Harbaugh invitation to Prattville Elite Camp brings unexpected attention
By Graham Dunn
The football world will have eyes on Prattville High School this Friday.
But it has nothing to do with the Lions or their preparations to make it back to the Super 7 in 2015.
The annual Prattville Elite Football Camp will feature the usual number of top players from across the River Region but also a polarizing figure in the world of college football.
New Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh and members of his staff will be in town to lead the camp on Friday. The camp, which is open to any football player ages 14-18, is expected to draw a record number of participants.
The announcement has brought unexpected attention to the little-known event that is usually held for local football players.
“It’s been pretty amazing what all has happened,” said Prattville head football coach and athletic director Chad Anderson. “We figured it might cause a little buzz, but nothing like this.”
Anderson admitted he didn’t need a lot of persuasion to get Harbaugh involved. There’s no doubt Harbaugh could use the time to scout future talent in what is fertile recruiting ground in the south.
Harbaugh already plucked two players from the Lions in last year’s senior quarterback, Keith Washington and senior running back Kingston Davis.
“He already had a connection here so that may have made it a little easier,” Anderson said.
“He had been invited to speak at the Autauga Educational Foundation banquet (at the RTJ Marriott Legends) and I called to see if he was interested in playing a round of golf while he was here. He said he wasn’t much of a golfer and so I asked him if he would be interested in participating in our football camp. It didn’t take very long for him to say ‘yes.’”
Anderson immediately began looking into NCAA rules and regulations regarding satellite camps. Once the hurdles were cleared, he publicized Harbaugh’s intent to be a part.
The number of interested campers increased immediately with the announcement. So did complaints from SEC coaches. Once it was out that Harbaugh would be in Prattville, coaches were calling the Lions’ athletic department to lodge a complaint.
“They were not excited about it when they heard,” Anderson said. “They were saying, ‘We will fight this thing.’ They were looking for loopholes in compliance to try to stop it. Nobody was ugly towards us about it but they did not want Harbaugh in this neck of the woods talking with their recruits.”
Harbaugh’s appearance certainly played a role in a possible change in rules that prohibit SEC coaches from holding satellite camps outside of a certain radius of their campuses. Outgoing commissioner Mike Slive announced last week that the conference would permit coaches to hold camps anywhere if an NCAA petition to revoke the current rule did not pass.
Nearly every SEC coach echoed each other stating the restriction was unfair in recruiting wars.
"A head coach is not allowed to go out during an evaluation period in the spring. But you can go have a satellite camp anywhere in the country to bring your staff in and bring players to it? Does that make any sense to anybody?” stated Alabama head coach Nick Saban during last week’s meetings in Destin, Fla.
"I don’t want to wear our assistant coaches out any more. I think there needs to be some sanity to our lives and to our schedules,” added Georgia coach Mark Richt. "But if we’re allowed to do it, we’ll figure out a way to manage it."
The announcement brought attention to the camp from national media outlets. Anderson said his office has received requests from several services including The New York Times, ESPN and others that cover national recruiting.
He has been surprised the news cycle has lasted as long as it has.
“I thought it would carry some weight but not this long,” he said. “I thought it would die on out but it’s funny in that a camp like this, which are a dime a dozen, is getting attention from radio stations and news outlets all over the place.”
Before the event begins on Friday, Prattville officials expect no less than 300 to participate. Anderson has received inquiries from teams in Georgia and Mississippi to bring in groups of 15 or more. He also has campers from as far away as New York and Arkansas attending.
Dr. Larry Lemak is expected to bring an entire staff of trainers and a special bus to aid with treatment of injuries. Coaches from local colleges including Huntingdon have volunteered to help.
The event is open to the public but on a limited basis. There is no charge but Anderson said parents and family members of campers would have priority in attendance.