A high school football coach’s concern for his players runs deep, and that passion will be on display this weekend in Houston as 75 coaches from the Houston Independent School District (H.I.S.D.) hope to find an opportunity for their seniors to play at the next level.
Joining forces with the National Football Foundation (NFF) Touchdown Club of Houston Chapter, the high school coaches are staging the Fifth Annual Greater Houston Senior Football Showcase February 9 at the Methodist Training Center, home of the Houston Texans. Recruiters from more than 55 small colleges will attend, providing 500 high school seniors a unique opportunity to earn academic and participation scholarships at the Division II, III and the NAIA levels.
“This started because we wanted to get the student-athletes in the Houston Independent School District a chance to go to college,” said Milby High School head coach Philip Camp, a driving force behind the event. “This thing has taken off like a rocket, and it’s going to all the best places that you can.”
The event has produced more than $8 million in annual scholarship the past few years, according to Coach Camp, and this year recruiters will travel from more 18 states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
“We salute the leadership of the NFF chapter in Houston for making this happen,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “They have done this for many years for many kids, and they have set the tone on how to make a difference in football. In addition, we’re thrilled through the direction of Hall of Fame Coach Terry Donahue that a second one is taking place for the first this year in Los Angeles.”
Before the Showcase, the local school system produced around 30 football scholarships a year from the 24 high schools in the district, a level far below the area’s potential. Organizers realized that because of tight recruiting budgets at small colleges, there was a missed opportunity to recruit a lot of local prospects who had the grades and the athletic ability. More importantly, the organizers understood that by addressing the void they could drastically increase the number of their student-athletes who would go on to college.
“The best part of the event is that it’s totally free to the players and the college coaches who are attending,” said Chris Vaughan, a key organizer of the event and a board member of the NFF Touchdown Club of Houston Chapter. “In the Houston area, there are a lot of kids who want to continue to play football and go to college, but there are not a lot of small colleges in the area, so it’s a major expense for them to come here to recruit. By putting on an event like this, small college coaches can come and see 500 kids in one day. After the first year, we knew that we were onto something good.”
The Greater Houston Senior Football Showcase distinguishes itself from other camps and combines because the event is entirely free for the participants and colleges, and academic binders (verifying academic eligibility) are the only information distributed. Organizers do not create a database based on athletic performance of a participant at the event. Coaches must make their own athletic assessments, subsequently inviting a participant to the sidelines for a face-to-face meeting.
“It’s become a big event. I think it’s awesome for the kids in the area because a lot of the kids are going to go unnoticed,” said Baker University (Kan.) head coach Mike Grossner, who has attended the event in the past and will be present again this year. “The Houston event allows me to get in and out in one day. What is so special about the event is that they are so well prepared. They have the young man’s grades, test scores as well as his general athletic criteria. It allows coaches like me from schools with strong academic criteria to pinpoint an individual kid, talk to him and watch him perform. It’s a great day for us.”
Participants, who all have to meet minimum academic standards, compete in a series of athletic events designed to let the college coaches assess each player’s potential, including a 40-yard dash, a bench press and several agility tests. Academically, participants must meet at least two of the three following criteria: a 1,000 on the SAT (math and verbal score) or a 21 on the ACT; a GPA of 2.5 or higher; or be ranked in the top half of his senior class.
“This event works because of the grades and SAT and ACT scores. That’s what gets these kids into these schools,” said Camp. “Yes, football is a big thing. Football is a tool, but it’s not the driving force behind this. These are small colleges that want Texas football players who they know that they can take from an academic standpoint because their grades and SATs scores have been reviewed as part of the event.”
In the time of tight budgets, the event allows smaller colleges to see 500 student-athletes at one time while minimizing their travel costs. The cost of the event, approximately $7,500 for the organizers, is offset through sponsors, which includes Frenchy’s Chicken, Chick-fil-A, Blue Bell Ice Cream, Balfour/Dilly and the Houston Texans. The major costs include t-shirts, insurance, catering and the recruiting binders.
“One of the things that has always bugged me about combines and camps is that they say they provide kids exposure to colleges,” said Vaughan. “I always felt like people were taking advantage of parents and kids, and this was something that we felt we could do without having to charge anybody anything. We just want kids who want to go to college and play football to have a chance to be exposed.”
Organized through the local coaching network, the chapter’s relationships, letters to athletics directors and Website postings, the event now attracts around 500 participants each year, which is the maximum number because of space limitations. The event is not open to student-athletes who have already signed Division I letters of intent. Coby Rhoden, a teacher at Reagan High School and a former academic coach in the NFF Play It Smart program, oversees registration. Each participant must submit his SAT scores and transcript, ensuring that they meet the minimum requirements.
“The best thing about the event is all of these scholarships are academic in nature,” said Rhoden. “This helps us sell the point to our student-athletes throughout their high school career that you don’t have to be the biggest and the fastest to play football in college. But if you work hard in the classroom you can still play football in college.”
Participating colleges this year include Faulkner University (Ala.), Arkansas Baptist College, Harding University (Ark.), Henderson State University (Ark.), Hendrix College (Ark.), Adams State (Colo.), Cornell College (Iowa), Grand View University (Iowa), Waldorf College (Iowa), William Penn University (Iowa), Augustana College (Ill.), Greenville College (Ill.), Lake Forest College (Ill.), Trinity International University (Ill.), Saint Joseph’s College (Ind.), Bethel College (Kan.), Kansas Wesleyan University, McPherson College (Kan.), Southwestern College (Kan.), Tabor College (Kan.), University of Saint Mary (Kan.), Louisiana College, Concordia University (Mich.), Northwood University (Mich.) Avila University (Mo.), Lindenwood University (Mo.), Missouri Valley College, Southwest Baptist University (Mo.), Westminster College (Mo.), Belhaven University (Miss.), Millsaps College (Miss.), Minot State University (N.D.), Valley City State University (N.D.), Concordia University (Neb.), Dordt College (Neb.), Marietta College (Ohio), Bacone College (Okla.), Baker University (Okla.), Oklahoma Baptist University, Oklahoma Panhandle State, Rhodes College (Tenn.), Angelo State University (Texas), Austin College (Texas), East Texas Baptist University, Hardin-Simmons University (Texas), Howard Payne University (Texas), Lon Morris College (Texas), Southwestern University (Texas), Tartleton State (Texas), Texas College, Texas Lutheran University, Trinity University (Texas), University of Mary Hardin Baylor (Texas), Wayland Baptist University (Texas), and Beloit College (Wis.).
“It does not matter what their background is or their athletic ability. If a high school senior comes out here, they are going to be seen by college coaches and have a shot to further their educations and play a little bit of football,” said Camp. “Most of these kids have never been outside of I-610, let alone Houston, Texas. Now they’re going to away to college. If they stay all four years and get their degree, that is fantastic. If they just go for a semester, how much does that broaden their horizon?”
One of the more active NFF chapters in the nation, the NFF Touchdown Club of Houston distributes more than $15,000 a year in scholarships and $20,000 a year in weight room equipment. The group’s other activities include a robust speakers series and a wide range of events designed to honor the major contributors to the game of football in the region and the local student-athletes who excel on and off the gridiron.
Based on the success of the Houston event, the NFF California Showcase, organized by College Football Hall of Fame coach Terry Donahue (UCLA) and hosted by the NFF Newport Beach Chapter, will take place at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., on Feb. 23. Organizers anticipate a strong showing with more than 25 college coaches already scheduled to attend. On Dec. 21, more than 250 student-athletes displayed their skills in front of recruiters from 26 colleges at the El Paso Showcase at the Soccorro Athletic Complex in El Paso, Texas.