Nevada coach Chris Ault started his career scouting for football players at a time when recruiting video was scarce, the Internet was unknown and word of mouth was the best method of investigating a prized prospect.
In those 1970s, he says, “you took the coaches’ word.”
Nowadays, YouTube is flooded with amateur highlight reels for every scholarship hopeful in the country. Coaching offices at top colleges regularly get homemade portfolios, sent by zealous parents trying to land their child a scholarship.
Yet at a time of endless video streams and Internet buzz, a critical way of bringing top talent into a football program seems decidedly old school — summer camp.
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“Camp is critical, especially when they are young. What has happened now in the recruiting process is it’s really been sped up. Kids are committing earlier and earlier and earlier now,” new Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. “You’ve really got to try and get them in their ninth, 10th grade, 11th grade years, because if you try and wait until they’re going into their senior year some of those kids are going to be gone already.”
The setup is particularly good for coaches, because the NCAA in 2006 barred them from attending specialty camps like the Elite 11 for quarterbacks and the Ultimate 100 Camp that bring together top recruits interested in perfecting their skills.
At a school’s own camp, coaches can see how adept prospects are at receiving instruction and if their coaching style meshes with a player’s approach. Prospects, meanwhile, can get an advanced look at what playing for a particular school would be like.
“You get to know kids. You get to know their work ethic, you get to know their personality, you get to know who they are,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “Obviously with anybody’s job, the more information you can gather about the situation you have the better you get at making a decision.”
Ault has seen the benefits first hand. A few years ago, while in the beginning stages of implementing his “pistol” offense at Nevada, Ault was seeking an athletic quarterback with the ability to run, but who could also throw to keep defenses honest.
What he discovered through camp was Colin Kaepernick, a lanky kid from Pittman High School in Turlock, Calif., quarterbacking a modified wing-T offense. Ault saw the potential and eventually lured Kaepernick to Reno, where he was the Western Athletic Conference offensive player of the year last season as a sophomore.
“The firsthand experience of getting to know them and talking to them ...” Ault said. “You see them, you see their personalities. You see a lot of good things and some bad things.”
The same is true for Boise State coach Chris Petersen and his newly prized quarterback, Kellen Moore. While rewriting record books at Prosser (Wash.) High School, Moore would spend a week each summer at Boise State’s camp with his teammates. It was there that the Broncos staff got their first look at the undersized, yet highly talented left-handed quarterback.
Not surprisingly, Boise State was the only Football Bowl Subdivision team to heavily recruit Moore. The result was Moore starting as a redshirt freshman at Boise State last year, and the Broncos going 12-0 in the regular season.
As a bonus, the move also helped the Broncos land Moore’s brother, Kirby, a receiver who was highly coveted by every major college on the West Coast.
“You can watch tape, watch all their games, and then get there and watch them play in front of you for a half hour and get more out of that than watching 10 games on tape,” Petersen said. “That’s why we really like it. Not so much to really recruit them right then, but to say ‘do we think this guy is that type of player?”’
Camps can also help coaches find overlooked prospects that don’t show up on the radar of the various recruiting services out there, a trait that’s become the hallmark of non-BCS programs such as TCU and Boise State. Patterson said he’ll sometimes bypass a refined high school prospect and instead take a chance on a kid who doesn’t show the best skills at camp, but is coachable and has potential.
“To be able to coach a guy for a few days and be around them,” he said. “That’s definitely the way to go.”