NFF High School Showcases Expand Impact

Atlanta joins free events in Houston, Los Angeles, Charlotte and South Florida, providing thousands of academically eligible high school football players an opportunity for millions of dollars in college scholarships.

>Showcases attracted more than 1,300 high school seniors and 127 colleges and universities from the NCAA Division II, III and NAIA levels last year.

>Atlanta joins successful Showcases in Houston, Los Angeles, North Carolina and South Florida.

> Participants received an estimated $6 million in scholarships for their freshman year in 2018.

>Events are free to both participants and college recruiters.

IRVING, Texas (Feb. 7, 2019) – The National Football Foundation (NFF) & College Hall of Fame previewed the upcoming NFF High School Showcases in Houston, Los Angeles, North Carolina, South Florida and Atlanta, which look to increase their impact by giving thousands of high school seniors a chance to earn scholarships. All five events will take place between Feb. 9 and March 23 with organizers estimating that participants will collectively receive more than $6 million in academic and participation scholarships for their freshman year.

The NFF High School Showcases, which are absolutely free to both participants and college recruiters, provide academically eligible high school seniors who did not sign an NCAA Division I letter of intent an opportunity to go through a series of drills in front of divisional college coaches from the NCAA Division II, III and the NAIA levels. Last year, the events attracted representatives from 127 colleges covering 30 states, coupling them with more than 1,300 aspiring college players who earned millions of dollars in academic and participation scholarships.

“The leaders in these five cities all deserve huge praise for their efforts to expand opportunities for kids to earn their college degrees with football opening the door,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “Their leadership has helped build a free system, literally providing thousands of talented student-athletes the opportunity to continue their educations. The Showcases provide a great path to college that previously did not exist. It’s a huge difference maker.”

Participants, who all have to meet minimum academic standards, compete in a series of athletic drills designed to let divisional college coaches assess each player’s potential, including a 40- yard dash and several agility and strength tests. The events allow the college recruiters a unique opportunity to evaluate a large number of qualified student-athletes in a short period while minimizing their travel costs.

The NFF Showcases have produced hundreds of success stories, including Jarell Carter who in 2017 became the first-known NFF High School Showcase participant to ever make an NFL roster with the Arizona Cardinals after landing a scholarship at the 2013 Houston event to Trinity International University (Ill.); Caleb Thomas who set multiple NAIA records as a wide receiver after receiving a scholarship at the 2017 Orange Bowl Showcase to Graceland University (Iowa); Cedric Whitaker who garnered a scholarship at the 2011 Houston event to Texas Lutheran and now coaches the cornerbacks at Houston Baptist; and Mitchell Nickovich who was a two-time SCIAC All-Academic Team member from the University of Redlands (Calif.) after being recruited during the 2016 California Showcase.

Launched by a group of Houston coaches in 2009, the concept expanded to Southern California in 2013 with Florida and North Carolina added in 2017 and Atlanta in 2019. Collectively, the organizers anticipate the five events will reach more than 1,500 seniors this year with an estimated one-in-four receiving some kind of financial aid to go to college.

Feb. 9 – 11th Annual Academy Sports + Outdoors Houston Senior Football Showcase will kick off the events on Saturday, Feb. 9, at The Methodist Training Center next door to NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. The originator of the Showcase concept, the event in Houston was founded by Phil Camp, the former head football coach at Milby High School in Houston; Coby Rhoden, an academic coordinator at Houston Heights High School; Chris Vaughan, a member of the NFF Touchdown Club of Houston Chapter; and Daryl Wade, the former athletics director for the Houston Independent School District. The Houston event receives additional support from the Houston Texans and minority owner Javier Loya and the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl and Executive Director David Fletcher.

Feb. 16 – The Third Annual Orange Bowl Florida High School Football Showcase, presented by Cleveland Clinic Florida, will take place Saturday, Feb. 16, at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Florida. The event is led by the Orange Bowl Committee, President & Chairman José C. Romano, CEO Eric Poms and NFF Board Member and Orange Bowl past president Bob Epling. Former University of Miami Linebacker Tony Coley will coordinate on-field activities. Among those who have volunteered in the past are Nat Moore, Channing Crowder, Matt Morrall and Jim Gainey (Florida), John Offerdahl (Western Michigan), Dwight Stephenson (Alabama), Henri Crockett (Florida State), Glenn Blackwood (Texas), Twan Russell (Miami), Patrick Surtain (Southern Mississippi) and Troy Drayton (Penn State).

Feb. 23 – The Seventh Annual California Showcase will take place Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California. The event was launched by College Football Hall of Fame Coach Terry Donahue (UCLA, 1976 – 1995), who has tapped many former college coaches and players to help run the drills. Notables who have volunteered in the past include Steve Beuerlein (Notre Dame), Jim Everett (Purdue), Vince Ferragamo (Nebraska and an NFF National Scholar-Athlete), Nick Foles (Arizona), Rick Neuheisel (UCLA), Lester Towns (Washington) and James Washington (UCLA).

March 16 – The Third Carolinas Senior Football Showcase will take place Saturday, March 16, at the Charlotte Latin School in Charlotte, North Carolina. The event was spearheaded by Charles Arbuckle, who played for Donahue at UCLA and currently coaches tight ends with the Arizona Hotshots in the new Alliance of American Football professional league. To stage the event in North Carolina, Arbuckle has collaborated with the Blazing 7 on 7 Foundation, a local non-profit organization that operates offseason passing leagues and run by Weddington High School DL coach Mike Newman and Marcus Kimbrough.

March 23 – The Inaugural Georgia Showcase will conclude the series on Saturday, March 23, at the Walton High School in Marietta, Georgia. The event is being launched by the Mel Farr “Superstar” Foundation, which is run by Mel Farr Jr., Mike Farr, and Monet Farr Bartell as a tribute to their father Mel Farr Sr., who played at UCLA in the 1960s followed by a career in the NFL with the Detroit Lions. Both Mike and Mel Jr. played for Coach Donahue at UCLA and as teammates of Arbuckle, and Mel Farr Sr. played as a teammate of Donahue’s in the 1960s for the Bruins.

“Most of these types of events around the country charge a fee to participate, excluding a lot of great kids who can’t afford the price of admission,” said NFF Chairman Archie Manning. “The NFF Showcases provide all student-athletes, no matter their means, an opportunity to pursue the dream of attending college, and it’s a highly cost effective way for us to make a huge difference in the lives of hundreds of kids. Best of all the impact has been nothing short of phenomenal.”

Eleven years ago, Coach Camp and the NFF Touchdown Club of Houston Chapter joined forces with 75 coaches from the Houston Independent School District to stage the first showcase. Last year the Houston event had 376 high school seniors enroll with coaches from 42 Division II, III and NAIA universities in attendance.

“We have had people come together across the country to create opportunities for young men to continue their educations through hard work and dedication,” said Camp. “The Houston Showcase alone has produced over $100 million in scholarships and grants in aid during the past 10 years, which has enabled young men to go to college, get their educations, graduate, and come back and make huge contributions to their communities.”

Inspired by the success of the Houston event, Coach Donahue assembled an impressive array of former coaches and players from multiple colleges and universities in 2013, introducing the first California Showcase. Last year, the event attracted more than 400 high school seniors who worked out for 57 Division II, III and NAIA universities, placing 124 on college rosters this past fall with financial aid estimated at $25,700 per student. Since 2013, more than 3,000 students have attended the California Showcase with 789 receiving an estimated total of $23 million in financial aid.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for these high school seniors to continue their educations and it is free,” said Donahue. “At least one in four of the kids who attend our showcase will get a scholarship to a great school and continue to play the great game of football. There are so many combines and showcases, but this one really has legs to it because it’s totally free for the players and the colleges.”

Hearing about the success of the Showcases in Houston and Los Angeles, the Orange Bowl Committee in South Florida and Charles Arbuckle in North Carolina approached the NFF in 2017 about launching events to benefit the high school players in their regions. The inaugural event in Charlotte, North Carolina, drew 125 high school seniors and 15 colleges and universities, and last year the event expanded its reach with 275 students-athletes and 30 colleges and universities attending.

“I saw Terry Donahue several years ago, and they have been able to get millions in grant and aid scholarships for these young men over the years,” said Arbuckle, who played for Donahue at UCLA and then in the NFL. “Every year when I was playing for the Colts in Indianapolis and now here in Charlotte, I would have kids who were not getting recruited ask ‘how can you help me,’ and this is the perfect way to do it on a mass level.

“The ability to help these young men start towards their educational equity has been the most rewarding part of our Carolinas Senior Football Showcase. I am really looking forward to when our first graduating class is able to come back and share their testimony on how the Showcase helped them and their family.”

The Orange Bowl, which ranks among the top local sports organizations in the country with an impressive reputation for supporting a wide-range of community events, has strong ties to the NFF. Epling, who serves on the NFF Board, is a past president of the Orange Bowl Committee, and Hatchell served as the Orange Bowl executive director from 1987 to 1993. It did not take much to convince the leadership of the merits of the NFF Showcase model.

“South Florida is home to an incredible array of talented student-athletes both on the field and in the classroom, who are looking to use their athletic ability to secure a college education, beyond those that receive Division I scholarships,” said Romano. “The Orange Bowl is proud to be able to assist in this endeavor by pairing these student-athletes with schools from around the country that have limited recruiting budgets, in a single-day combine-type setting. We have achieved tremendous success so far with student-athletes earning more than $2 million in financial assistance as a direct result of our first two Showcases, and look forward to similar results from this year’s event.”

Last year, for its second Showcase, the Orange Bowl turnout topped 324 players and 41 schools, and organizers reported that 69 of the 2018 participants claimed more than $1 million in assistance to attend college as a direct result of the event, including seven scholarships each from Thiel College (Pa.) and Heidelberg University (Ohio).

Building on the success of the four established events, Arbuckle invited the Farr brothers, both his teammates at UCLA, to attend the event in Charlotte last year to explore the possibility of launching a new Showcase in either Detroit to honor their father, who passed away in 2015 and played for the Lions, or in Atlanta where they currently reside.

“We went to Charlotte and saw the kids, all the volunteers, and said not only is this something that we can do, but it’s much needed and it will do a lot of good,” said Mel Farr Jr. “It takes a lot of work to put one of these things together, but fortunately for us we were not reinventing the wheel. We’re just using the cookie cutter that other people have put into action, including Coach Camp down in Houston, Coach Donahue in California and Charles in Carolina.”

Because of the logistical advantages of working near their current residences, the Farr siblings picked Atlanta, also citing the state as a hotbed for high school talent. They said Georgia attracts a large number of colleges and universities who heavily recruit the state, but excellent candidates often get overlooked at the divisional level for a variety of reason. The Farr siblings hope the inaugural event will connect around 200 prospects with 30 colleges. With the location set and several volunteers already lined up, the key challenge will be getting the word out to high school seniors about the opportunity to attend.

“We want to try to help as many kids as possible and that is what this is all about,” said Mel Farr Jr. “It’s about trying to give kids opportunities and give them hope because that is what these kids need. You can’t possibly go out there and find every kid. But if we’re able to help one additional kid, then we will be successful because that’s one less kid that we have to worry about.”

Additional notable former players and coaches who have volunteered at past events include: Kevin Carter (Florida), Derwin Gray (BYU), London Fletcher (John Carroll, Ohio and a 2019 College Football Hall of Fame electee), Robert Hubble (Rice), Larry Little (BethuneCookman, Fla.), Tom Lunginbill (Georgia Tech/Eastern Kentucky), Greg McElroy (Alabama and an NFF National Scholar-Athlete), Cade McNown (UCLA), Michael Dean Perry (Clemson), Eugene Robinson (Colgate, NY) and Jay Schroeder (UCLA).

ABOUT THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL FOUNDATION & COLLEGE HALL OF FAME Founded in 1947 with early leadership from General Douglas MacArthur, legendary Army coach Earl “Red” Blaik and immortal journalist Grantland Rice, The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame is a non-profit educational organization that runs programs designed to use the power of amateur football in developing scholarship, citizenship and athletic achievement in young people. With 120 chapters and 12,000 members nationwide, NFF programs include Football Matters® , the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, The William V. Campbell Trophy® , annual scholarships of more than $1.3 million and a series of initiatives to honor the legends of the past and inspire the leaders of the future. NFF corporate partners include Delta Air Lines, Fidelity Investments – a proud partner of the Campbell Trophy® , Goodyear, Herff Jones, New York Athletic Club, the Pasadena Tournament of Roses, the Sports Business Journal, SportsManias, Under Armour and VICIS. Learn more at footballfoundation.org.

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