Players use camps to earn scholarships

After attending last year's Nike Football SPARQ Combine in Oakland, Patterson (Calif.) defensive tackle Pio Vatuvei landed an offer from USC and committed to the Trojans. Tom Hauck for ESPN.com

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of ESPNHS magazine.

Heading into last spring, Dwayne Hoilett was an afterthought on the recruiting trail.

Florida International had expressed some interest. Texas A&M and Texas Tech had sent a few letters. But that was it.

Then he went to the Miami Nike Football Training Camp.

Competing against some of the best players in the Southeast, Hoilett took his game to another level. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound defensive end showed outstanding speed, strength and pass-rushing abilities, and he walked away with D-line MVP honors.

“The camp was real exciting,” the Vero Beach (Fla.) senior says. “I was competing with guys like (No. 99 recruit) Tyriq McCord in pass-rush events. And I realized I could compete with those guys.”

Within a week, the offers started rolling in: Michigan State, Purdue, UConn, Rutgers, Illinois and more. After a couple more camps, his dream school, Miami, came calling. He committed to the Hurricanes in June, completing a whirlwind process that saw him go from under the radar to sought-after recruit in just a few months.

“Without those camps, I would be a lot more underrated than I am,” Hoilett says. “I’d be good for my area, but I wouldn’t have the state or national recognition. I wouldn’t have had as many offers.”

Hoilett’s story is far from unique. Every year, overlooked players make their names at Nike Football Training Camps or Nike Football SPARQ Combines. This season will be no different. Now in their 16th year, the NFTCs will be held from March to June at 13 colleges. The combines run from late January to early June. And now, the top performers at each event get invited to Nike Football’s “The Opening,” which is in its second year. “The Opening” brings 150 players to Oregon in July for training and competition. There’s a SPARQ Rating National Championship, the Elite Lineman Challenge and a 7-on-7 championship.

One of the standouts at “The Opening” last year was Pio Vatuvei. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound defensive tackle from Patterson (Calif.) arrived at the Oakland Nike Football SPARQ Combine with offers from Arizona, Washington State and Nevada. He then posted the highest SPARQ score by a defensive lineman, earning a trip to Oregon.

Before long, Vatuvei was the subject of a fierce recruiting battle that included USC, Cal, Washington and Utah before he committed to the Trojans.

Who will be the next player to use these camps as a springboard to big-time Division I offers? It’s impossible to say, but one thing’s for sure: College coaches will be paying close attention.

Just ask Hoilett and Vatuvei.