Bryce Petty knew he was good enough to earn a scholarship offer from a BCS school, yet the Midlothian (Texas) High quarterback couldn't seem to get a coach to pull the trigger. As the nation's top programs courted upper-tier recruits, Petty waited. All the while, he knew he had a better chance if those coaches could watch him throw with their own eyes or engage him in a little chalk talk.
But NCAA rules strictly regulate contact between football prospects and coaches, and the NCAA doesn't allow tryouts in Division I. Still, Petty knew that for a few weeks near the summer solstice, coaches and prospects get a brief reprieve from those rules at school-run, funded-by-parents camps. At these events, coaches and prospects can finally talk football without violating the "bump" rule or worrying about who called who and when. At the same time, coaches can see with their own eyes whether a player deserves a scholarship offer. The ensuing weeks after camp season usually feature a flood of commitments from under-the-radar players and a reshuffling of favorites by highly recruited players who finally got to spend some quality time on campus.
Petty is a prime example of the former. A few weeks ago, he had scholarship offers from Portland State and New Mexico, but several big-time schools kept telling him an offer might be forthcoming. "They like you," he said. "But they don't love you."
So Petty hit the camp circuit. He went to Tennessee, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Nebraska. At Tennessee's All-Position Camp (June 11-13, $290 for overnight campers), Petty spent plenty of quality time with first-year Volunteers offensive coordinator Dave Clawson. Clawson liked what he saw. The following Tuesday, he offered Petty a scholarship, and Petty accepted the next day. Clawson's quick offer probably allowed Tennessee to beat out Nebraska, whose coaches were impressed by Petty's appearance at their camp.
And while Petty may have impressed Clawson, Clawson impressed Petty just as much. The coach may not have been able to make that impression on the phone. "The coaching staff is a really big deal to me," Petty said. "Camps are a really good place to (get to know coaches). You get what you see."
Most college programs throughout the country held camps in the past two weeks for elementary and high schoolers, but coaches know prospects have busy camp calendars. So some schools offer short elite camps that receive little billing in the official camp flyer but plenty of word-of-mouth advertisement from coaches and other prospects.
On Wednesday and Thursday, USC will hold its annual Rising Stars camp, which is open only to rising high school juniors and seniors. The Trojans' camp brochure points out that the camp is intended for "advanced" players only, and players may find themselves competing for scholarship offers in drills. Last year's edition featured a who's who of recruits, including future USC signees Matt Kalil, D.J. Shoemate, Armond Armstead and Tyron Smith as well as future LSU signee Patrick Johnson, who shot to the top of Rivals.com's cornerback rankings after a standout day at the camp. This year, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei quarterback Matt Barkley, the nation's top-ranked recruit and a USC commitment, likely will try to help his future coaches snag a few more players.
And because many of the players at the camp are recruits, they get a show. Last year, campers emerged from the tunnel as a few members of the USC band played.
Two schools in the Sunshine State take a similar approach. On July 18, Florida will host its fourth Friday Night Lights camp. Last year, elite players competed in drills as a Jay-Z song blared throughout Florida Field and the Gators' recently acquired national championship trophy stood sentry. The next day, many of the same recruits headed northwest to Tallahassee for Florida State's first Seminole Showtime camp. There, future Alabama signee Julio Jones and future Miami signee Marcus Forston mingled with former Seminoles stars Corey Simon and Antonio Cromartie as well as guest speaker Jerry Rice.
Florida's Urban Meyer said he launched Friday Night Lights his first year in Gainesville because he wanted players to experience the feeling of playing in The Swamp. The atmosphere itself would be the recruiting tool. "We wanted to be unique," Meyer said. "I wanted something that stood out from everyone else."