IRVING, Texas (Feb. 8, 2018) – The National Football Foundation (NFF) & College Hall of Fame previewed the upcoming NFF High School Showcases in Houston, Los Angeles, North Carolina and South Florida, which look to increase their impact by giving thousands of high school seniors a chance to earn scholarships. All four events will take place between Feb. 10 and March 3 with organizers estimating that participants will collectively receive more than $6 million in academic and participation scholarships for their freshman year.
The NFF High School Showcases, which are absolutely free to both participants and college recruiters, provide academically eligible high school seniors who did not sign an NCAA Division I letter of intent an opportunity to go through a series of drills in front of divisional college coaches from the NCAA Division II, III and the NAIA levels. Last year, the events attracted representatives from 126 colleges covering 30 states, coupling them with 1,327 aspiring college players who earned millions of dollars in academic and participation scholarships.
“The leaders in these four cities all deserve huge praise for their efforts to expand opportunities for kids to earn their college degrees with football opening the door,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “Their leadership has helped build a free system, literally providing thousands of talented student-athletes the opportunity to continue their educations. The Showcases provide a great path to college that previously did not exist. It’s a huge difference maker.”
Participants, who all have to meet minimum academic standards, compete in a series of athletic drills designed to let divisional college coaches assess each player’s potential, including a 40-yard dash and several agility and strength tests. The events allow the college recruiters a unique opportunity to evaluate a large number of qualified student-athletes in a short period while minimizing their travel costs.
Launched by a group of Houston coaches in 2009, the concept expanded to Southern California in 2013 with Florida and North Carolina added in 2017. Collectively, the organizers anticipate the four events will reach more than 1,500 seniors this year with an estimated one-in-four receiving some kind of financial aid to go to college.
Feb. 10 – The Houston Texans 10th Annual Senior Showcase, presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors, will kick off the events on Saturday, Feb. 10, at The Methodist Training Center next door to NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. The originator of the Showcase concept, the event in Houston was founded by Phil Camp, the former head football coach at Milby High School in Houston; Coby Rhoden, an academic coordinator at Houston Heights High School; Chris Vaughan, a member of the NFF Touchdown Club of Houston Chapter; and Daryl Wade, the former athletics director for the Houston Independent School District. The Houston event receives additional support from the Houston Texans and minority owner Javier Loya and the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl and Executive Director David Fletcher.
Feb. 17 – The Second Annual Orange Bowl Florida High School Football Showcase, presented by Cleveland Clinic Florida, will take place Saturday, Feb. 17, at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Fla. The event is led by the Orange Bowl Committee, President & Chairman Sean Pittman, CEO Eric Poms and NFF Board Member and Orange Bowl past president Bob Epling. Former Cincinnati Bengals head coach David Shula and former Miami Dolphin John Offerdahl will coordinate the on-field activities as they did for the inaugural event.
Feb. 24 – The Sixth Annual California Showcase will take place Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif. The event was launched by College Football Hall of Fame Coach Terry Donahue (UCLA, 1976 – 1995), who always brings in some of his former college coaches and players to help run the drills. Notables who have volunteered in the past include Steve Beuerlein (Notre Dame), Jim Everett (Purdue), Vince Ferragamo (Nebraska), Rick Neuheisel (UCLA), Lester Towns (Washington) and James Washington (UCLA).
March 3 – The Second Carolinas Senior Football Showcase will conclude the series on Saturday, March 3, at the Charlotte Latin School in Charlotte, N.C. The event was spearheaded by Charles Arbuckle, a college football analyst on SiriusXM who played for Donahue at UCLA. Arbuckle has collaborated with the Blazing 7 on 7 Foundation (a local non-profit organization that runs offseason passing leagues) to run the event in North Carolina.
“Most of these types of events around the country charge a fee to participate, excluding a lot of great kids who can’t afford the price of admission,” said NFF Chairman Archie Manning. “The events in Houston, Los Angeles, Charlotte and South Florida provide all student-athletes an opportunity to pursue their dream of attending college. The NFF Showcases provide a cost effective way for us to make a huge difference in the lives of these kids, and the impact has been phenomenal.”
Ten years ago, Coach Camp and the NFF Touchdown Club of Houston Chapter joined forces with 75 coaches from the Houston Independent School District to stage the first showcase. Last year the Houston event had 354 high school seniors enroll with coaches from 41 Division II, III and NAIA universities in attendance.
“It means the world,” said Camp. “If one kid gets an offer, then this is worth it. You get an inner city kid who’s never been out of the city and he goes to one of these schools and gets an education and a chance to play football. How great is that.”
Jarell Carter, who in 2017 became the first-known NFF High School Showcase participant to ever make an NFL roster, remembers joining several of his John Foster Dulles High School teammates at the 2013 event in Houston. The experience landed him a scholarship to Trinity International University (Ill.), which eventually led him to the Arizona Cardinals roster as a defensive back on the practice squad during the 2017 season and a futures contract for 2018.
“My focus was taking it step-by-step and to play at the next level and getting my degree because without a football scholarship it would have been really hard for me and my family to afford school,” said Carter. “The Showcase was a critical starting point for the journey to where I am today, and I knew that the schools were offering scholarships and that was important.
“One hundred percent, one day can change a life as long as you’re doing everything in your power to make it to the next level, you’re going to have a shot. Part of that is investing in yourself and going to something like a Senior Showcase like I did because if you don’t invest in yourself than nobody will.”
At Trinity International, Carter, who had never left Texas before the Showcase, twice earned All-America honors, but he stresses that getting his degree “means everything” to him and it was “first on his agenda” before football because after the NFL it will be his degree that matters. Carter, who notched a 3.2 GPA in business with an emphasis on marketing, hopes to own and operate multiple Chick-fil-A franchises after the NFL.
Inspired by the success of the Houston event, Coach Donahue assembled an impressive array of former coaches and players from multiple colleges and universities in 2013, introducing the first California Showcase. Last year, the event attracted 470 high school seniors who worked out for 58 Division II, III and NAIA universities and six junior colleges.
“This is an incredible opportunity for the kids to continue their education and play the great game of college football, and it’s free,” said Donahue. “There are so many combines and showcases, but this one really has legs to it because it’s totally free for the players and the colleges.”
Hearing about the success of the Showcases in Houston and Los Angeles, the Orange Bowl Committee in South Florida and Charles Arbuckle in North Carolina approached the NFF in 2017 about launching events to benefit the high school players in their regions. The inaugural event in Charlotte, N.C., drew 125 high school seniors and 15 colleges and universities, and Arbuckle hopes to expand that reach in 2018.
“I saw Terry Donahue do it about five years ago, and they have been able to get $18 million in grant and aid scholarships if not more for these young men over the years,” said Arbuckle, who played for Donahue at UCLA. “Every year when I was playing for the Colts in Indianapolis and now here in Charlotte, I would have kids who were not getting recruited ask ‘how can you help me,’ and this is the perfect way to do it on a mass level. We have a lot of former NFL players who are going to help as guest coaches and lot of local coaches who are volunteering. This is exciting, and we’re looking forward to bringing it to Charlotte.”
The Orange Bowl, which ranks among the top local sports organizations in the country with an impressive reputation for supporting a wide-range of community events, has strong ties to the NFF. Bob Epling, who serves on the NFF Board, is a past president of the Orange Bowl Committee, and Hatchell served as the Orange Bowl executive director from 1987 to 1993. It did not take much to convince the current leadership of the merits of the NFF Showcase model, and the inaugural event attracted nearly 350 high school seniors and 49 colleges and universities.
“The results from our initial Showcase exceeded our expectations in college and student-athlete participation, those receiving scholarships and coaches offering scholarships,” said Pittman. “This validated our belief that beyond the usual volume of Division 1 signees, Florida has an abundance of talented and academically qualified student-athletes who are looking to continue their careers. We are excited to provide this opportunity for student-athletes, but also for coaches from around the country who have limited recruiting budgets. Because of the Orange Bowl, these coaches can now evaluate football players all in one trip and one location.”
The Orange Bowl reported that 61 of the 2017 participants claimed more than $1 million in assistance to attend college as a direct result of the event, including nine scholarships from St. Vincent College (Pa.) and eight from Graceland University (Iowa).
“The Orange Bowl Showcase was a very successful recruiting trip for Graceland and we plan to keep recruiting the Showcase for a long time to come,” said Graceland Head Coach Marc Kolb. “It is a great opportunity for a large number of players to showcase themselves in front of a good group of Universities.”
Among Graceland’s signees was Caleb Thomas from Miami Gardens (Flanagan H.S.) who became a record-setting freshman this past season. In 10 games he had 158 receptions (breaking the NAIA record of 144) for 1,235 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 15.8 catches per game also set an NAIA and all-division record, as did his 27 catches in one game.
“It was a great opportunity for me to be able to come out and showcase my talent,” said Thomas. “Only God would know where I would be if I hadn’t attended the showcase. If it wasn’t for him blessing me with the opportunity to perform the way I did at the Orange Bowl Showcase, I wouldn’t be in this position I am in life right now.”
Graceland assistant coach Nate Robinson, who was on site in South Florida and helped recruit Thomas, said it was the first time in school history that the Yellowjackets had an AFCA All-American and identifying a player of Thomas’ caliber has changed the direction of the program. He added the success of landing Thomas at the event has made it a must attend event not only for Graceland but for all the other schools in the NAIA’s Heart of America Athletic Conference.
“It’s a great experience for the athletes involved,” said Robinson. “You always want to feel wanted, and there are a large amount of colleges and universities in attendance. There is a school for every athlete, they just have to take the time and find the right fit…. It’s hard to truly identify how explosive players really are without seeing them run around. You look at highlight tape and ask yourself about all the other things that factor in… It’s hard to find a player like Caleb without a Showcase like this one.”
Miami Palmetto High School head coach Mike Manasco brought 10 seniors to the South Florida event in 2017, citing the opportunity as a huge improvement over the normal recruiting process in the region. He noted Florida has very few D-II and D-III schools, and inviting divisional coaches from all over the country to see hundreds of players at one event was extremely efficient.
“The D-I kids, they get found,” Manasco told the Miami Herald at the Florida Showcase in 2017. “The Michigans and Alabamas all find them. But it’s these kids, the ones just under the blue chip status who are the ones that usually get overlooked. This is an opportunity that they otherwise would not have and we’re grateful to the Orange Bowl Committee for putting this together.”
Additional notable former players and coaches who have volunteered at past events include: Steve Beuerlein (Notre Dame), Kevin Carter (Florida), Channing Crowder (Florida), Jim Everett (Purdue), Derwin Gray (BYU), Vince Ferragamo (Nebraska and an NFF National Scholar-Athlete), London Fletcher (John Carroll [Ohio]), Robert Hubble (Rice), Larry Little (Bethune-Cookman), Tom Lunginbill (Georgia Tech/Eastern Kentucky), Greg McElroy (Alabama and an NFF National Scholar-Athlete), Cade McNown (UCLA), Michael Dean Perry (Clemson), Eugene Robinson (Colgate), Jay Schroeder (UCLA) and Lester Towns (Washington).