Campbell University put together a football recruiting class this week that it hopes can continue the programs early-stages ascent.
Key to that recruiting class were four players from York County, an area that the Camels, and head coach Mike Minter, the former Carolina Panthers defensive stalwart, hope to begin tapping annually for talented student-athletes.
Campbell assistant coach Will Phillippi is in charge of recruiting the southern half of Charlotte and all of York County, and his aims are for Nation Fords Dalton Helms, Yorks Shuler Littleton and South Pointes Eric Westbrook and Matt Newman to be the first of many from the area to wear his schools orange and black.
The thing thats exciting for us is growing roots in York County, Phillippi said. The thing weve talked about as a staff is to not just recruit the kid, but recruit the area. Recruit the janitor at the school, the principal at the school, everybody you can in that area to get yourself some name recognition.
Campbell and The Citadel were two of the schools that signed the most York County high school football recruits on Wednesday. Most folks are well aware of what The Citadel means: military school, Charleston.
But Campbells success spoke to that programs efforts to create the same kind of identity that schools like The Citadel possess.
When Im talking to a kid, do I have to explain to him who Campbell plays, where Campbells at, all of that stuff? said Phillippi. Thats the battle weve been fighting but I think were starting to break some ground in that area.
The Campbell football program is eight years old, but it still feels like Minter, who was hired in November 2012, is trying to launch it off the ground. The team went 3-9 in Minters first season, so recruiting areas like York County, where a number of schools share a tradition of football success, are crucial to the programs development. Nation Ford, York and South Pointe were a combined 28-11 last season.
Selling Campbell is an alternately easy and difficult process. The Camels are a non-athletic scholarship program, but they are able to piece together financial aid packages for need-based individuals, as well as academically successful ones. The latter point is key; Phillippi said that Campbell generally recruits upper echelon students.
There is also the conference that Campbell plays in. The Camels fly all over the country in the Pioneer Football Conference, which makes establishing local rivals difficult - Davidson is one - but also allows the schools players to see different parts of the country.
Perhaps Campbells biggest selling point right now is its head coach. All four of the York County recruits headed to Campbell were thrilled about playing for Minter, especially Westbrook who plays safety just like his new coach did.
I liked that a lot, Westbrook said, grinning. Im sure hell be able to help me out, get my skills a little bit better.
Helms, a talented 6-foot-2 quarterback who threw 27 touchdown passes last fall, was a main target for the Camels after impressing their coaching staff last summer during a one-day camp.
It was big for our signing class to get that type of guy, said Phillippi.
Campbell latched on to Westbrook thanks to Justin Hardin, the head coach at Charlottes Providence High School, and a former South Pointe assistant coach. A good endorsement from South Pointe coach Strait Herron confirmed Campbells interest and they offered Westbrook.
Once he committed, it seemed everybody got really interested in him and we had some recruiting battles down there, said Phillipi, who will be Westbrooks position coach in the secondary. But we were able to hold on to him. He was sold on us from the get.
And Littleton, who checks in at 6-foot-7, 275 pounds, may be the biggest diamond in the rough for Campbell.
Were just really excited that we got him, said Phillippi, because he can develop into an all-conference kid with his size and his frame. Its a rare thing to come across a guy like that and still have a chance with him.
Newman, an undersized defensive end for South Pointe, will walk on at Campbell. He played at First Assembly in Concord for Minter, who was previously the head coach at that school. That familiarity helped get Newman, who led the Stallions with 13 sacks last season and was a first team All-Area player, a shot with the Camels.
He has accomplished my dreams and what I want to do, Newman said about Minter.
Newman and the others from York County will now try to help Campbell reach its dreams of establishing a successful football program. The football program has energetic new coaches and even new uniforms and helmets for the upcoming season. Its got some new football players too, from an area it hopes to make a recruiting stronghold.
They should definitely come back here, said Littleton, looking at all the underclassmen at Yorks signing ceremony on Wednesday.
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T