Football

Athletes enjoy opportunity at Top Gun camp

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Jaden Mitchell (left) of Las Vegas runs through passing drills with Sondale Phifer of Youngstown during the Football University Top Gun camp July 22 at Dublin Jerome.
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Eating at a White Castle was just one of several wish-list events Ryan Hicks was able to check off after traveling from his hometown of Sacramento, Calif., to central Ohio.

Participating in Football University's Top Gun camp from July 21-23 at Dublin Jerome High School gave Hicks an opportunity to work with numerous former college and professional players and compete against some of the top talent at his position in the nation.

Hicks, a member of the 2018 graduating class who plays quarterback, was among those honored for being top players at their respective positions at the invitation-only event.

There were more than 800 athletes competing in the middle school portion of the Top Gun camp for those in the 2018, 2019 and 2020 classes and about the same number at the high school camp, which ran July 17-19 at Jerome for those in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 classes.

The event was held in Dublin for the first time last year after four years in Williamsburg, Va., and is expected to return to Jerome next year.

"It was definitely different competition than I'm used to at the regional camps," Hicks said.

"It's good to have to outperform all of the quarterbacks I was with. (The camp) was very well put together and very organized, and the coaching is great."

In addition to quarterbacks, the Top Gun camp featured breakout sessions for running backs, wide receivers, offensive linemen, defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs.

A regional camp was held for each of those positions as well as for kicking, punting and long snapping on July 11 and 12 at Dublin Scioto.

After the Top Gun high school camp, Worthington Kilbourne's Liam McCullough (long snapper) from the 2015 class was named to the U.S. Army All-American game while classmate Nick Conner (LB) of Scioto was named to the Football University watch list. Both have committed to Ohio State.

After the middle school camp, Westerville South freshman running back Jaelen Gill was among those named to the watch list from the 2018 class.

There were about three dozen Ohio players among those who participated in one of the Top Gun camps, and organizers believe more than 40 states had at least one player participating.

According to Joe Bouffard, vice president of marketing and communications for Football University, about 75 percent of those who participate in a Top Gun camp eventually play collegiately.

"My favorite player is (former Heisman Trophy winner) Mark Ingram because I'm built like him," said Manasseh Woodson, a running back from Converse, Texas, from the 2018 class. "I thought (the camp) was a really good experience. You can get ahead of the other people that you go to school with and it's a really fun experience."

Among the speakers at the camp was Blake Leeper, a paralympian sprinter who is known as the "American Blade Runner" because he competes with prosthetics below both knees.

In addition to breakout classroom sessions, there were seminars for athletes and parents about various topics.

There were no full-contact drills, but offensive and defensive linemen did some skill and technique drills in which they engaged in contact at full speed. During those drills, the players wore helmets for safety.

Among the coaches was Matt D'Orazio, who played quarterback for Otterbein and retired from playing in 2008 after several seasons in the Arena Football League.

"The dream of FBU is to identify the best players and the best coaches," said Richard McGuiness, the company's founder and president. "Technique is a difference maker. The talent is at an all-time high. You're seeing future All-Americans and college and NFL stars, and what's the most impressive thing to me was that the big kids were equal in talent to the skilled kids.

"There were fewer than 50 kids from Ohio here, but from an economic perspective I feel like we're doing a good job of spending money here. Our goal is to pick a football hotbed and Ohio is on the map."

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