Elite Talent Football Academy President and CEO Derrick Tatum has made a business out of helping aspiring student athletes follow a path that led him the NFL. Every summer he assembles a bus tour that exposes his students to competition and coaches all over the country. Now he believes those opportunities for exposure under siege thanks to new NCAA regulations. After a few stops in the Great Lakes State last weekend he sat down with The Michigan Insider to share his thoughts.
Sam Webb: I’ve been seeing you do this for years… making the trips not just across the South, but coming up here to the North. A lot of southern coaches feel like if you’re from the South, you should play in the South. What made you bring guys up here to the North?
Derrick Tatum: "Me being from Cleveland, I have an affinity for the schools up here and one thing about the northern coaches is… the coaches in the south, they have more to choose from. So, their attitudes at times are a little different. Up here, coaches don't have Georgia, Florida, Alabama, right next door, so they are receptive to the movement of what we're trying to get accomplished."
Sam Webb: I’ve been covering Michigan recruiting for a while. They have recruited some in Georgia (in the past), but lately it feels like every week there are five to ten offers are going out in the state of Georgia from Michigan. Are people talking about that and taking notice?
Derrick Tatum: "People are talking about it because Harbaugh and his staff are there more often than they have been ever. And they are offering the top kids, and kids are considering going to Michigan now. That's why we come up here. We come up here because we love the competition up north. It's a little different here. We feel like the kids are hungry because they don't have the same opportunities that we have in the South."
Sam Webb: Lay out the tour so we can highlight all the places you have been and are going to be.
Derrick Tatum: "We went to UTC which is University of Tennessee Chattanooga. Great facilities, great staff there. From there we went to the Cincinnati’s camp, which is phenomenal. Then we went to Grand Valley State, which is one of the best facilities you're going to see. For a Division II school they have Division I facilities. Then (last Sunday), Eastern Michigan and we went to Michigan also, then to Toledo, and then from there we're going to Kentucky for a football camp. It's been a fun filled trip. Kids are getting exposure they normally wouldn't have gotten, and the experience of just competing against a different type of player is really (benefitting) us."
Sam Webb: Do you think these guys seeing Jamyest Williams come up with you and go on these tours resonated with them and showed them the possibilities?
Derrick Tatum: "Yeah, I mean Jamyest is a rock star and he became a rock star because of coming up here. The Midwest is different. Sometimes in the South if a kid is good he'll get so much attention, sometimes (it’s) not even warranted. But up here it’s like, “offers? Who cares about offers? Prove it!” Every year he came here he had to prove who he was. It wasn't, ‘we're going to treat you differently because you have offers.’ It was, ‘you’ve got to prove you're the dog every single time we come here.’ And that's why we love coming up here… because the competition level is so great. You can't get this everywhere. We went to the Cincinnati camp and we saw Ted Ginn in Glenville. So, it became Glenville versus Elite Talent. It was intense, but controlled, meaning the guys were pushing and shoving and in each other's faces, but at the end we all shook hands, hugged it out, and said, ‘good work, man. Thank you.’"
Sam Webb: One of the things that changed this summer is (the NCAA) clamped down on the satellite camps. Schools can only do them over 10 days, you’ve got to do them on a college campus, etc. What do you think about that as a coach?
Derrick Tatum: "I think the main thing is, I didn't like the rule because I have a business. This is my business. This is what I do it for a living. Now I can't coach at these camps, but I'm bringing these guys prospects. You want me to bring these prospects on campus, but tell me I can't coach at the camp? What it did is, it eliminated me bringing extra kids because a lot of times I may bring kids on these visits who really can't afford it, but because I can coach at the camp it can offset some of those costs for bringing two extra kids. So, by not allowing coaches to go to the camps, it's going to hurt them in the long run because now certain players aren't going to be able to make it because they can't afford to go on these trips."
Sam Webb: That felt like a southern initiative…that they wanted to clamp down on the camps. Have you heard from coaches what the rationale was for saying you guys couldn’t work the camps?
Derrick Tatum: "No. I think the NCAA just wants to control the whole process. I don't like it, I don't agree with it, and I think players and coaches and trainers have to come together and figure out something because it is not right for you to do it this way."
Sam Webb: Was it a problem having all those schools come down to the South and have satellite camps at high schools so kids didn’t have to travel all over the place?
Derrick Tatum: "I think it was the best thing because now kids don't have to get in the car and drive 10 hours to go to different camps now because it's right in your backyard, and it's affordable. When you go on a trip, you have to get hotels, food… the travel… a lot of kids can't afford to do that. So now you're limiting (opportunities). Certain kids wouldn't have that opportunity. I like finding kids that are from small towns or deprived areas and take them with me. But now with me not being able to coach at camps, a lot of kids won't be able to afford to make the trip."
Sam Webb: Do you think enough of you come together to file a lawsuit? Is that something you think might be on the horizon?
Derrick Tatum: “I just think first of all we've got to come together, get on the same page, put egos aside and figure out what we're going to do about this. It's a labor dispute. This is my business. Now you're impeding my business to make money because I can't coach at camps. To me, coaches have to come together. If not, we're going to keep getting railroaded by the NCAA."
“One more thing… and you can put this out. We came here, we stayed in Lansing, but we went to the University of Michigan. We didn't go to Lansing because I don't feel like the situation with Curtis Blackwell was handled in the way that he should have been handled. I feel like he did a lot for the city of Detroit, and I feel like in the last week or two weeks, it’s like everybody is coming down on him for the situation. We all don't know what happened. I just feel like if we don't know what happened, you've got to stand behind a guy that I've been knowing for years. That's why we didn't go to Michigan State because I just feel like they didn't handle the situation correctly. I'm behind Curtis Blackwell because he's helped thousands of kids in the Detroit area and around the country. He's helped hundreds and hundreds of kids get scholarship offers, and he done everything he could do for the city of Detroit and I feel like right now he's getting a raw deal."
Sam Webb: Do you think that’s something that a lot of coaches that know him are feeling right now?
Derrick Tatum: “Yes. There are a lot of trainers and a lot of coaches that understand what he did for them and for us is crucial. So, a lot of coaches are saying I'm not going to Michigan State at this time because we stand behind Curtis Blackwell."