Bark, a former Air Force and Cal wide receiver, says the Elite 11 has never violated NCAA rules and as a precaution will not permit an agent to speak at the camp again. However, Bill Saum, the NCAA's director of agents, gambling and amateurism, says that in the coming months his organization will review these issues with Elite 11 organizers to insure that athletes did not receive improper benefits from agents. "At this time there are not any violations, just questions we would like answered," says Saum. "You worry that some of the camp is based on the theory of, Let's develop relationships with the athletes. We're concerned anytime student-athletes are associating with sports agents."
The hint of impropriety may have scared off some college quarterbacks. According to two sources Clausen, a camper in 1999, did not accept an invitation to return as a counselor this year, because Tennessee coaches advised against it. "Previously, schools might not have known much about the camp and what relationships there might be," Saum says. "But now they've started hearing the rumors and asking questions." ( Tennessee declined comment.)
If the Elite 11 loses its college counselors, much of what makes the camp beneficial to the high schoolers will vanish. Bob and Bret Johnson know football, but they can't satisfy the curiosity of kids nervous about the adjustment to college life. One evening last week Wisconsin's Bollinger counseled Wright, Michael Affleck of Timpview High in Provo, Utah, and Robert Lane of Neville High in Monroe, La., on an all-too-important college decision: Should I buy a motorized scooter to get around campus? "I had a blue one, a little Smurfette, but it got stolen," Bollinger said. "Guys steal them in Madison, take them for a joyride and then dump them. But they are great because you can park them anywhere." Earlier in the day Bollinger and USC's Palmer had delivered another message to campers. During passing drills the college passers' velocity seemed twice that of the high schoolers', and the older quarterbacks excelled in the accuracy competitions as well. "You see how far you have to go," Lane said.
The consensus, however, was that one player doesn't have too far to go. Wright, 6'3" and 190 pounds, starred during the two-hour, heavily scripted throwing sessions each morning. With his blond hair shaved close and his light-blue eyes, Wright looks very much the California quarterback. The product of 100 drop-back passes a day since the seventh grade, he won the accuracy competition last Thursday and then tied counselors Boiler and Palmer in a second competition the next day. In daily chalk talks he didn't provide a wrong answer. During one session he answered a difficult question from Palmer about "high-lowing" a linebacker (sending receivers in front of and behind a linebacker in zone coverage and then hitting the receiver left uncovered) so perfectly that the class broke out in applause. With USC rumored to be Wright's school of choice ( Miami, Florida State, Tennessee and Texas are also on his short list), Palmer might have been preparing his successor.
During the chalk talks the high schoolers acted like football nerds finally allowed into an advanced-placement course. They nodded as Bob Johnson spewed quarterback speak (" Cincy rout," "read smash," "cover two beaters," "comeback flat") and often remarked, after Johnson pointed out a weakness in a defense, that their high school programs had been executing certain offensive sets incorrectly. Johnson's teaching style is strictly run-and-shoot. A typical monologue, spoken while he paced the room barefoot, red-faced and sweating profusely: " Chris Palmer.... You know him. Used to be Cleveland's coach.... Raw deal there.... He was Rob's, my son's, position coach.... You should see his charts. See these pens, these two colored pens? He's got like 10 colors.... He's a genius.... You should see his charts. It's like something out of an anatomy class.... Amazing." The players loved it when Johnson answered a question about three-step drops during one session with, "You're not going to get sacked on a three-step drop unless you play for Buffalo"—a dig at Rob's old team. Johnson would have talked well past the 11 p.m. lights out on Thursday if allowed, but an EA Sports-sponsored video-game tournament scheduled for that evening got the players out after 45 minutes.
A running joke during many chalk talks came at the expense of Lane, who, given the choice, would tuck the ball and run. Sturdier than Wright at 6'3" and 210 pounds, Lane carries himself much like his hero, Brett Favre, with a similar gait and a desire to improvise on almost every play. Also rated among the top 10 high school baseball prospects in the country, Lane called Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh Booty recently to discuss a decision Lane will face next year: whether to take pro baseball dollars as a third baseman or go to a college (LSU is the leader) where he can play football too. (Booty recommended that he try to play both sports.) Lane will make up his mind before Oct. 1, he says, "because that's the start of deer-hunting season."
On Thursday night counselor Bollinger watched the finals of the video-game tournament (won by Chris Leak of Independence High in Charlotte) and compared the Elite 11 to the high-stakes Nike and Adidas basketball camps, which college coaches swarm over. Bollinger then paused and offered a key distinction: "Those camps are for the coaches. This camp is for the kids."