Five hundred high school seniors crowded the Houston Texans' practice facility Saturday for the chance to play college football.
They were greeted by more than 30 colleges and universities eager to give them that opportunity.
The Greater Houston Senior Football Showcase was originally created in a partnership between the Touchdown Club of Houston, HISD and the Texans to give graduating seniors from urban Houston high schools who were overlooked by FBS schools a second chance. A combine like workout was organized with the idea of putting kids who had already qualified academically for college in front of Division II, Division III and NAIA schools in hopes of meeting the needs of both the schools and the student athletes.
It was a simple concept at its core. The Texans provided the practice facility at no charge to eliminate the cost to the universities, the Touchdown Club of Houston provided insurance for the participants and volunteers to help run the camp while HISD provided student athletes looking for a chance to keep playing and continue their education.
"It’s almost too good to be true,” Houston Texans' Marketing Coordinator Keyl Woolet said. “It’s free for kids, it’s free for the schools. It’s one of those great things we’re proud to be a part of.
Like most good ideas, it struck a nerve. Each year it’s size and scope has significantly grown. The Showcase expanded to include greater Houston and now kids from as far away as Louisiana are traveling in to take part.
“It’s not really an HISD event anymore, it’s not really a Texans event anymore, it’s not really a Touchdown Club event anymore,” said former Fort Bend ISD Athletics Director Keith Kilgore, who was there with the Touchdown Club. “It’s just a lot of different entities that see a great opportunity and all join in to make it work.”
“The concept was to help Houston kids in a certain area and I don’t think anyone thought it would grow as fast as it did,” Kilgore said.
In just four years the Senior Day event has grown from 80 kids on that first Saturday to 500 with a waiting list for this year’s event. With more than 30 colleges and universities looking for players, there are plenty of roster spots to fill.
“You can imagine, you’re a college recruiter, you can go to one site and see 400 kids,” former UCLA head coach Terry Donahue said. “As opposed to high school to high school, it’s hard to get to four high schools in a day. Imagine 400 guys here. So it’s a real advantage for the colleges, they get to see so many good athletes. It’s just impressive.”
The savings to college budgets shouldn’t be overlooked either. The Senior Football Showcase is a chance to for colleges to try to fill multiple needs in one setting. Trinity University in San Antonio took advantage of last year’s event, eventually signing 11 players from the Showcase. Like Trinity, East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas, was on the hunt for double digit recruits at this year’s Showcase. There were 500 college eligible candidates available to sell themselves to.
“Once they get to campus anything can happen,” ETBU coach Brandon Smith said. “That’s the biggest challenge is getting them up to your campus and having them see your facilities, having them get to meet the rest of the staff. Getting any questions, financial aid answered.”
The Houston event was the first of its kind in the country but it’s an idea that is catching on. El Paso has hosted an event for the last few years, and Donahue is part of group staging its first camp in Los Angeles two weeks from now.
“The most important thing for me is the opportunity it provides kids,” Donahue said. “For me life’s all about opportunities, how you take advantage of them and how you can give them to somebody else. This is a day of opportunity for these kids to be out here getting looked at by all these fine colleges around the country. And it’s almost a second chance for these kids, if you will, to be observed by all these colleges so it’s a really positive thing.”
“We are building off of the Houston showcase and I think the idea is to build the prototype that they can take to all cities around the country,” Donahue added. “That is the ultimate thought process and it all started right here in Houston.”