Letters (and numbers) from camp

Bucknuts sent 12 local boys away to the Ohio State Football camp and they came back as, well…as boys with some great experiences.

Actually, Bucknuts didn't "send" any of the boys. But we did follow twelve high school footballers from Oakwood High School here in Dayton to see what they got out of the vaunted camp experience. Will any of them be included in the "senior advance camp" next year as super prospects? Probably not, although a couple of them believe they should be included. This is a group of kids that have played together since the third grade. The bulk of the group is going to be juniors next year. Last year, under the steadying leadership of Coach Paul Stone, they somehow got their Lumberjack team into the playoffs for the first time in 16 years. With half the team being sophomores, they defied all odds by winning their first playoff game and then falling to Hamilton Badin in the second game. In five overtimes. These are kids who don't give up on their dreams very easily.

Now, they are bulked up and have an extra helping of confidence. And they invaded the first camp en masse, ready to over-run Columbus. This is the short tale of two of those campers and their experiences. Hey – now you know what all those kids spent their hard-earned $270 on, right? It brings a new meaning to the phrase, "Go Bucks"…

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Nick had been to the camp the year before. He came back this year 25 pounds heavier and 3 inches taller. His bench press had gone up considerably to about 300 pounds. As a sophomore, he won a lot of all-area type honors and got a little ink in the local newspapers. He is the team's middle linebacker, back-up fullback and punt returner. A unique combination.

Nick has gotten "recruiting letters" from Notre Dame, Boston College, Northwestern, Kentucky and Clemson to name a few. The reason they are "recruiting letters" and not just recruiting letters is that colleges are not allowed to officially recruit a kid until the kid is officially a junior. So each of the letters started off with a variant of "Thanks for your interest in ______." His interest? A couple of times, Nick didn't even know what state the school was in…

He had achieved a lot that year on the football field. But something that happened the previous year at OSU camp had left a bad taste in Nick's mouth. He ran a 4.85 forty, after convincing himself he was a 4.5 "kind of guy".  So, he took the spring off from baseball, went to a sports acceleration program and was gunning to run an "elite 40" here at this year's camp.

And the testing takes place the first day that the kids sign in…

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Jeff had a little different story. He was a team leader along with Nick And despite the return of a senior Oakwood quarterback, Jeff was slated to take half the snaps early in the year and see which cream rose to the top. The betting line had it that Jeff would be The Man by the middle of the year.

First game. Early first quarter. Jeff comes out with a nagging injury that turns out to be a broken leg. This was a tough kid who had never been hurt before. After six games, he was playing again and got a different injury. Jeff basically missed his whole sophomore year and missed out on the Oakwood playoff glory. His response? Work harder. He had to show everyone what he could do…

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A year ago at the camp, Nick got a bad sunburn. He didn't realize that the players would be outside virtually the entire time that there was daylight. Being fifteen years old, he figured he could withstand the pain but he certainly learned his lesson.

The next year, he vowed, he would go nowhere without his sun block. When he got to camp, though, he couldn't find it.

He got another bad sunburn. Live and learn?

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Jeff was eager to get started. "After we checked in, we got right to it. The quarterbacks were split up into about twelve groups and got to work. We started off with some warm-up throwing drills and then threw some routes with the receivers".

The QBs would get some time out of the sun to talk that cerebral QB stuff and watch films. This was a good time for Jeff to show his stuff after being off, virtually, for an entire year.

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This was it. Nick was ready to be tested again in the 40.

"Man, I was nervous. I waited a whole year for this, got tons of advice, went to the acceleration program and here I was with everyone watching".

"I remember the last advice I got: just relax before you go. Great advice when you can barely stand up! We got two chances for official times. On my first run, I was so tight I almost fell down. They told me it was a 4.92. God, that was worse than last year!"

"So now I'm pissed. The pressure was gone. On the second run, I was clocked at 4.61. I knew I could do it…"

Nick started meeting coaches he had never seen before. Most of them asked his name and where he went to school. Coach Mark Snyder from the Buckeyes stopped by to say hello.

Life was good.

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Jeff went through the testing but was more geared for the seven-on-seven drills. "It was good competition and a realization as to where you stood against your fellow quarterbacks." Jeff was the only QB at the camp who didn't throw an interception.

"One of the DBs was unbelievably quick. I just stayed away from him".

Turned out it was Donte Whitner from Cleveland Glenville, the number one rated cornerback in the nation.

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Nick was on cruise control now. Bad sunburn and all. "Coach Tressel talked to us for about 15 minutes. That was cool. And I remember we had Quiznos subs for lunch". He remembers he ate at Applebee's a couple times and bought a case of water (!) to drink in his down time.

At age 16, you might not remember the name of your position coach but you remember your basic feedings.

"We woke up each morning at 6:55 and breakfast was at 7:30. Coach Conley talked to us the second day and we got a lot of position pointers. On the third day, we watched OSU highlights on the jumbotron inside the horseshoe. That might have been the coolest part of the camp."

Better then a 4.61 forty. "Oh yeah, I forgot about that!"

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Jeff remembered fondly the sacred grass of the stadium, as well. "They let us walk across the field, which was an amazing experience for everyone. The camp overall was a good experience for me and helped get us back into a football mode".

After all, it's already the middle of June…

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This was the second camping experience for both these guys. Actually, Jeff has also been to some throwing camps for QB's and receivers. Nick spends an equal amount of time at basketball camps.

Why highlight these two kids? Well, Jeff was the quarterback (way back in the eighth grade) that I said could have played better than the (then) sophomore Steve Bellisari. You can look it up. The column was "Jeff For Quarterback". It is astounding how much preparation these kids get for their positions. That was my argument back then, too. It is awful hard to teach a great athlete the touch and intuitive aspects of this position. As we found out with Stevie…

Jeff has been playing QB now for seven years. He's rarely seen a season without huge successes. A number of those teams went undefeated. Then again, he had never been injured before. We'll see how all that preparation pays off in the 2002 season.

Nick? He has been in Ohio's Future Stars since he was a freshman. And he gets tested by a lot of the older bigger players on opposing teams because of it. And he loves getting tested.

Now, with the "elite 40" time, he is working on bulking up to 200 pounds for the season and creating a new highlight film for 2002. Would he go back to the OSU camp next year? "I'd like to be part of the senior advance camp. Hey – and I'd like to run a 4.5 forty. I can do it!"

The camp on this Wednesday involves 50 or so of the more recruit-able football players around. But there were 2800 other kids who paid to go to camp. That's what's so great about high school football. Most of the kids toil in obscurity for the love of the game and to hang with the guys.

Here are two more…

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