Woods found the camps more stressful than he had expected. "I was going in there trying to be relaxed, but how can you be relaxed when you know everyone is watching you?" he says. "It's hard to stay focused because all the camps are the same. You run the 40, you jump, and at some you lift. But I felt I got the exposure I needed."
College camps can be a rude awakening for players who think they belong in a major program. In the spring of his junior year Chris Hancock, an all-section linebacker at Barstow ( Calif.) High, was offered a scholarship by Nevada. His coaches urged him to accept before the Wolf Pack looked elsewhere for an oral commitment, but he had bigger ideas. " Nebraska was my dream, so I guess I hoped I would go to their camp and get noticed," says Hancock, who paid $390 to enroll in the Cornhuskers' camp and fly to Lincoln. "It didn't work out that way." He didn't impress Nebraska, and by the time he got back in touch with Nevada, its scholarship was no longer available. Hancock will enroll at Victor Valley College in Victorville, Calif., this fall and try to play football at a bigger school next year.
At the other extreme are players who go to camp and perform unexpectedly well. An example is Casey Clausen's younger brother, Rick. The younger Clausen hadn't started a varsity game in his first three years of high school—to be fair, it was largely because Casey was on the same team—but he went to the LSU camp last summer and came away with a scholarship offer. Recalls Jim, his dad, "Rick threw only about five balls, and [LSU coach] Nick Saban walked over and said, 'What do we have to show you, and how close is he to committing?' "
The parents of quarterback Chris Leak say that Wake Forest offered their son a scholarship after watching him perform at the Demon Deacons' camp in 1998. At the time, Leak was 14. Whether Chris, who'll be a junior this fall at Independence High in Charlotte, signs with Wake Forest remains uncertain, but without question summer camps allow coaches to recruit kids barely out of grade school. "The combines [player-evaluation sessions that college coaches can attend], the camps—those things have sped up the recruiting process," says UCLA recruiting coordinator Gary Bernardi. "Everything has changed."
One thing hasn't changed: the whimsical nature of high school kids. Coaches put time and effort into getting a kid to camp only to be reminded that wooing teenagers is sometimes no more effective than a rain dance. Consider the outcome of Pierre Woods's recruitment.
Georgia Tech and LSU thought they had a good chance of getting Woods when he closed his summer camping with visits to the schools in late June and early July, respectively. That Woods rode the 1,100 miles each way to Baton Rouge indicated he was particularly serious about the Tigers. While he loved the food down South—particularly the shrimp sandwich he had in Louisiana—he didn't like either school enough to move so far from Cleveland. He dropped both LSU and Georgia Tech from his list.
In the end, after traveling roughly 6,000 miles to seven camps in seven states, Woods signed in February with... Michigan, whose camp he never attended. He stopped by Ann Arbor while returning to Cleveland, fell in love with the campus and later made Michigan one of his official visits. Woods disappointed a lot of college coaches, but he wound up a happy camper. "Going to all those camps was still worth it," he says. "I used them to figure out what schools weren't for me."