A year ago, Cameron Kline went to one, maybe two, college football summer camps. He was just a rising sophomore, a tight end and defensive end at South Forsyth, not quite yet caught within the frenzy of college football recruiting. He was proud enough to have started on varsity as a freshman.
This summer, Kline went to six camps. To Auburn, where he stayed overnight on the national runner-up’s campus. To Duke, South Carolina, Western Carolina, Wofford and Vanderbilt, a tour around the Southeast like the rest of the high school football players trying to get noticed by college coaches.
"I just learned from college coaches," Kline said, "learned from some of the best in the country. It really helped out and really made me a better defensive end."
After two seasons, Kline already has an impressive high school résumé. Last season, he was selected second team all-Region 6-AAAAAA and all-county. He was an impact player for the War Eagles at tight end, where he caught 17 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns, and defensive end, where he had 42 tackles, four sacks, four fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles. At 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, he’s growing into what a college football player looks like.
That’s what made this summer different. As a rising junior, Kline is entering what is widely considered the most crucial recruiting year for a high school football player as the timeline shifts earlier and earlier. By now, most of the Class of 2016’s top prospects have already been courted and extended verbal offers.
It’s at these summer camps where players get the best exposure in front of college coaching staffs, and colleges are increasing their frequency to see more and more talent.
The cost is put on the players. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe holds a QB College for $400 a person. The Blue Devils have overnight camps for offensive linemen and outside linebackers ($200) and kickers and long snappers ($300). South Carolina holds a 7-on-7 tournament for $350 per team. Vanderbilt charges $100 a player to attend its Elite QB Camp. Western Carolina’s overnight HAWG event costs $200 a player.
Kline went to them for the instruction he received from experienced college coaches.
"I think learning a lot of new techniques, especially when I’m playing defensive end," Kline said. "Being able to rip better, being able to swim better and being able to flip my hips better.
"Working also at a much faster pace than I’m probably used to, like at the [pace] colleges work at. I think it really worked to help me become a better player."
In between the camps, Kline filled his schedule with trips to Goldin Athletics Training Association for strength training two to three times a week. When he wasn’t at football or track practice this summer, he’d jump rope in his garage or run in his neighborhood.
He got exhausted ("There have been a bunch of times where I didn’t sleep much," Kline said).
He got a back injury ("It’s kind of the price you have to pay if you want to be that good," he said).
He missed high school practices while travelling to those summer camps ("It’s kind of worth it being a better player, learning from the best and being able to compete against the best too, he said).
And when those moments of exhaustion and pain set in, Kline said he thought about the War Eagles, about how 7-3, the best season at South in over a decade, wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs a year ago.
"What I really think about … is my teammates," Kline said. "When I’m really just tired and exhausted, all I have to think about is it’s not about you, it’s about your team. I really want to make my team successful. I want to make the playoffs this year and next year and in the future. That’s all it’s about, really.
"It’s not me. It’s for them. That’s my motivation."