Top Gun Camp provides opportunity, education
Alonzo Booth is hoping the Football University Top Gun Camp will help him reach his dream of playing football collegiately and professionally.
Booth, who will be a freshman at Canal Winchester High School, was one of about 750 athletes invited to participate in the high school portion of the camp held July 18-20 at Dublin Jerome. An invitation-only camp for about 750 players in grades six through eight was held July 22-24 at Jerome.
At 6-foot and 230 pounds, Booth expects to play running back and defensive back for the Indians.
"I want to play for the Florida Gators," he said. "I've wanted to play in college for a long time. Since I started playing football I wanted to play in college and then the NFL."
He said the camp should give him an advantage once the high school preseason begins.
Booth participated in his third Top Gun Camp, as he previously trained in Cleveland and Williamsburg, Va.
"This is my third year and every year I've made Top Gun," he said. "You always have expectations and you have to set them high. This gets you set up for what's coming next."
The camp included athletes from about 40 states, along with participants from Canada, Ireland and Japan, according to Dan Romanowski, director of media relations.
The first Top Gun Camp, held in Paisley, Fla., in 2008, attracted about 80 athletes and included future University of Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley, according to Romanowski. Barkley was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round of this year's NFL draft.
Athletes earned invitations to the camp through regional camps held throughout the country, including June 7-9 at Dublin Scioto. The Top Gun Camp cost participants $649.
Garrett Smith, who will be a junior at Jerome, participated with Celtics coach Mark Hundley looking on July 18.
"I learned a lot during the film-watching," said Smith, who plays running back and defensive back. "I learned all the coverages. I just want to get better. That's what I came out here to do."
Gavin Rodriguez, who will be a sophomore quarterback at DeSales, is a move-in from Canada.
"It's been a good experience playing with the top athletes in the country," he said. "Coming from Canada, there's a big jump on how people take it and the athleticism of the players."
Drew Hodgson, who will be a freshman at Dublin Coffman, was hoping the camp would help him improve his technique as a quarterback in coach Mark Crabtree's program.
"I want to get more experience," Hodgson said.
The camp also helps introduce athletes and their parents to the collegiate recruiting process. Organizers educate and connect the campers with their database of college coaches.
The camp focuses exclusively on technique training and does not require full pads. There are no full-contact drills, but offensive and defensive linemen do some skill and technique drills in which they engage in contact at full speed. During those drills, the players wear helmets for safety.
The camps also feature classroom work to help instruct technique.
"We run this for the full experience and it's not just for the athletes," said Joe Bouffard, director of marketing relations. "It's for the parents also. We have seminars that educate the parents on the recruiting process, the nutrition process and then things for the athletes -- character building, leadership, the mental aspect of playing the game. It's not all just physical and great technique."
The training staff for the high school camp was made up of about 50 current and former NFL coaches and players, as well coaches from the collegiate level.
The coaching staff included former professional quarterbacks Jeff Rutledge, Chris Miller and Sean Salisbury, wide receivers Billy Johnson, Fred Barnett and Harold Jackson, running backs LaMont Jordan and Lorenzo Neal and defensive back Ray Buchanan.
Former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and former UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin helped kick off the camp July 18 by greeting the athletes and posing for photos, and providing insight during the opening ceremony.
"This is what I did. I tried to train when no one else was training," said Robinson, who set Michigan's all-time record for total yards on offense and was drafted this year by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fifth round. "I wanted to be the best. I wanted to go out to the camps and show that I was one of the best in the country. (These players) are the future."
Franklin, who was drafted in the fourth round this year by the Green Bay Packers, holds UCLA's career rushing record.
"It's always good when you're a kid to see somebody who was in your position and reach the highest level, which is the NFL," Franklin said. "It's always good to come back and encourage the younger guys that they can do it because I was in your position."