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.
"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
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."