JONESBORO — Centennial Bank Stadium will be a busy place this evening.
Well over 200 campers are expected for the second of Arkansas State University’s four Butch Jones football camps this month, the Friday Night Lights Camp for youths entering grades 9-12. Players from 13 states have made plans to attend.
ASU’s first football camp Sunday, also open to youths entering grades 9-12, drew more than 120 campers, Jones said. Tonight’s camp and a June 21 camp are also open to high school-age players, while the Butch Jones Future Stars Football Camp next week is for youths entering kindergarten through the eighth grade.
“This Friday Night Lights Camp is growing a life of its own, so to speak. We could have well over 250 campers in this camp,” Jones said Thursday. “I’m talking the best of the best from the state of Arkansas to across the country. We’re excited. It has really become an exciting point in our camp schedule just with the volume of prospective student-athletes we’re going to have in this camp.”
Football camps became part of the recruiting process again when the NCAA dead period ended June 1, signaling a return to a regular recruiting calendar. The dead period was put in place in March 2020 due to COVID-19 and then extended multiple times.
Recruiting classes for 2020-21 were assembled without face-to-face contact.
“The ability to get kids back on campus is vital. It really hit me when we welcomed all of our newcomers,” said Jones, ASU’s first-year head football coach. “Every individual who came here had never been on campus. I’ve never been a part of anything like that, all the recruiting through Zoom and FaceTime. This signing class, none of them had been on campus, so that was different in and of itself.”
In addition to in-state prospects, Jones said players from Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas are expected to go through drills tonight at ASU. Players check in at 4 p.m., with the camp running from 5-8 p.m.
“I know all the players have been excited to be able to go around the country, too, and get back to camping and really improving their skills. That’s the other thing that can’t be lost in all of this,” Jones said. “I think it’s great for the overall health and development of the game of football, for us to be able to work with individuals and really promote our game, teaching the fundamentals and details of our game as well. I think that’s a part of it, too, creating value for every camper and creating value for the game of football as well.”
Jones, who took over the program in December, said the camps are vital in the recruiting process because coaches get to see players firsthand and prospective recruits get to check out the staff as well as ASU’s football facilities.
“It’s an opportunity for both parties to evaluate each other. It’s an opportunity to build on the relationships that have already been established and it’s an opportunity for them at times to get around the current members of your football team,” Jones said. “One of our biggest assets that we have here is our facilities, so an individual can see our facilities firsthand, and it’s important for them to feel the excitement and feel the momentum that right now surrounds our program. That’s as big of a factor for us in these camps and everything else in getting individuals on campus.”
NCAA rules allow 10 camp opportunities whether on or off campus, Jones said. In addition to their own camps, ASU coaches are attending others off campus, such as one next week in Nashville that is expected to draw at least 16 other schools.
Jones said ASU coaches are strategically planning camp days to make sure they take care of the current team and continue to build relationships with their players.
“We’ve tried to be very strategic in terms of where we go and all that. Our coaches have been across the country working different camps as well,” Jones said. “The first couple of weeks of June are really, really hectic and have a fast pace, but it’s been really productive for us.”
While three of the four camps are geared toward high school players, the Butch Jones Future Stars Football Camp on Monday and Tuesday is for younger ages. Walk-up registration will be allowed on Monday morning at the 8:30 check-in.
Jones said the younger camp is one of his favorites for a number of reasons.
“It’s promoting the game of football, teaching kids from kindergarten to eighth grade the fundamentals, the details, the game of football. It’s an opportunity for them to not only be coached by our coaching staff, but from our current players as well,” Jones said. “I think it builds an affinity for Arkansas State University. I think it builds a brand, it builds an identity where a lot of these youngsters will develop relationships with our players.”
ASU has had a staff position open since Steve Hauser, the special teams coordinator, announced plans to accept a position outside football late last month.
Jones indicated ASU will soon fill the job, which involves being in charge of all special teams and also working with safeties.
“We’ve definitely done our due diligence,” he said. “I want to say we’ve interviewed over 20 individuals and I’m close to making a decision, probably, I’m guessing, will make a decision by the first of next week. It’s been extremely humbling, the amount of interest that we’ve had across the country. Individuals truly understand what we’re building here, what we could become here, and a lot of them want to be part of our program.”