Detroit is a fitting backdrop for the 10th annual Sound Mind, Sound Body football camp, which kicks off Thursday, June 12.
After all, the camp was founded in 2004 by Motor City native Curtis Blackwell as an integral part of his nonprofit organization—the Lifting As We Climb Foundation.
The foundation’s primary goal was to enhance college opportunities for young athletes and reverse negative trends—such as the 25 percent high school graduation rate, according to the Associated Press (via Fox News)—that existed in his hometown at the time.
What began as a local camp spread across the state of Michigan, into the Midwest and now will play host to some of the nation’s top prospects from across the country.
Over the last decade, SMSB has helped more than 1,000 student-athletes earn college scholarships—with current NFL players such as Nick Perry, William Campbell and Johnathan Hankins counted as SMSB alums.
But how did SMSB expand, and what makes it different from the number of camps popping up across the country?
As Blackwell’s childhood friend and fellow Detroit native Chanterius Brock—who serves as the Director of Player Recruiting for SMSB—describes it, the camp’s fabric is heavily influenced by what the two friends and alumni of Detroit’s Martin Luther King High School witnessed growing up.
“In a city like Detroit, it’s about trying to identify any and all opportunities to teach these kids before it’s too late,” Brock said. “They can’t see the tangible reality that is there for them if they work hard and apply themselves academically, trust in God, respect people and others and themselves. These are the skills that are lacking.”
Brock recalls seeing plenty of talented athletes fail to capitalize on the chance to make it to college, and it wasn’t because of a lack of athletic ability.
“We (Detroit players) were underachieving in terms of the gap between talent and actual success as student-athletes,” Brock stated. “The best players that I’ve played with and against and coached, these aren’t the kids that are playing Division I football or the ones who went on to have the most successful careers.”
When he went off to play his college ball in Tennessee, Brock bristled when classmates would tell him about the superiority of football in the South.
In his mind, the opportunities for success weren’t equal because the commitment to football in the two regions was vastly different. That’s where he and Blackwell worked to bridge the gap with SMSB.
“My thing was that we knew we had talent, but we just lacked the resources,” Brock said. “So I said to myself, ‘when I go home, I want to be able to provide those resources to kids like myself who didn’t have them.’ It was kind of like a divine type of thing for us (he and Blackwell) to connect because our visions were so similar.”
Together, they developed a term for their strategy in unifying their vision—“aggressive creativity.”
On a small scale, Brock—who spent time in Detroit as an assistant coach on the prep level—set out to establish opportunities for the kids he was coaching. Meanwhile, Blackwell’s focus was on networking and cultivating relationships with high school and college coaches, as well as with administrators on the college level.
The first major project put together was a winter camp dubbed the “Michigan Football Showcase” in February 2007 at the University of Michigan.
“We had about 400 or 500 prospects at that showcase,” Brock said. “That was really our inlet when it came to building relationships with schools and coaches. Kids came from all over the Midwest. That kind of surprised us, that we could get kids from out of town. That’s when it flipped for Sound Mind, Sound Body.”
|Mark Dantonio||Michigan State|
|James Franklin||Penn State|
|P.J. Fleck||Western Michigan|
Sound Mind, Sound Body staff
However, their breakthrough moment on the national recruiting scene didn’t come until they were able to add one element that separates their camp from the litany of similar ones across the country.
Blackwell’s background as an intern with the NCAA and the American Football Coaches Association helped him develop relationships that contributed to the expansion of SMSB.
Furthermore, his role in managing and understanding compliance rules and regulations was critical in getting college coaches to actively participate in the SMSB camp a few years ago.
“First, the original battle was getting coaches and schools to recognize that it was legal,” Brock said. “Once they understood that and got things cleared with NCAA compliance, we were getting more and more schools who wanted to be a part of it.”
Once college coaches were on board, that helped SMSB lure top prospects from all over the country.
Additionally, landing a sponsor such as Adidas three years ago further established SMSB as a marquee event in recruiting circles.
“Adidas has come on board and been a great sponsor in terms of providing uniforms and cleats to every kid at the camp,” Brock said. “That’s been a huge partnership for us.”
This year, SMSB will feature more than 200 college coaches in attendance—including Michigan’s Brady Hoke, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio and Penn State’s James Franklin. This year’s camp will feature hundreds of prospects from around the country, including 5-star standouts such as Jashon Cornell and Preston Williams.
Over the two-day camp, in addition to hearing from and being mentored by camp counselors such as former NFL great Jerome Bettis and current Broncos defensive lineman and SMSB-alum Kevin Vickerson, student-athletes will go through training sessions on topics ranging from NCAA eligibility to conflict resolution.
With the presence of the college coaching community and the multiple training sessions designed to teach invaluable life skills, SMSB has transformed into a unique camping experience.
The camp is now a self-sufficient brand that is thriving, even after Blackwell left his post as camp director last August for a position on Dantonio’s staff at Michigan State.
Brock marvels at the success stories that have emerged from SMSB. In returning to its Detroit roots, this year’s camp will be a celebration of an event that has turned into a source of pride for the Motor City.
“We try to teach these kids that as they continue to climb, grow and get better and have success, we want to make sure that you are reaching back and lifting up the next man,” Brock said.
Sanjay Kirpalani is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.