BY DENNIS CHASE
TRAVERSE CITY —
After presenting a recruiting workshop at Traverse City Central in February, Ira Childress was asked about another step in the process.
"Parents asked, 'What about a football combine? We need that up here,'" Childress recalled.
The result? A one-day northern Michigan combine and exposure camp will be held July 27 at Thirlby Field.
"(Childress) approached (West coach Tim Wooer) and (Central coach Tom Passinault) about the combine idea and it's blossomed from there," Central athletic director Cody Inglis said. "Exposure for northern Michigan athletes, that was our vision."
Traverse City West and Central staffs will be on the field to help with drills and testing. Childress said Division II and III college coaches will be in attendance. The camp is for players in grades 10-12.
"It's an exciting venture for northern Michigan," Passinault said. "The goal is get boys exposed to Division II, III and NAIA football. It's not only a way for boys to compare themselves against other players in northern Michigan, but it's an opportunity to showcase their talents before college coaches."
Players will be measured and then tested in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, pro agility drill and bench press. They will also take part in position skill drills before the college coaches.
Wooer, once skeptical about the idea, got on board after meeting with Childress and hearing his plan.
"We wanted to provide something at a fair price for kids that would be beneficial," Wooer said. "He had a good plan to create a neat event for kids in northern Michigan."
Childress attended Baldwin High School and played football at Ferris State. He started an administrative career at Ferris before joining the NCAA national office.
Childress, along with Andrea Mosher, the academic coordinator for men's and women's basketball at the University of Detroit Mercy, founded Childress Sports Consulting.
Mosher will meet with parents to talk about the myths and realities of recruiting while players are warming up.
"We want parents to understand the process on how you become a prospective college student-athlete," Mosher said.
Camps are become increasingly popular, particularly in the metro Detroit area, in helping college coaches target potential recruits.
Division I universities host their own camps, which is where elite prospects often garner scholarship offers. Cadillac senior offensive tackle Riley Norman received an offer from Michigan State last summer after an impressive camp outing there. His teammate, Jack Ford, also an offensive tackle, picked up offers from Central Michigan and Toledo after camping at those schools in recent weeks. West lineman Connor Hayes, who will be a junior in the fall, has been on the camp circuit, too, and has offers from Indiana, Central Michigan and Western Michigan.
"The blue-chip kids, Division I schools have found those kids already," Wooer said. "The days of D-1 schools finding a kid when they're going into their senior year is almost over."
But Division II and III schools usually have to wait it out to see which players might drop to them. Division II schools often bring players in for testing a month or so before signing day in February. This camp is intended to give those college coaches a sneak peek at prospects before the season begins.
"I think it's a win-win for everybody," Wooer said. "I think it will be really beneficial for the younger kids. Even though it might be early for a young kid to get recruited by a D-II or D-III school, it will be a good experience for them to see where they're at."
Childress said starting a combine in Traverse City made sense to him.
"I'm a football guy," he said. "When those parents asked about a combine and exposure camp I thought it would be nice to do one and there is no better place to have it than at home. I consider this home. Obviously, I'm not directly from Traverse City, but I am from northern Michigan."
Childress said it was important to have the support of the Traverse City coaches.
"I told them I won't do this without your blessing," he said. "It was important to me that the coaches be behind this."
What makes it unique, Mosher said, is that it blends testing with skill drills.
"That's the nice thing when you have an exposure camp and a combine," she said. "You see the measurables and the projections based on what they can do. You can also see kids who may not have done so well in those tests, but man can they play, man are they competitive. They've got every intangible you can't put on paper. That's where that camp side is so important."
The camp is open to players throughout northern Michigan.
"We bill it as northern Michigan, a loose line from Big Rapids north, but we're not going to exclude anyone based on what your zip code is," Inglis said. "We think it's a great calling card to have it at Thirlby Field.
"And timing-wise, it fits very well for kids. They don't have any true commitments to their football team yet. Practice doesn't start until August 6th."
Players can register at www.childresssports.com. There will be a cap on the number of players accepted so pre-registration is encouraged.