One-Day College Camps and Combines Sprout as the College Recruiting Timetable Continues to Move Up

By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Potomac (Md.) sophomore running back Ron Darby took his first varsity snap last month and has just three 100-yard games to his credit. But before the high school season even began, the 5-foot-11, 175-pounder had two college scholarship offers after spending time at one-day camps at Maryland and North Carolina.

As the college recruiting timetable continues to move up -- a growing number of top high school prospects make their decisions before their senior years -- one-day college camps and combines run by third parties that test physical ability are playing an ever more significant role in the recruiting landscape. Strong performances at these events can often be as meaningful as strong performances during games.

"College coaches use anything they can to get an edge in the process," said Jeremy Crabtree, national recruiting analyst for "They would be naive to not utilize all the tools out there to help them make an early evaluation. A coach is going to use film but [camps and combines] are definitely becoming a major, major part of the recruiting process."

For Darby, the biggest factor in his recruitment may have been his 40-yard dash. In his first year of high school, Darby missed most of the first half of the season while school officials determined his eligibility, and only then did he join the junior varsity.

But while Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen and North Carolina Coach Butch Davis may be unlikely to judge how a high school freshman performs in a JV game against opponents also too young to get a driver's license but the grown men understand a stopwatch. Their summer camps, open to any prospect, time players in the 40-yard dash and give an opportunity to showcase ability in drills. Darby, already a top place-winner in track and field sprints, took advantage.

At Maryland's one-day camp, Darby remembered, he ran the 40 in 4.3 seconds. That led to a meeting with Friedgen.

A month later, Darby tagged along with a few teammates to North Carolina's one-day camp. Though he was not enrolled in the camp, Darby got an opportunity to run the 40 -- and clocked a 4.4, the fastest time at the camp. The Tar Heels had made up their minds.

NCAA rules prohibit colleges from contacting a player until their junior year of high school (they can't call before April 15 of the prospect's junior year), so North Carolina's coaches called Potomac's coaches to have them tell Darby he had an offer. (The NCAA prohibits college football coaches from making formal, written scholarship offers before Sept. 1 of a prospect's junior year. The NCAA also prohibits college coaches from commenting publicly on recruits unless they have signed a national letter-of-intent, which cannot be done until the first Wednesday in February of a player's senior year.)

"When [assistant Ronnie Crump] first told me, I didn't believe him," Darby said. "Then I heard it from the other coaches."

At the same time, the player Potomac's coaches had hoped to showcase to colleges -- senior Devonta Tabannah, likely a defensive back in college -- has scholarship offers mostly from division I-AA programs. Darby now turns to Tabannah when he has questions about recruiting.

But while some proven high school players wait for scholarship offers, Darby is not alone among younger players hearing early from college coaches. There are combines targeting middle schoolers hoping to catch the eye of a private high school or learn about what lies ahead, and all-star games for eighth-graders. And while the NCAA three years ago banned college coaches from attending combines -- partly to limit the strain on coaches who felt the need to keep up with the Joneses and attend dozens of these events -- their results are posted on the Internet, often with highlight videos.

"We're in a combine and camp culture right now," Potomac Coach Chris Davidson said. "That's the way to get exposure. Kids that don't go to them really shortchange themselves. It's an investment, but if you feel like you're a college prospect, it's in your best interest to do it."

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