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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Overlooked prep recruits get second chance at Terry Donahue's camp

High school players who weren't signed by major colleges will attend the former UCLA coach's football combine this month, where they will try to impress lower-division schools.

February 06, 2014|Eric Sondheimer
  • Crenshaw's Michael Simmons, left, runs against Oaks Christian High on Sept 27.
Crenshaw's Michael Simmons, left, runs against Oaks Christian High… (Robert S. Helfman / Los Angeles…)

The first days of the national signing period for senior high school football players has come and gone, leaving some disappointed and even disillusioned they didn't receive a scholarship offer.

Instead of moping around and feeling rejected, it's time to take advantage of a unique opportunity.

Former UCLA coach Terry Donahue and the National Football Foundation are putting on a free combine on Feb. 22 at StubHub Center in Carson "for all kids who want to play college football and continue their education and didn't get recruited by Division I schools,'' as Donahue puts it.

He has recruited more than 40 schools from NCAA Division II, III and the NAIA to come out and perhaps find a player or two. Some 600 seniors are expected to participate in a 2 1/2 -hour camp. The only requirements for players are that either they have a 2.5 grade-point average, scored at least 1,100 on the SAT or rank in the upper half of their senior class and must preregister online.

Donahue said from last year's initial camp, 75 players ended up on college rosters and received some $1.3 million in financial aid and scholarships.

"The event is totally free," he said. "No hidden fees. We bill it as the 'Wal-Mart of recruiting.' Every school that attends has a booth, and it becomes like a job fair. Players perform and come by the booth. This is capitalism at its finest."

He told the story of one player who showed up from San Francisco.

"I asked him, 'How did you get down here?' " Donahue said. "He said, 'My mom drove all night.' How did you do? 'I got four or five years from Bacone College.' I said, 'Where is Bacone College?' He said, 'I don't know, but I'm going.'"

Bacone is in Muskogee, Okla. Donahue said college recruiters who come to Carson receive a free hotel room to participate in the combine.

He hires the camp's coaches, most of whom he knows from college coaching, including former UCLA players such as Cade McNown, Wayne Cook, Norm Andersen and Matt Stevens.

"We're trying to create opportunities. We're trying to give kids a chance," he said.

Donahue's own recruiting experience helps inspire his participation.

"I wasn't recruited out of high school, and that's part of my motivation," he said."There's all kinds of kids who can play football and get overlooked. This is about giving kids access to college."

Donahue went to Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High and San Jose State, then played junior college football before arriving at UCLA as a 197-pound defensive lineman.

Two players expected to participate are Grant Kraemer, an all-league quarterback from Notre Dame, and Michael Simmons, an All-City receiver and defensive back from Crenshaw who was the star of this season's City Section Division I championship game. Both have excellent grades but are still searching for a college football opportunity.

Kraemer has some interest from Tufts University. His main drawback is that he did not play quarterback as a junior.

"I was talking to a college recruiter and he said the fact I didn't have any junior film really hurt me," Kraemer said. "It's a little frustrating because everyone is so ahead of the game. The schools are looking at junior film right now more than seniors."

Simmons had nine catches for 99 yards, plus made an interception, in the City championship game against Harbor City Narbonne. As if that wasn't enough, when you meet him in person, you find a teenager who looks you straight in the eye and immediately convinces you he's going to be successful because of his enthusiasm and confidence.

And please don't tell me the MVP of the City final isn't good enough to play somewhere. Remember, the MVP of the Super Bowl, Malcolm Smith, went to Woodland Hills Taft. Yes, there's plenty of talent to be found in Southern California.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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