ATHENS — Recruiting makes for strange bedfellows. And let’s not quibble about that, that these satellite camps are all about recruiting.
Oh, you’ll hear and probably have heard a lot of rhetoric about how these camps that are sprouting up like dandelions all over the state are about advancing the game and developing young players and giving notice to under-exposed prospects. And some of that indeed might be a by-product of this new phenomena.
But the reason these camps are being held — and the reason they’re being held where they’re being held — and the reason coaches like Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh are going to show up at them is because of the one or two players who they already know are going to be there. They’ll certainly see all those other kids running around on the field and they’ll coach them up when they come through their respective drills. But the reason those coaches are even present is to be in front of one or two specific individuals they hope to sign next February.
In the case of Cedar Grove High’s “Next Level Elite” camp in Atlanta — at which Smart and Harbaugh both are supposed to be in attendance tomorrow — those specific individuals are Netori Johnson and Justin Shaffer. Johnson is a 6-foot-4, 348-pound offensive tackle, a 4-star prospect and currently a UGA commitment. So is Shaffer, a 6-5, 356-pound lineman who carries a 3-star rating 247Sports.com.
Michigan, as one might imagine, is also vigorously recruiting both players. Harbaugh and the Wolverines have already signed one player out of Cedar Grove. Elysee Mbem-Bosse, a 6-3, 232-pound linebacker, inked with Michigan this past February and will enroll there any day now.
Harbaugh would like nothing better than to flip those two UGA commitments his way, too. That’s why he and at least eight Michigan assistant coaches are going to be at Maynard Jackson High, where the actual camp is being conducted. Conversely, that’s why Smart, offensive line coach Sam Pittman and defensive line coach Tracy Rocker are going to be there, too. And probably other UGA coaches. They’re really there just to fend off the Michigan advance, more than anything else.
Yes, there will be other coaches in attendance. Cedar Grove High coach Jimmy Smith, who serves as owner and operator of this camp and stands to make a tidy little profit from it for himself and his school, said he knows that coaches will be there from Pitt and Mercer and Kennesaw State, among others. And surely a few recruiting gems will be discovered, especially for those teams that compete outside of the Power 5 conferences.
But all due respect to those programs, that’s not why a circus-like atmosphere is expected Thursday. That’s not why more than 200 kids, paying $40 apiece to pre-register or $50 as a walk-up fee, will be attending. That’s not why there will be television news trucks, recruiting reporters and newspaper scribes like me hanging around.
This is about the Kirby Smart and Jim Harbaugh and those two rather notable prospects they both very much want in their school’s colors next fall. The early verbal volley between the two coaches certainly drove up media interest not only in this camp but in the whole phenomena of satellite camps in general.
Actually, Smart, in Destin, Fla., this week for the SEC spring meetings, told DawgNation’s Seth Emerson on Wednesday he wasn’t 100 percent sure he’d be at the Next Level Elite camp. He has business to attend to there on the Gulf and UGA actually has its own on-campus camp going on Thursday.
“I’m not sure about Coach Smart because they’ve got something going on campus, but I know Coach Harbaugh will be there,” Smith told me. “(Smart) said he was coming, but I can’t tell him what to do.”
No, you watch. Smart will be there. He can’t be one-upped by the Big Ten coach with the big mouth.
Like the young Georgia coach always says, “We won’t be out-worked.” And that goes double in recruiting, which is what satellite camps are all about.