We spent most of last week with Jack in Williamsburg, VA while he attended the invitation-only “Top Gun” football camp. Although the thermometer read 103-106, the heat index hovered around 110 and field turf added what felt like another 20 degrees, I don’t think Jack could have enjoyed it more. He was in heaven. (I was happy too, but man, was I hot.)
Football University (FBU) holds 28 camps through the year across the country for 6th to 12th graders (FBU is the organization that puts on the Army All-American Bowl game for high school seniors each year). They select about 36 kids (roughly six per grade) from each camp to come to the Top Gun camp in July. There were about 1000 kids at Top Gun camp.
Someone said last week that more than half of the top 50 ranked high school senior recruits in the nation were there. Many of the kids we watched play last week will be playing at D-I and D-IAA schools next year and in the years to come.
In April, we snuck Jack in a year early (he was a fifth grader) to a FBU camp at Rutgers. He had a great time and loved the field/classroom format of FBU camps.
We knew he had a done a great job working out at camp and in the classroom, but he’s just so tiny compared to the older kids. (At FBU Top Gun, the kids were grouped by grade. At the regular FBU camps, all the grades are together). Because he was a year young and not huge for his age anyway, we were a little bit surprised that he was selected to attended Top Gun.
Jack also attended a FBU camp in June in Pennsylvania, which featured a different set of coaches, and he was selected again for Top Gun.
All the FBU camps separate players by position — QB, RB, WR, OL, DL, LB, DB & K — and train them specifically for that position. The coaches are all well-known college and NFL coaches and former players. Jack’s linebacker coaches at the Rutgers camp were:
- Ted Cottrell (former defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings, and the San Diego Chargers; fun fact: he went to Del Val College), and
- Ricky Hunley (7th draft pick out of Univ. of AZ, played for Broncos, coached various places including Univ. of MO and Cincinnati Bengals).
At the PA camp, the coaches were:
- John Fontes (assistant coach at LSU, Miami and Oregon State, then coach for the Detroit Lions and the Vikings) and
- Ed O’Neil (All-American LB at Penn State, 1st round NFL pick, played for Lions and Packers).
Click here for photos from FBU Pennsylvania.
My favorite moment from FBU in PA was when Jack answered a question in class. Here’s how it went:
The linebackers are in the classroom after an 8-hour day. High Schooler #1, who’s being highly recruited by DI schools, flails at detailing coverage progressions in cover 2 defense. High Schoolers #2, 3 &4 are clueless as well. Coach Fontes asks for volunteers.
Tiny little fifth-grader-masquerading-as-a-sixth-grader JACK raises his hand and proceeds to the white board to detail and draw every possible permutation of the coverage, sounding like the Professor talking to Sherman in Rocky & Bullwinkle.
The best thing: He said he did it because he knew if he didn’t volunteer I would kick his butt.
Coach Cottrell seemed to really like Jack at FBU Rutgers and we were thrilled when we realized after the opening ceremonies that he would be in charge of the sixth graders at Top Gun. He recognized Jack right away and they bonded about Del Val and Doylestown.
Camp started off really well for Jack. The photo at the top of the post happened the first night in one of the first one-on-one drills. It led to one of Jack’s best moments at camp: the Coach Cottrell hug.
After Jack made that play, Coach Cottrell started yelling praise at him from way across the field; he continued yelling good things at Jack as he walked across the field to him. When he reached Jack, he told him that that play deserved a hug.
The general schedule for the three days was workout on the field then class room session, three times a day.
The workout on the field was broken into a drills session, a one-on-one session (LB versus QB/RB), and then seven-on-seven (which is kind of weird to watch: 3 LBs, 2 DBs, 2 Ss against 2 QBs, 2-3 WR and 2-3 RB, so there are two balls flying around and a lot to keep track of).
Although it’s hard to be objective, I would say Jack was in the top three LB in his age group at camp. He struggled a bit with the outstanding speed some of the offensive players had and he was consistently giving up many inches in height and some weight to the guys he was covering. (Remember, he’s at least a year younger than everyone else in his group.)
Also, so much of Jack’s game — and excellence — is his hitting. Obviously, this camp was no contact, so that worked against Jack showing the best of his skills. Almost all the drills are geared toward covering the pass, which again, probably isn’t Jack’s best strength. You could tell that he was just dying to blast through a line and hit a QB hard.
Even though Jack was sometimes getting outpaced in the open field (these are some of the best players in the U.S.), we were most surprised at the speed he showed.
When he did get beat by a speedy RB/WR it was usually only by a step and while he often lost touch with the guy at the beginning of the play, he just as often ran him down and ultimately made the play. I think he realized by the third day that roughing them up a bit at the start of the play slowed them down.
All in all, we had a great few days — apart from the heat. I was impressed with the level of coaching. They demanded a lot of the kids and for the most part, the kids responded. There was very little fooling around; everyone was serious about learning to play better and competing and kept up the pace.
Jack loves FBU because he really like the classroom element. While the coverages he was working on are probably too sophisticated for him to use in the next few years, he loves to increase his football knowledge and he’ll be ready when the complexity of the game steps up in high school.
Click here for photos from FBU Top Gun 2010.