DETROIT — Amid the controversy surrounding Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh’s satellite camps, the Sound Mind Sound Body Football Academy at Wayne State eased some of that scrutiny.
Michigan was back on home turf, and hundreds of Michigan high school football players, with the exception of a handful of out-of-state players, were able to not only prove their worth on the field, but also receive insight from some of the most prolific head coaches in college football. Besides Harbaugh, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, Nebraska’s Mike Riley and Syracuse’s Dino Babers were among the big names who spoke at SMSB.
While coaches were preaching the importance of consistency and hard work to the athletes, Harbaugh was still pointedly questioned about what he wanted to accomplish at this camp in his joint press conference with Dantonio.
“(The athletes’) families get to watch them and know they’re getting better,” Harbaugh said. “At this camp, they’re going to learn one, two, three or four things that they’re going to put in their back pocket, work on over the summer, and take that into the fall so they can be a better player and have a better team. They’re going to come out of today knowing they got better, and that’s what this is all about.
“You want to tell the world that we are strong here in Michigan and that our youngsters are smart. With 16, 17, 18-year-olds attacking the world, it’s a heck of a group here.”
Recently, Harbaugh has had to defend his intentions against Alabama coach Nick Saban, who claimed Harbaugh’s camps focused more on recruitment than giving kids opportunities to learn and play football.
But SMSB is not like any of the previous camps that Harbaugh and the rest of his staff have coordinated. Since its 2004 inception, the camp has preached self-confidence and healthy lifestyle choices, as evidenced by the four-and-a-half hours spent in a Wayne State lecture hall in which many of the speakers shared stories of teammates who damaged their football prospects because of poor decision-making.
Though Harbaugh still gets lambasted for the camps he runs, he is not alone on the defensive. Babers also believes that camps like SMSB are primarily benefitting the high school athletes.
“I think this is all about giving opportunities to kids,” Babers said. “We recruit in May. Anytime you get this much knowledge and you get it infused into the right young men before they make a mistake or give up the game, it is just nourishing the game.”
Added Dantonio: “It’s a dual purpose here. Anything you can do to point them in the right direction in this day and age in society is a positive thing that they can take with them on the field.”
After the slew of speeches, the players took the field to take part in positional drills led by an array of coaches and players, including Carolina Panthers wide receiver and ex-Wolverine Devin Funchess, who participated in SBSM when he was in high school.
Though Harbaugh and the other coaches who attended the two-day camp may face criticism for their involvement, the message of SBSM transcends that of football at the high school or college level.
“(SMSB) does a tremendous job,” Harbaugh said. “(SMSB Director) Curtis Blackwell is so passionate … it feels like we all are. Teaching and coaching, it’s what we do.”