Live games and film were once the main avenues for coaches to evaluate prospects. However, the offseason for football has evolved to where the game is essentially year-round. College football camps have become vital platforms for coaches looking to evaluate prospects.
Each program has a standard camp or two in the summer where any young football player can attend. However, many programs are now beginning to hold invite-only camps that are secretive and not advertised on brochures. Ohio State, Georgia and Florida are programs who are known to hold such events.
Coaches hold these camps only for the top prospects they want to spend time evaluating up close and personal. A recruit can come to these certain types of camps without an offer, perform well in front of coaches and leave as a committed recruit.
To do that, he has to show exceptional specific traits.
Size is the first thing coaches and evaluators look for at every position. At a camp, coaches have listed sizes for prospects set to attend, but they want to see if it matches up with the prospect's actual height and weight.
A linemen can be said to be 6'5" and 300 pounds, but coaches want to bring him to their camp to measure and weigh him for themselves. This is done with every prospect in attendance at all positions, including kickers and punters.
Coaches also want to see a prospect's body type. The lineman mentioned before may actually be his listed size, but he may be overweight at 300 pounds or his body type may actually be lean. It is important to remember that with recruits being teenagers, their body types will change dramatically when they get in a college weight room.
After sizing up a prospect and getting a feel for his body type, coaches will then start to ponder their growth potential. Some prospects peak physically in high school, while others do not peak until they are upperclassmen in college.
For example, once coaches confirm that a lineman is 6'5" and 300 pounds, they will then ask themselves just how much bigger he can get with the help of their strength coach. Perhaps that lineman could weigh 330 pounds one day, or if he's already peaked physically, he may only add another 10 pounds.
Growth potential is an important trait coaches look for and evaluate at camps.
The college game plays at an exponentially faster speed than high school football. Coaches want to see which players possess the potential capabilities to play at the speed required in college football.
And by speed, this not only regarding timed speed, but more of an emphasis on play speed. Prospects must show they can move at an elite pace when working in drills at college camps. Quarterbacks must move quickly in their drops, running backs must display a burst past cones and even linemen must exhibit explosiveness at the snap.
Coaches understand that prospects who play at a superior speed than their high school peers are players who could very well fit in with their team.
College football camps are mainly conducted in shorts and shirts, so prospects are playing in much more space than they would in full pads. While coaches cannot get a good sense of a player's toughness and physicality at these camps, they can get a great feel for a prospect's athleticism.
Linebackers will be asked to drop into coverage to have their pass-drops, cover awareness, transition quickness and ball skills evaluated. The same can be said for defensive backs.
The big and physical tight end must show he can fire out of his stance into a route, sink his hips and quickly get out of his break. Rugged offensive linemen will have their athletic ability evaluated by performing pull and trap drills along with 1-on-1's. Defensive linemen do drills that evaluate change of direction in space.
Playing in space is a great tool used to evaluate athleticism on the field and prospects do this a ton at camps.
Strength is a trait that coaches just want to measure, as they know it can be developed with their weight training programs. Strength coaches believe they can make any player a monster, so if a 6'5", 300-pound lineman is not overly strong, then that is not a huge problem.
Coaches want to use their camps to get a feel for where the player is strength-wise, not make a final determination.
When putting a prospect through drills, a coach will give him instructions and evaluate how the prospect receives them. Does the prospect do as he is told immediately or does he continue to use techniques that the coach tells him not to use?
Coaches want prospects who are coachable and who want to learn as much as they can to master their craft. A hot-shot quarterback can come to a camp feeling his drop-back footwork is fine, but a coach may see that his base is too wide.
How the quarterback receives the coaching and instruction and applies it to his reps as the camp moves forward will show if he is coachable or not. It also could be a key factor if a program wants him to join them or not.
All camps have some sort of competitive part to them, as 7-on-7 games, 1-on-1 drills, quarterback competitions, athletic testing, timing and more.
A prospect must show he is a competitor at a camp. If a lineman loses a 1-on-1 battle, does he sulk and quit or does he demand a rematch? If a quarterback loses an arm strength drill, he must comeback and compete hard in the accuracy competition.
Football is competitive all the time and if a coach notices that a prospect is not a fierce competitor, he will be concerned.
Camps also give coaches an outstanding platform to see how a player carries himself on the field and interacts with others. Coaches also get a good feel for a prospect's personality.
Seeing if a prospect is most comfortable when he can talk trash, be vocal and brash or if he rarely speaks and has a shy personality can be observed at camps. A quarterback who is not assertive and is quiet may be of concern to a coach, as the position requires a confident personality.
Prospects must show off their on-field demeanor at camps to give coaches a glimpse of how they act during games.