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Beyond the Score: Today's youth athletes have more opportunities but more pressure and rising expectations

Beyond the Score: Today's youth athletes have more opportunities but more pressure and rising expectations
Posted at 4:52 PM, May 06, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-06 17:52:06-04

GREEN BAY — Everyone knows about the NFL combine, it’s a must-see event for die-hard football fans as they try to figure out which college prospect will separate themselves from the rest of the field in the NFL draft.

Now as high school football athletes try to earn a spot on an NCAA team, they’re preparing for high school football combines to show off their skills.

“I’m just training so my numbers can be the best they can be so colleges can get a look at me,” said Jacob Hanson, who is from Green Bay but plays for IMG academy in Florida.

On Saturday’s you can find many athletes like Hanson working on their 40 yard dash, broad, vertical jump and a lot more at Synergy Sports Performance at a camp run by Nate Burchell as they prepare for these high school football combines,

“The recruiting stuff is bigger than ever,” Burchell said. “You got so many ways that you gotta stand out. You got the transfer portal they gotta worry about. So these kids gotta do more than they’ve ever done before to say, "hey look at me, I’m the right guy for you.”

Notre Dame Academy running back Christian Collins who led the state in rushing last year was one of the athletes training for a high school football combine in Waukesha that took place at and of april.

“Every kid's dream is to play college football,” Collins said. “Every kid wants to do the most to get looked at to get looks, as you should. There’s a lot of kids.”

Most serious high school football players like Kaden Heitl, a Hortonville junior, start going to combines and camps when they’re around 15 years old.

“They’re pretty nerve wracking if you haven’t been to them before,” Heitl said. but if you know what to expect it’s pretty easy and you got to show up and bring your all.”

These camps are a lot more serious than they have been in the past. just take it from someone who would know, UW Oshkosh head coach Peter Jennings, who played college football as well. At these camps the players work out alongside hundreds of other football players and 30 NCAA coaches or more.

“And I just flat out said to the staff, “I thought I was a decent high school player, I'm not getting recruited’,” he said. “If i’m coming out today with the caliber of kids that we see and we’re evaluating, I don't have a spot’.”

It’s not like the old days where you could just run a 40-yard dash and couple football drills.

“They break it down even more too,” Burchell said. “This the height you need to be, this is the time that we need to see, so these kids are under way more pressure, way more stress than they’ve ever been before.”

With all the available camps and individual coaches available to help these athletes, the expectations are higher than ever.

“If you’re not doing that, if you’re not going to a quarterback specialist, if you’re not going to an o-line specialist, I can’t imagine the stress that some of these young men are feeling because it is a little bit of keeping up with the joneses,” Jennings said.

What are the NCAA coaches looking for: it’s more than athleticism.

“We are looking for kids that are personable that carry themselves in an appropriate manner outside the drills,” Jennings said.

Having the pressure of all eyes on them and competing against hundreds of their peers, the athletes say, helps grow their confidence.

“Learning to take stuff seriously and like put in the time and effort to do well at something like a big event you prepared for and then seeing your hard work pay off, it means a lot,” Hanson said. “It helps build your character a lot.”

That’s where Synergy Sports Performance and Burchell come in.

“The pressure level, what they gotta do and then perform this one time like the pro guys gotta do, man this class is for those guys,” Burchell said. “I’m trying to give you the advantage so that when you have to perform that one time, you make it your best.”

High school athletes I talked to train for 5 to 6 days a week, whether it be at synergy or in the gym and they could be even playing other sports, on top of school – there isn’t much free time.

“They can’t go hang out with their buddies, they possibly might not even be able to go to spring break for vacation, so the dedication part of it is way more than it has ever been before and they got to make some decisions,” Burchell said. “Which at a young age, that 15-16-17 year olds that's tough to do. We’re asking a lot more out of these kids.”

Parents like Bill Hanson see the dedication it takes but also the toll.

"There's a lot of commitment and I think parents have to watch and monitor that and what they're doing so they don't see their kid getting burnt out, which at a youth stage can happen.” he said.

According to the athletes, they don’t mind it one bit. they live for this, they don’t feel like they’re missing out on anything.

“I love it,” said Collins. “It’s amazing. There’s nothing better. It keeps you out of trouble. It keeps you on a straight path.”

Parents are supportive, but they have noticed a difference than when they were growing up.

"I don't think he realizes he's missing it, but as a parent you can see that I didn't do that,” Bill Hanson said. “I was out having fun with my friends on a Saturday. I wasn't working out 5-6 days a week. I think those types of things are where kids don't know the difference because this is what they want to do."

All of this in hopes they can continue their careers and play at the highest level of college football they can.

‘I’m pumped, I cant wait to go out there and show. I gotta, I’ve been putting a lot of work in a I’m hoping for the best,” Heitl said.