July 17, 2007

Camp helps Virginia Tech land commitments

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HARRISONBURG When they say familiarity breeds contempt, they're obviously not talking about college football recruiting.

Amherst County High School senior defensive back Peter Rose said Monday he will play at Virginia Tech next year, in part because of the comfort level he developed while attending Hokies coach Frank Beamer's summer camps.

"It was a big part of my decision," Rose, who also plays quarterback for the Lancers, said Monday at James Madison's Bridgeforth Stadium. "I've seen what the campus is like and I've talked to the coaches. They just seem like they wanted me there more than any of the other colleges that were talking to me."

Ironically perhaps, given the timing of his announcement, Rose and his Amherst teammates were in Harrisonburg to take part in JMU coach Mickey Matthews' football camp.

Rose said he mulled offers from a quartet of major-conference schools -- Tech, Virginia, Maryland and Syracuse and some Division I-AA teams before narrowing his list to the Hokies and Cavaliers.

"I checked out all the colleges and I made it down to U.Va. and Virginia Tech for the last month now," the 6-foot, 190-pound Rose said. "I've just been debating back and forth. It's been close all the way through."

Madison and Richmond, which play in the I-AA Colonial Athletic Association, also offered scholarships, and Rose said he considered playing at JMU to team with his brother Jonathan an incoming freshman tailback for the Dukes.

In the end, though, he couldn't resist the allure of Division I-A.

"I definitely thought about JMU over any other colleges," Rose said. "They were next in line to U.Va. and Virginia Tech."

Stories like Rose's are one of the side-benefits for college coaches who host football camps. While the No. 1 goal might be to make money from campers, coaches also get a chance to forge relationships with athletes and scout their abilities. At the same time, the athletes get what amounts to an extra recruiting visit, checking out coaches and campuses before making one of the biggest decisions of their young lives.

"We had a sophomore tailback that ran an unbelievable 40 time [Sunday]," Amherst coach Scott Abell said. "I think they know his name now."

While NCAA regulations prohibit coaches from recruiting underclassmen like Josh Braxton, the sophomore Abell was referring to Matthews said the camps are an opportunity to at least begin getting familiar with some of the talent around the state.

"It allows us to establish relationships legally with high school coaches and players," Matthews said, standing at the 50-yard line while two 7-on-7 drills went on around him. "We have underclassmen here that we will recruit in the years to come because we know them and they know us."

Matthews gave an example from his days as a Marshall University assistant coach.

"When were are at Marshall, we were having a 7-on-7 drill at our football camp and there was a tall, skinny quarterback who we'd never heard of and he was winning every game," Matthews recalled. "We asked him what his name was. His name was Chad Pennington."

Pennington went on to set school records, throwing for 14,098 yards and 123 touchdowns. In 2000, he was drafted by the New York Jets and remains their starting quarterback.

None of that might have happened had Pennington, who was in the Huntingdon area visiting his grandparents, not been noticed at the camp. Matthews said Marshall was the only school that recruited Pennington.

"It not only changed his life, it changed our lives," Matthews said.

While there may not be a future NFL starter hidden at every college camp, Abell and Matthews agreed the extra exposure benefits both sides.

"Anytime you've got connections and you can make those relationships, it helps," Abell said. "More than anything, it just gets your foot in the door."

Abell and Rose both said Tech recruited Rose as either a wide receiver or a defensive back. The coach said he thinks his star pupil can excel on either side of the ball, although he'd like to see what Rose can do offensively if given the chance.

"He's really good with the football in his hands," Abell said. "Playing wide receiver gives him the chance to touch the football. He's a very special kid when he's running with the ball."

Rose said he's open to any position.

"What do I want to play? Football," he said with a smile. "Virginia Tech is talking to me as a receiver and DB. I don't care at all."

Rose passed for more than 1,200 yards, rushed for 740 and scored 29 touchdowns while leading Amherst to a 13-1 record and the Division 4 state title.

Clearly, he didn't need a summer camp to get noticed. But his exposure to Beamer and Virginia Tech were the difference in his ultimate destination.

Visit the Daily News-Record for superior sports coverage of the Harrisonburg and Valley area.

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