To satisfy your off-season football jones, I recommend that you attend one of these camps to see the madness first hand if there is one being held at a college or stadium near you. They are normally free, and the drama will surprise you. I have attended a few camps this spring and summer, and got a chance to stop by the Rising Stars Camp at USC this past week. I came away with impressed, and with a few essentials for going "camping":
1) Get a Roster Sheet - If a roster sheet is available, make sure you grab one because it can be very difficult to tell who's who among the hundreds of athletes on the field. Each player is generally assigned a "number" that is placed on the front of the workout shirt they are given, but it doesn't always include the athlete's name. Even the well organized Rising Stars Camp had a few participants who wore their own gear, so you had to ask around to find out who certain players were.
2) The Eye Test - Certain guys stand out right away when you see the players warming up. They pass the "eye" test - meaning they look bigger, stronger, and faster than their peers. If you think players like recent commit Tyron Smith blow you away in his photos from the Rising Stars Camp, he's even more physically impressive in person. And then you have players like offensive line commit Matt Kalil, who weighs close to 290lbs but doesn't look like it. Almost lean, Kalil is one of those big uglies that will actually look good in a uniform.
3) Three-Ring Circus - When the whistle blows after warm-ups, the players suddenly scatter to their own position groups to participate in different drills. The intensity really picks up as the athletes become focused on performing at their best to impress the coaching staff. For those athletes who have not attended an SC camp before, the competition, pace and coaching is a little bit of a shock. At the Rising Stars Camp, the Trojan coaches and staff seemed to coach every one of the participants like they were on SC's roster. There is absolutely no walking from drill to drill - and if a coach saw that, they let the player know about it. And woe to the player who came to the camp out of shape. The length and intensity of the full day of drills tested the players' stamina and willingness to go hard on each rep, drill or scrimmage.
The stakes are even higher for players who are committed to a school or who have received a lot of press coverage. They are marked men during the drill phase of the camp as other players try to make a name for themselves by beating the "blue chipper" in the one on one drills. Those who do make an impression are pulled aside at some point during the day by a cadre of coaches and offered a football scholarship. You can see the pride and relief in the athlete's face when that happens.
By the end of the day, the players look like they've been through the wringer. Hundreds of tired and thirsty players make their way to the refreshement tent . . . and that's when you suddenly realize as an observer how precious few of the participants have what it takes to earn a football scholarship from USC. But even those players who are not scholarship quality stop and thank the Trojan coaches for the opportunity to get a taste of USC's special brand of football practice.
Coach Pete Carroll summed it up best at the end of the Rising Star Camp when he reminded the participants that although they may not get a scholarship offer from USC, they can still take back the energy, enthusiasm and competitive spirit they displayed on Howard Jones field that day to their own teams, and be leaders during their upcoming high school football season.
And that's what camp season is all about.