Originally, after last week's podcast with Laura McKeeman I set out to discuss why I was less than impressed or enamored with the 7 on 7 phenomenon that is sweeping the nation. My basis for that was less motivated by the "street agent" and corruption angles that person, after person, after personhas used to bash these allstar events. Everything from the AAU parallels and shady coaches to the NCAA's lack of policing and shift from high school based summer workouts has been offered up as protest.
Truth be told for me the biggest issue I wrestle with is and will always be the high school aspect of it all. Football has the distinction of being the only sport where your performance on your high school team is what gets you a scholarship. The coaches must go through your schools to get your information, they have to go through you high school coach, mail starts out getting delivered to your school and the entire process is tied to how you perform on those fields on Friday nights under the lights.
Soccer, swimming, basketball, baseball and the rest are about travel teams and allstar rosters and club teams. High school is something you do to pass the time while your bread is buttered by your elite club team and the tournaments that you hit in the summer times where all the scouts drool over the talent.
Now to be clear, I don't play the club-AAU route is dirty and going through the school is clean game. Let's be honest; we've seen high school coaches out right selling kids off and let's not pretend like certain high schools don't funnel kids year after year after year to schools where the high school coach enjoys a special relationship.
I'm not naive enough to play the good vs bad game but I do love high school football so much that I don't want to see its importance take a hit because of the push in the travel-elite team direction. High School football teams win state championships, high school football teams bring communities together on Friday nights across America and the summertime is when high school football teams are made. For every event, every camp, every tournament that a kid goes to with his Allstar-Elite unite he is spending that time not with his high school team, not running his high school offense or defense with his high school teammates.
That's what I find irksome.
Summertime was special because we did it together. From June until camp in August we were together almost everyday. Lifting, running, going to camp and running through our passing leagues. That's right we did 7 on 7's same as these elite squads, but it was with the brothers we'd be grinding with in the fall. It is something high school basketball coaches have battled for quite some time and now high school football coaches are doing the same.
However, given the nature of football I don't think I have nearly as much to worry about as the basketball folks. Read more for why after plenty of wrestling with it I've decided to come down in favor of the all-star events...
First and foremost football and basketball are apples and oranges. The AAU guys are out there still playing basketball, five on five, running screens, playing defense and getting fouls called. The game is still the same. Football is an 11 man game so we've got that angle to start out with. When you're a playing an exclusive passing game you're not seeing what football is predicated on; controlling the trenches, pushing bodies around, getting after the quarterback and establishing the run.
So in that regard high school football is safe. Coaches are still going to have to watch high school tape; the way a wide receiver reacts in a two hand touch scenario can be worlds different than how they react when that 6'3" 235 lbs linebacker is trying to put the crown of their helmet in his sternum as opposed to just tagging off at the hip. You'll need that high school tape to know if you're 6'2" 210 lbs safety who is snatching interceptions at the IMG Academy 7 on 7 tournament can tackle to save a touchdown or is comfortable coming into the box when you play a run-centric squad.
After spending the weekend looking at the reports coming out of Nike's The Opening and getting to talk to Laura McKeeman last week, I've come away with more of a positive view of these events than I had a week or so ago. Sure 7 on 7 and lineman drills aren't real football but that doesn't mean these type camps are totally worthless.
Of course most folks will talk about the amount of coaches present, the way teams can look at a multitude of players in one fell swoop and obviously these events make life infinitely easier for the media folk who can hit one spot and see the best of the best. No need to try and get everyone to your one day camp or swarm at a regional high school combine or passing league tournament. Now the best of the best are in one spot and in a few afternoons you can get quick evals done.
Personally, I don't much give a damn about making the colleges' or the medias' job easier. I'm glad it is easier, we're getting flooded with more information than ever before, but that is not where the benefits lay in my opinion. The best part of these events is, as with most of football for me, in the kids' experience.
Not because they can get seen by more schools than ever, yeah that's great. Issue is these guys at the elite events are already on the radar, that's how they get invited, they're not unknowns getting exposure for the first time. Rather they are growing their already existing sphere of influence.
If we wanted to talk exposure from a discovery standpoint, nothing will ever beat the "we were watching tape of player X and this guy Y stood out to us as well, can we get more tape of him" OR "while I was in the stands scouting this RB I was very impressed with an LB on the opposing team."
So that point is moot to me, the exposure that I do think everyone of these kids is going to benefit from?
Competition and friends.
When you play high school football, in a rural or urban setting, you have zero control over the guys that you're playing with or against. Players can't control the competition level, so when you have an elite athlete going up against "standard" high school talent he is going to shine more often than not and most importantly he is not getting pushed to reach his potential. He has no measuring stick, no "how good am I for real" moments.
These camps and events are those moments. The guy who is the best 1A player in his state and has drawn some interest is now working with and going against the elite 5A prospects. Combines are good for measuring but actually playing with or against elite players is an experience like none other. It shows players what they need to work on, where their strengths and weaknesses lie, it can humble a dude quicker than any "talking to" from a coach or parent and it can inspire a guy who didn't realize he was as good as he showed himself to be.
Instead of waiting until they get that first slap in the face during summer school or training camp when they get to college these guys are getting their first does of steady BCS competition early. It makes the physical transition a little easier, it can make the mental transition to not being head and shoulders better than everyone else easier for many as well.
And oh the friends. During your visits to schools or to junior days or senior camps you have a bit of a chance to make friends with people not at your high school. However, mostly those are quick shuttle in and out events where the school takes center stage moreso than the actual player to player interaction. When you get to play on a team or spend a weekend with guys from across the country in your same situation you can forge a bond that will last you through the process. For me, this is the best part of the new "all star" phenomenon.
For all the talk about recruiting, the million dollar cottage industry that it is becoming and people following it from all over there is not much known about how it works from the player side. Especially if the parent, a high school coach or close family friends have never gone through the big time recruiting process. The phone calls, the letters in the mail, taking visits, going to camps, putting together film and everything that goes into the player's side is not standard.
Just speaking from experience, for my parents it was all new. My parents understood what I needed to do to go to college but the visits and the film and the "do I have to go to this" was all foreign territory. My high school coach had a handle on some of it but what really helped me was meeting guys on multiple visits that I could bounce ideas off of and see what they were experiencing and how mine compared to their's.
Keep in mind that's as a two star guy that still was not sure he wanted to play college football. For these five star kids things are even more unique. If your high school coach has not handled elite recruits, if your parents didn't go to college or have no clue about the process you're opening up a can of worms that sees guys get taken advantage of, leads to mismanagement of the process and believing individuals who don't always have their best interest at heart.
Getting a chance to build the genuine friendships that grow out of competition and spending time together is also getting a chance to get a little help in the process. We saw it originally in basketball when, through AAU those bonds were built and players got advice on different schools from their peers. Now we're seeing it in football and any help the kids can get in the process is something I am all for.
This seven on seven and elite camp rising is a chance, much like the Elite 11, Manning Passing Academy, Under Armour All-American Game and US Army All-American for elite players to meet, grow a bond and get some peer help in making the most important decision they have to make to that point in their life.