KINGSFORD – About 70 high school football players from across the Upper Peninsula, eager for tips and advice from NCAA Division I coaches, attended and worked out at the four-hour Central Michigan University camp held at Kingsford High School on Tuesday.
The CMU coaching staff, which included head coach John Bonamego, facilitated the camp complete with position drills, evaluation and scrimmage drills. They also took a look at some potential Chippewas’ recruits.
“What we’re doing today is we’re going to give some kids an opportunity to showcase their skills,” Bonamego said. “If we like what we see, we’ll move forward.”
Bonamego said Kingsford superintendent Craig Allen visited Bonamego at his office near Kelly/Shorts Stadium a few weeks ago when Allen was on his way to Lansing.
The two played together at CMU in the mid-1980s.
“We had already planned on doing one up here,” Bonamego said about the U.P. “We were in the preliminary stages and we hadn’t decided on a location yet.
“Craig stopped in the office to say hello. We talked about it and we told him we planned on doing a camp up here and he volunteered the use of their facilities and they made it very convenient for us and it’s worked out fantastic.”
Bonamego said he sees the CMU camp in Kingsford as an annual event at a centralized place in the U.P. for area talent, including northern Wisconsin, to come and take repetitions together. It’s also an opportunity for under-the-radar talent to get noticed and, if possible, Bonamego said, get recruited.
“We’re going to be committed to coming here, whether we find one kid, two kids, five kids, it doesn’t matter,” Bonamego said. “If we don’t find any kids, we’re still going to come back next year because you never know where the next great player is going to come from.”
Bonamego said the premise for the annual camp in the U.P. is to gain a foothold in an area that has already provided three players who are now on the CMU roster – Ishpeming freshman Alex Briones, St. Ignace junior Joe Ostman and Algoma, Wisconsin, senior wide receiver Jesse Kroll.
Bonamego said he sensed that more players from the U.P. and northern Wisconsin were on the roster in his days as a player than more recently.
“Just looking at the roster, I noticed that we didn’t have as many players on our roster from the U.P.,” he said. “I remember when I was playing at Central, and again that was a long time ago, but we always had a really strong representation of players from up here.”
Bonamego said the CMU presence in this part of the state can help coaches and players as well as establish a recruiting pipeline to bring future talent to Michigan’s fifth-largest university, and also Northern Michigan, Michigan Tech, Finlandia and Northwood, whose coaching staffs were also at the camp to help with drills and instruction.
“I just think it’s important for us being a state university and being the farthest north of the MAC schools, that we’ve always traditionally done well up here to extend ourselves to do it not just from a recruiting standpoint, but to help bring along the athletes and the coaches that are up here,” Bonamego said.
Briones, Ostman and Kroll were at the camp to help facilitate drills, give one-on-one advice during workouts and answer questions from camp players at the end of the session.
Helping players in practice by position, along with stretching and running the same drills CMU runs in its practices were Chippewas’ defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Greg Colby, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Morris Watts, cornerbacks coach Archie Collins, special teams coordinator and special teams coach Mike Dietzel, offensive line coach Derek Frazier, tight ends coach Sherrone Moore, running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Gino Guidugli.
Finlandia, whose football program was christened little more than a year ago, used the camp as one of the first opportunities of the year to recruit players for next season.
Lions running backs coach Phil Milbrath said the program is coming along nicely and the impending season about two months away has ramped up the motivation. He said the team plans to have 70 players ready for its inaugural season this fall.
“We’re real excited about the fall. We’ve had the program now for over a year,” Milbrath said.
Kroll, who said he drives through the U.P. when he travels to and from home – Algoma is about 40 minutes north of Green Bay – said it was the first CMU camp he was part of.
“It was a lot of fun,” Kroll said. “It was cool to see a lot of these kids who were in the same situation as me, trying to get recognition, trying to get noticed.”
Kroll caught 36 passes for 582 yards and four touchdowns last year.
He said Briones and Ostman have looked good. Briones has faced a different challenge in his freshman season in a position change from quarterback, where he earned his recognition in Ishpeming, to linebacker.
“Briones is making a transition with a position switch and he’s looking good and making progress,” Kroll said.
Ostman sets the tone in the weight room, Kroll said.
“Joey O. – he’s just a beast,” Kroll said. “Everybody wants to reach his level in the weight room because he’s outworking people. He’s definitely the kind of guy you like to see on your team because he’s a hard worker.”