Ever since the inaugural American Family Insurance ALL-USA was named 30 years ago, a lot has changed in high school football. Players are bigger. Gear is lighter. Players are more specialized. In “Things Done Changed,” we’ll look at how the game has evolved.
Peter Kalambayi had always felt as if he could never truly gauge his talents on the gridiron because he always was practicing with elite players at Butler High School in Matthews, N.C.
The Bulldogs are a mainstay in most national rankings; including the USA TODAY Sports Super 25, which listed the Charlotte-area school at No. 3 in the final 2012 poll.
It wasn’t until Kalambayi attended the Nike combine in Charlotte the summer after his sophomore season that he got the proof he needed.
“That camp was where I got my name,” said Kalambayi, a senior linebacker who is committed to Stanford. “I would do good in practice and everything, but it’s so much different when it’s not your teammate. I went there against all of the top players and that’s what got everything rolling for me. Camps are a must these days.”
From team camps to skills camps to 7-on-7 camps, players who want to land the best possible scholarships know that attendance is pretty much mandatory.
“It hasn’t always been that way,” Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. “Colleges have always had team camps, but the different combines have gotten big since the late 1990s and mid-2000s. It’s huge now.”
The concept is simple; players, no matter how talented, have to be seen in order to receive offers.
“It’s like the old cliché question: ‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s around, does it make a sound?’ ” said Damon Sayles, a recruiting coordinator for ESPN Recruiting Nation. “The answer is no more times than not if you relate that to football recruiting. These camps have evolved into something that’s necessary. Thirty years ago, they weren’t around, but now they’re used as a tool for college coaches. A kid can go out and have a great Saturday and it can change their whole career.”
Marist (Atlanta) tight end Greg Taboada can attest to that.
Last June, Taboada, a senior, was invited to Alabama’s team camp, had a strong showing and left with an offer from the Crimson Tide.
“So I went from pretty much unknown to the reigning national champs offering me,” said Taboada, who eventually committed to Stanford. “I definitely wouldn’t be where I am without camp.”
John Burroughs (St. Louis) senior running back Ezekiel Elliott came into the Gridiron Kings camp in Orlando last July rated as a three-star prospect. By the time he left he’d been bumped up to a four-star prospect.
“I wanted to be recognized for my ability and the way to do that was to go to camps,” said Elliott, an Ohio State commit. “I’d gone to the Nike combine and got MVP before but Gridiron Kings gave me the bump up in the rankings. When you’re ranked higher, you get more looks from college coaches.”
Coaches wait intently on the results from combines, which measure everything from vertical leaps to 40-yard dash times.
“That’s just the way it works these days,” Sayles said. “Some of the recruiting purists look down on it because that’s not how it was done 10 years ago, but that’s just how it works now. Coaches rely on the results from these camps. The videos that come out of the camps are priceless for prospects too.”
He only got invited to camp with the Crimson Tide after they’d seen his highlight video on YouTube.
“There was no YouTube back in the day,” Farrell said. “The biggest change that the camps have made over the years is that there are more of them. Coaches are seeing you a lot more and I think that benefits everyone.”