 college football programs, some elite, some not, some very not, jogged from the Jefferson High football field to the gym at Roland Park Magnet School.

Then the folks at the Sound Mind Sound Body football camp suggested that the players and coaches get to know each other and mingle. That's when the NCAA representatives on site must have thought their heads would explode. And, yes, the NCAA was at Jefferson. I met an NCAA employee. She said her name was Tiffany. She told me that's all she could say.

Thanks for playing, Tiffany.

One of the people I mingled with was Ohio State's defensive coordinator: Greg Schiano. The former Bucs head coach said he's doing great and recently sold his Tampa home.

"The camps give these kids an opportunity to be around college coaches and understand what's at stake," Schiano said.

It still looked like a madhouse.

I met Zackery Williams, a rising junior at Pasco High. He's a 6-5, 315-pound offensive lineman. He looked around the gym at kids of all shapes and sizes.

"We all have dreams here," he said.

Part of me thinks these camps are great, putting kids and their dreams in front of coaches.

Part me of me agrees with Alabama coach Nick Saban, who has described satellite and third-party camps as bad for college football, "the Wild, Wild West at its best."

Camp began early Sunday with a rousing speech from Florida coach Jim McElwain. He spoke for five minutes then left his staff behind and headed for a private jet.

Thanks for playing, Jim.

USF coach Willie Taggart was there. He spoke to the players.

"There are too many good things about these camps for these kids," Taggart said. "They outweigh the negatives."

Ricky Sailor was there. Sailor, a Tampa native, is founder and executive director of Unsigned Preps, which prepares prospects for college and life. Sailor was Sunday's Sound Mind Sound Body camp director. He had heard Saban's Wild West comments.

"I plan on keeping my reputation," Sailor said. "I understand Coach Saban, but it's a very one-sided comment. I don't like it, because his voice is so big that people take it as gospel. The big thing for me is you have to give these kids an opportunity to go to school. I don't believe it's going to be the Wild, Wild West like Coach Saban says. If there's a bad apple, coaches know how to steer away."

Bucs Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks was there with his son and camper, DeCalon, who'll be a senior at Gaither High, where he plays linebacker.

"There's always going to be a middle man, no matter what," Brooks said. "But maybe a kid can't afford to go to your campus. This helps them."

Sound Mind Sound Body, in its 12th year, is holding six camps this summer. Athletes spend the morning listening to speakers before hitting the field. There's an emphasis on personal growth. One session for parents was filled with questions for and answers from Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, Penn State coach James Franklin and Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton. It was good stuff.

But I can't help but think two things:

These camps, at their heart, are recruiting camps.

And somebody, somewhere is making money.

"We know their product, we trust it," Bielema said of Sound Mind Sound Body. "They're very conscientious of NCAA rules."

But Bielema, who dubbed the camp craze the "Wild, Wild West" before Saban, doesn't think most third-party camps will last without regulation.

"Because there are some middle men who will abuse it. I'm sure the NCAA will reevaluate it. It's a great concept here, but you've got to make sure it's the right one, the right way at the right time."

"We have to be careful," Franklin said.

The SEC schools represented Sunday included Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi State. Big Ten schools included Ohio State, Michigan State, Maryland, Rutgers and Nebraska. USC staff came to Jefferson, too.

"And Alabama," Sailor said. "Coach (Saban) sent some staff."

Thanks for playing, Nick.

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