June 9, 2010 11:00:00 AM
David Miller -
High School football players from the Golden Triangle and surrounding area packed Columbus High School''s practice fields Tuesday to take advantage of a camp opportunity they hope paves the road to a college scholarship.
More than 100 athletes participated in the University of Southern Mississippi football camp, utilizing an opportunity to a certified football Football Bowl Subdivision camp.
The opportunity, labeled by Columbus High head coach Bubba Davis as "can''t miss" saw mostly skilled-position athletes receive measurements and times in the 40-yard dash and other agility drills.
Columbus, New Hope, Starkville, West Point and Ackerman were among the local schools with players at the camp.
The benefit of hosting a camp at Columbus was twofold as Southern Miss coaches got the chance to tour the state and scout more athletes.
Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora and his staff got a leg up in recruiting as Mississippi State and Ole Miss are prohibited by Southeastern Conference from hosting off-campus camps.
"It''s a tremendous thing for us and a lot of these players," Fedora said. "We try to get around because some of these players may not have an opportunity to get down to our campus. We try to bring the camp to them. It gives them an opportunity to work with us and for us to give them some instruction going into their senior year."
Fedora said he and his staff held a recent camp at Olive Branch, where there were more linemen than the Columbus camp. Typically, more position players turn out to camps because linemen don''t have strength drills at camps. However, linemen can test short-area quickness and be measured.
The low lineman turnout isn''t necessarily representative of the Golden Triangle as players from Tennessee and Alabama participated in the camp. Two players wearing Ardmore High School (Okla.) shirts were seen signing in.
Those who believe Southern Miss'' traveling camps are about money -- campers paid a $25 fee -- might be surprised to know that 80 percent of Souther Miss'' signees since Fedora took over in 1998.
That rate is crucial to Fedora and his staff continuing to build on USM''s back-to-back 7-6 records and bowl berths. And with the success of Ole Miss under Houston Nutt and Mississippi State''s resurgence under Dan Mullen, whose feverishly emphasized in-state recruiting, the Golden Eagles can''t afford to lose pace.
"I would think that if you''re an in-state school, you''re wanting to own the state," Fedora said. "There''s a lot of really good football players in the state of Mississippi and you''re going to win games with kids from this area. Dan''s doing a great job over there as well as Houston at Ole Miss. We understand what the challenges are and what we have to work with.
"We never feel like there''s one part of the state we can''t get into recruiting-wise. There may be kids in this part of the area who want to play their football at Southern Miss. With the winning tradition that we have and the number of players we have in the NFL and our graduation success rate, there''s a lot we have to sell."
In two-plus hours campers spend with USM coaches, the instruction goes beyond the times and measurements. Campers get instruction and get to audition for position coaches, along with measuring their athleticism against other top athletes from the area.
"A lot of these kids don''t take criticism well, but that''s the way of the world and part of this process," Davis said. "It''s important these kids take what they learn and the feedback from these coaches to work hard and improve. Some kids, no matter what, will keep doing the same old and those are often the ones who get left out."
Davis, whose coached three different decades, has seen the camp process grow from nothing. He recalled taking his underclassmen to a freshman and sophomore camp at Ole Miss, which amazed the veteran coach at the constant evolution of scouting camps.
"Times have changed, but coaches want to see these kids before their senior years," Davis said. "For the kids, it might not be but two hours today, but that''s two hours for that coach to know how quick a kid is, how well his footwork is, and how well he moved.
"Used to, kids didn''t get the chance to sell themselves like that."