No-shows at clinic open holes for critics

Ex-NFL players miss pricey student event

May 04, 2007|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,Sun reporter

The poster, in large block letters, invited high school football players to a clinic and combine Saturday "featuring former N.Y. Giant All-Pro & Super Bowl Veteran Rodney Hampton," whose color photo appeared front and center.

The idea was for the teenagers to pay $200 - $150 if they registered early - to maximize their chances of landing college scholarships while spending a day at an Annapolis high school field getting tips from Hampton and other former NFL stars.

But Hampton and the other invited former NFL players - Brian Mitchell, Charley Taylor and Jessie Armstead - never showed up at Broadneck. Ravens running back Musa Smith did appear and gave some pointers.

Recruit Collegiate Sports Scouting, the Owings Mills-based company whose nonprofit arm hosted the event, wasn't blaming Hampton or any of the athletes for not coming.

Mark Wienner, the company's president, said a decision was made Saturday afternoon by Recruit and the athletes to cancel their appearances because turnout was so low - just four youths attended - it wouldn't have been worth it for the former players to come.

Recruit is among a growing number of organizations that scout high school athletes in a number of sports and - for a fee - say they pass along information about the prospects to colleges. Its event Saturday has come under criticism from the Maryland High School Football Coaches Association.

It got off to a shaky start when Hampton was nowhere to be seen at the poster's listed start time.

An organizer said the "10:00 AM" on the poster was a misprint.

Hampton wasn't at the field at 1:30 p.m., either, which is when Recruit's Web site said the event was to begin. And he wasn't there at 3 p.m., when the 40-yard sprints and other activities did start.

The no-shows and start-time confusion were only part of the problem, according to the coaches association.

With additional combines planned, the association's president said he's worried that young athletes and their parents are not getting their money's worth from Recruit.

"I think they're just taking advantage of these kids," Joe Russo said.

Russo's main concern is the cost.

"It's an up-and-up company, I believe," he said. But to charge up to $200 "is more than ridiculous. They're trying to make a buck, that's what they're trying to do."

Russo added: "When they advertise and the guy [Hampton] doesn't show up, I think that's kind of embarrassing."

Hampton, a five-time 1,000-yard rusher during the 1990s, had been attending fan events at Giants Stadium in New Jersey tied to the NFL draft.

He was prepared to travel to the Annapolis clinic late in the afternoon but changed his plans when he learned that only a handful of kids had arrived and that the event was breaking up earlier than expected, according to Troy Brown, Hampton's business partner.

"Rodney was on his way, but I called and stopped him" when the combine ended at about 4:30 p.m., Brown said.

The four teens at the combine didn't seem to be complaining about the former NFL players' absence. Suitland quarterback Carlos Fields III, who is finishing his junior year, said he was there to boost his scholarship prospects. He and his father, Carlos Fields Jr., did look a little puzzled, though, when the younger Fields was the first player to arrive and found virtually no activity except for some boys kicking a soccer ball.

"I thought there were going to be more kids. I thought they'd be lined up," Carlos Fields Jr. said.

Smaller schools with limited recruiting budgets tend to use scouting companies the most.

"There seems to be new scouting services popping up every day," said Monte Cater, football coach at Shepherd University in West Virginia. "Most have film clips attached to view a few or sometimes many plays."

Cater said he uses Recruit's services and recently signed one of the company's clients, Cody Kohn of Lexington Park. While scouting firms can be valuable, he said Shepherd's coaches make their "real decisions" after watching the players themselves on campus.

Wienner, who bought the company last year and relocated it from California to Owings Mills, said he has about 2,600 clients around the country and that he charges a one-time fee ranging from $100 to $895, depending on level of service. He said Kohn paid for a premium package that included a promotional video sent to about 2,000 colleges in Divisions I, II and III and to 500 to 600 community colleges.

This is the first year that Wienner - through a nonprofit arm called RecruitZone - decided to hold "clinic-combines" such as the one in Annapolis. The idea, he said, is to provide kids additional exposure and allow them to interact with pros. He said past Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel recently attended a similar event in Florida.

Wienner said his combines cost more than those of some other organizations because he invites current and former NFL players.

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