LAYTON — All is well at the annual All Poly football camp.
This week’s gathering in Davis County has drawn 500 upperclassmen and 250 underclassmen. They represent more than half the states in the country plus American Samoa, Australia and New Zealand.
Then, there are the coaches. This year’s participants include staffers from 35 programs competing at various levels across the nation. The cast includes Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, who joined members of his staff in making Ellison Park one of the stops on his extensive tour of satellite and non-institutional camps over the past several weeks.
“It’s one of the best. One of the great ones,” Harbaugh said. “The amount of distance people come to this camp really brings a big, huge part of the football world together."
Harbaugh and Utah State coach Matt Wells spoke to the participants before instruction began on the field Thursday afternoon. Harbaugh explained such involvement is for the good of the game and he enjoys helping players. Harbaugh is in the midst of a well-publicized tour that includes 40 stops this month, including American Samoa and Australia.
Exhaustion, though, has yet to enter the equation. The coach, in fact, insists he’s gaining energy.
“I love coaching and teaching,” Harbaugh said. “If you don’t like doing this, or you don’t have the energy to do this, then you got into the wrong profession in my opinion.”
Inspiration, he continued, comes from looking around at the youngsters living their dream, taking their shot and having at it.
“You just walk out here and its awesome to be a part of it and even better to be able to contribute,” Harbaugh said.
NCAA legislation, though, nearly put an end to such participation by coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision. In April, they were prohibited from involvement at satellite and non-institutional camps.
For a variety of reasons, it was repealed a few weeks later — allowing coaches like Harbaugh to make the rounds at places like the All Poly Camp.
“Not having these would be bad for the student-athletes, it would be bad for the families, and it would be bad for competition,” Harbaugh said.
It’s a popular opinion.
“If you want what’s best for the kids you give them these opportunities,” said Oregon State coach Gary Andersen, who noted that many kids don’t have the money to visit various campuses during the recruiting process. “This is their avenue to be able to get out in front of people.”
Andersen would like to see the recruiting calendar changed, though, because he believes the current system punishes those kids that don’t have the opportunity to travel and have somebody that’s going to fork out a whole bunch of money for them to get to universities in April and May.
“So this is a way that we can see them and they can also get to know us,” he explained.
The trade-off, however, is the interaction doesn’t take place at a program’s home base where facilities can be viewed and a better understanding of the school can be obtained.
“But at least it’s a starting point. So you can’t take this out of it,” Andersen continued. “The thing you need to take out of it is the old-school recruiting in the month of May and just dump that.”
Andersen is pleased with how gatherings like the All Poly Camp are becoming truly educational — mixing things like academic and nutritional insight with more quality coaching and instruction.
“I think the satellite camps are real good,” Andersen said. “If you’re just talking about the best way to evaluate kids, this is the best way. You come to All Poly or any of the camps that are out there and it’s your ability to be able to see the kids firsthand.”
The evaluation process includes being able to see kids you’re recruiting and identifying others.
“The eye-to-eye contact — spending time with them on the field — you can’t replace it and we can’t lose it as a group of coaches,” Andersen said.
Wells noted the importance of keeping things in perspective when it comes to providing opportunities for young men to showcase their talents in an affordable and reasonable way.
“That’s the most important thing for these kids,” he said.
It works for the coaches, too.
While emphasizing how “absolutely valuable” it is to be able to go out and evaluate kids in a setting like the All Poly Camp, Wells pointed to things like discovering who is coachable and how guys act when someone is talking.
“You can’t learn those things just on video and that’s valuable information for us as coaches,” he said.
Former BYU and NFL standout Vai Sikahema, a leader in the Polynesian community who was among the camp speakers on opening day, praised the setup. He cited how it allows players from challenging backgrounds financially to be seen by several coaches at one camp.
The decision to allow FBS coaches to continue attending events like the All Poly Camp has his obvious approval.
“I’ve got my own issues with the NCAA as a lot of people do in how they create legislation,” Sikahema said. “They got this right, and I applaud them for that.”
Earlier in the week, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham expressed his opinion on satellite camps. The Utes have held camps in California and Texas. Members of the staff, including Whittingham, are contributing to the All-Poly Camp as well.
“We took full advantage of the satellite camps,” Whittingham said. “We don’t take it to the extent that Michigan does. They’re a nationwide tour. In fact, outside the country I guess they’re going to a few spots in different countries.
“We prefer to stay in our own footprint — our recruiting footprint — and also it’s a balancing act,” he continued. “When you’re out on the road at satellite camps, you’re away from your own players in your own program. So we want to keep a good balance with that so we’re not away from our players too long.”
The goal, Whittingham explained, is to get the best of both worlds.
Such is the case with the All-Poly Camp just a few miles up the road from Utah’s campus.
“That’s something that we’ve taken part in for years and years,” Whittingham said. “And we’re glad and happy to be able to support that.”
BYU coach Kalani Sitake considers it the premier non-institutional camp. He’s been a part of it since the inception in 2001 and said its been fun to see how wonderful it has become.
As for the NCAA legislation that threatened the current affiliation between such camps and FBS programs, Sitake is happy that the status quo ultimately remained intact.
“I think they’re looking at what’s best for college football and also for these young men,” said Sitake, who added that he’s all for whatever can be done to get more opportunities for the players.
Football, he explained, is a huge catalyst for young men to contribute to society and get to where they want to be.
While the recruiting aspects are obviously beneficial with the association, Sitake noted that programs have only 25 scholarships to offer each year. BYU didn’t have any satellite camps this year, opting just to go to previously established situations. He said there’s more than one way to recruit and more than one way to coach.
As such, Sitake was confident that the All Poly Camp would continue to exist even if FBS coaches were restricted to events only on the campuses where they’re employed. He said there are enough guys in football (former players and coaches) that would still make it a great thing.
Alema Te’o, founder of All Poly Sports, had a plan in place in case the banning legislation wasn’t overturned this year. Coaches from the Football Championship Subdivision were lined up to carry a bigger load if their FBS colleagues weren’t allowed to participate.
“I didn’t panic at all,” Te’o said.
Te’o kept telling himself there was absolutely no way a ban would be put in place. When it did, he didn’t think it would stand.
“It just doesn’t make sense and it’s not the right decision for student-athletes,” Te’o said. “Obviously the smart guys finally got in the room and figured it out.”
Te’o opposed having non-institutional and satellite camps placed under the same umbrella, and he let the NCAA know about it.
“We are a smorgasbord of football for all levels,” said Te’o, who noted that if a player performs at the All Poly Camp, then opportunities to play at the collegiate level will follow.
The original intent of the camp, he explained, was to provide exposure and opportunities for players in the Polynesian community. It wound up extending to everybody else, too.
“The bottom line for us is we have a mission and our mission is to provide higher education through camps and clinics,” said Te’o, who noted that the program is currently funding football in American Samoa. Five coaches and four players made the journey to Utah for this year’s camps.
All Poly’s continued success also led to Harbaugh’s appearance. He came out to the camp and worked with quarterbacks 12 years while serving as the head coach at Stanford. Cardinal coaches have participated each year since.
“He’s no stranger. He knows who we are and we’re definitely familiar with him,” Te’o said. “We’re excited that he wanted to put us on his tour list.”