Georgia coach Kirby Smart and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh were supposed to be the headliners of the Next Level Elite Football satellite camp, but they were upstaged by a legend.
Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron was in attendance at Maynard H. Jackson High School after receiving a personal invitation from Harbaugh. Aaron, who finished his MLB career with 755 home runs, spoke with Harbaugh for an hour before the camp began. Topics ranged from civil rights issues, to baseball, to the reason Harbaugh was there in the first place — football.
Cedar Grove coach Jimmy Smith, who served as the camp’s lead organizer, was supposed to have someone pick up Aaron and Andrew Young, a former Atlanta mayor/civil rights leader. Instead, he did it himself to experience a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
“I didn’t do too much talking. I just wanted to listen and learn,” Smith told SEC Country. “The biggest thing they said was that they like the opportunities that kids are getting out of satellite camps. They don’t know all of the details on them, but they understand that the kids get more opportunities from this.”
Harbaugh showed up to the satellite camp sporting an Atlanta Braves Aaron jersey. He did not take it off for the entirety of the event.
Smith said Aaron and Young were not expected to speak with the campers, but after some encouragement, they said a few words before the camp began.
“Remember, there are no shortcuts in life,” Aaron said to the campers. “There is no shortcut in football. If you want to play the camp and you play it right, you have to go into it right, which means go to school, get a degree and do what’s right. Play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
Over 300 players were in attendance for the camp, according to Smith. A total of 48 college coaches were on scene scouting talent from the metro Atlanta area.
Smith believes the camp, which was also a good opportunity for colleges in attendance to for recruiting purposes, was beneficial for the participants. He believes kids will now consider more schools they may not have without satellite camps.
“I think now that these kids saw coaches from Michigan and Pittsburgh, these schools are not out of sight anymore,” Smith said. “Now when these kids talk about going on visits, they may not mention the same schools anymore. I think now these kids are going to think outside the box and say, ‘OK, maybe I can go to Maryland or Pittsburgh or Virginia.’ Some guys may think if they can’t go to Georgia, they can’t go anywhere.”
The Cedar Grove coach said if he was asked to host another satellite camp, he would not hesitate to say yes.
“Some of these kids would never have the opportunity to get coached by these guys and get seen by them if it wasn’t for this,” Smith said.
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Chris Kirschner covers Alabama football recruiting for SECCountry.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play in Bryant-Denny.