Prospect camp levels the playing field

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- In a lot of ways, summer camp is the great equalizer. For college football programs like Alabama, it's a time where there are so many prospects in one place that the names on the back of the jerseys begin to mean nothing and all that matters is the performance. Who they are and what they're ranked as goes out the window. Sometimes there aren't names on the players jerseys at all, just numbers by which to objectively evaluate and grade on a sheet of paper.

Alec Morris was a name no one knew before he came to Alabama's camp two years ago. Plenty of college coaches had seen the strong-armed Texas quarterback throw but very few had offered him a scholarship. Because of that, he was viewed as a marginal prospect. Why? Well, that was a mystery even to those intimately involved in the process.

"They'd all said they liked what they saw, that he had a live arm and good zip on his passes," said Jeff Fleener, Morris' former offensive coordinator at Allen High just outside of Dallas. "We'd ask the guys that why they didn't offer and what it came down to every time was because the head coach doesn't understand why he doesn't have more offers in the first place."

He explained the phenomena as such: "Once a player gets one or two offers, he'll get one hundred."

Alabama, Fleener said, didn't bother with whether other schools thought enough of Morris to offer a scholarship.

"Luckily for Alabama they trust their evaluation process," he said. "They don't get caught up in stars or offers."

What made the difference for Morris was camp and a throwing session the Allen High staff called to request of Alabama. Morris, who was already committed to Wake Forrest and whose only other offer was from North Texas, was in the state visiting family and wanted the chance to have at least one day to show UA head coach Nick Saban and then-offensive coordinator Jim McElwain what he could do.

By the time he left a session with McElwain and Saban, Morris had made an indelible impression, earning a scholarship offer that would become committable if neither of the two previously offered quarterbacks -- Jameis Winston and Gunner Kiel -- chose to come to Alabama.

Soon after camp, Winston committed to Florida State, Kiel went with Indiana and Morris flipped his commitment from Wake Forest to Alabama. Today, Morris is in the running to back up AJ McCarron under center and could very well wind up the starting quarterback in 2014.

But Morris' story isn't the only one of a no-name player making waves at camp. Offensive lineman Brandon Hill came out of nowhere to land an offer two years ago. Wide receiver Raheem Falkins' performance at camp sewed up his position with Alabama a year ago. Amari Cooper, who would go on to set nearly every rookie receiving record at Alabama this past season, was on no one's radar before he camped in Tuscaloosa.

Camp, with its one-on-one sessions and top competition, separates the wheat from the chaff for college coaches. With a player on campus, they get to answer the most important question of all: Can this kid play for me?

Fleener said that it's a running joke that as a staff they can make nearly any player look good on tape. What they do when they get to camp and actually have to perform is something different altogether.

"If you cut it down to 10-11 clips, we can make them look like an All American," Fleener said. "They want to know, is this kid a highlight video?

"Camp is definitely an opportunity for them to see what kind of football player they're recruiting."