Welcome to 2016, where the slow, muggy days of June no longer mark the most profitless month in the world of college football.
June instead has become the kickoff month for the new-age satellite camp and its congruent cacophony.
Throughout, head coaches and their respective staffs from all over the country pile together in RVs or jump on planes to begin their organized wooing of huge numbers of prep prospects at once. Team logos are hidden (by NCAA ruling), Twitter barbs are traded, turf wars are established — Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh recently collaborated on a camp with high school powerhouse Paramus Catholic in New Jersey, after which rival Ohio State coach Urban Meyer announced a partnership at a camp with new Rutgers coach Chris Ash to be held on the same day, less than 30 miles away.
It has provided quite the quenching burst of excitement for those who so voraciously follow the game and its intricacies — yes, even in June.
Penn State, which helped champion these camps and their evolution in the Big Ten when head coach James Franklin began his tenure, is less involved in the modern external theatrics surrounding the camps as trademarked by the outspoken Harbaugh and his uncanny knack for “going viral.”
The Nittany Lions staff has also chosen perhaps a more practical number of camps at which to attend or collaborate, especially within their compact recruiting pipeline radius — 13 — as opposed to Michigan’s whopping 30-plus camps that span 15 states and two countries — Harbaugh’s son and assistant coach was recently on the hunt for specialists in Australia.
Still, there is the nagging thought.
Is it enough?
“Other schools are doing it. If you don’t, you fall behind. You feel like you need to,” said Penn State defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Pry on Tuesday morning, in his office that would’ve been vacant had he not taken the time out of a scheduled vacation to conduct interviews before a two-week stretch of “satellite-camping.”
“We enjoy being with other staffs and doing that together. It’s fun, you meet a lot of guys — which in our profession is important. I think you always weigh ‘Is it worth the time, money and effort to travel to these places? Do you get enough leads that amount to something?’”
There is no “magic number” for return on investment of resources versus recruits acquired, said Pry, who would hate to turn a young man attending a camp to make his collegiate dreams come true into a quantification — that’s the job of the recruiting staff, he said.
“The exposure is great for your program, but are there enough leads to make the trip worth it?” he said. “And you don’t know that until you come out of it and say, ‘OK, we got half a dozen guys we’re gonna recruit pretty good out of this (camp or that camp).’”
Pry grew up as the son of a head coach and climbed his way through the coaching ranks at various institutions himself. He’s seen the evolution of these camps firsthand.
“Coming up as a young coach, camps were either on your campus where you recruited hard to get players (or) it was also a way, as a young coach at (a) lower level school, to supplement your income,” he said. “You wanted to work camps to help pay your bills. (And) for a lot of years, you’d go work a school like Penn State’s camp to pick up on their B-list guys — the guys who maybe weren’t good enough to be (there). You’d jump on those guys and maybe get a chance to see them and meet them.”
Penn State dipped a toe into its upcoming flood of camps last week when Franklin and Pry both attended the Lauren’s First and Goal camp in Lafayette. Franklin was the commencement speaker at the camp, which donates its profits to charity and attracts thousands of campers and hundreds of coaches from around the country.
The staff also splits up for the Sound Mind, Sound Body camps to which various members will travel, including stops in Detroit on Thursday and Friday, in Tampa, Fla. on Saturday and Sunday and in Washington, D.C., on June 23-24.
However, Pry joked that the staff has a “minor league baseball” travel mentality when hitting the other stops on the lists, especially the camps at which Penn State is headliner guest and not just a guest among many programs. NCAA rules prohibit a program’s ability to actually host a camp more than 50 miles from its campus but coaches can be “guests” at any.
Those camps include the Bowling Green camp on Monday in Ohio, the Charlotte camp on Tuesday, the New Jersey camp — a collaboration with offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s former staff at Fordham — on Wednesday, the Old Dominion camp on Thursday, the “DMV” (Maryland, D.C., Virginia) camp on June 20 and the Georgia State camp on June 21. The staff will also be back in Happy Valley on June 17 and 18 to host the Elite Camp I and the LionSTRONG 7-on-7 and Big Man Challenge.
And increased hype around satellite camps in general, especially after “the Harbaugh Effect” and its spat with the SEC, followed by the NCAA’s ban — and then lifting of said ban a week later — increased the number of camps at which it’s become “practical” for a staff to attend.
Penn State went to four last summer and hosted two. This summer, the staff will go to 11 and host two.
The total distance traveled by the staff will be over 5,000 miles. They’ll see and be seen by over 6,000 players.
For Pry, a man with two young daughters and a 14-year-old stepson, it’s quite a bit to balance.
“I love the opportunity to get out and see the high school kids,” he said. “But the tradeoff where I struggle is two-part. It’s additional time away from your family where you’re out of town (and) in hotels. That part of it is hard already in our profession.”
Pry also hates being away from his players, who often want to see him just as much as his family does.
“Those guys are like family,” he said. “When I’m (already) gone six weeks recruiting, I don’t see my linebackers. I don’t see my defensive kids, except for a forced meeting here or there. So you come back off the road and you struggle because you have your vacation now where you want to get out of town with your family, but your players are anxious to see you whether it’s lunch, grilling at the house, a football meeting or taking them out and working them out a little … they just want to see you.”