GWOC showcase gives area players own spotlight

Springfield defeated Northmont 42-7 in a Division I, Region 2 playoff game at Springfield on Oct. 29, 2021. Michael Cooper/CONTRIBUTED

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Springfield defeated Northmont 42-7 in a Division I, Region 2 playoff game at Springfield on Oct. 29, 2021. Michael Cooper/CONTRIBUTED

Online video highlights, statistics and word-of-mouth go only so far in football recruiting. College coaches at all levels want to see players in person. But players can’t go to every summer camp at every school where a mutual interest might develop.

The Greater Western Ohio Conference coaches want their players to find well-suited opportunities to play in college, so they are working together to host the GWOC Football Showcase on Monday at their respective schools. Coaches from over 100 colleges are invited.

“A player can only get to so many camps,” said Springboro coach Ryan Wilhite, who took the lead on organizing the day. “If he finds out which guys have some serious interest in him, he can plan his summer camps accordingly.”

College coaches can travel the Miami Valley for a one-hour stop at each of the eight GWOC schools to watch players run and perform agility drills in a combine-like setting. The day begins at 6:15 a.m. at Miamisburg and finishes at 7:15 p.m. at Beavercreek.

“Coaches want to see guys be able to move,” Wilhite said. “They want to see them run and do change of direction kind of things – those typical things you see at a combine or that they would do at a college camp. And then we’ll break up by position groups and they’ll do football-type movements.”

The first showcase was held in 2019 and Wilhite said over 30 coaches attended. The COVID-19 pandemic ruined plans for the showcase the past two years.

“They can block out everything else rather than be pulled in a million directions,” Centerville coach Brent Ullery said. “They can hit the whole conference in one day. That’s a big deal for a lot of recruiters that don’t have many days on the road. It’s really easy for them logistically, which makes it better for our players.”

Wilhite saw the benefit of the showcase in 2019 when defensive back Brandon Thomas got noticed by a coach at Division II Indianapolis, the school where he now plays.

“That coach got an opportunity to see him backpedal, change direction, get in and out of this break and saw it live right here on our campus,” Wilhite said. “Full circle after the season in December, when that coach was in the area recruiting, he remembered Brandon from the showcase day, and then got a chance to look at his film and evaluate his senior season. I don’t know that he gets that same opportunity if that coach didn’t see him live at our workout.”

The showcase idea came to Wilhite from Marcus Freeman, the new head coach at Notre Dame. Wilhite, who has been head coach at Springboro for 16 years, knows Freeman from his time on the Wayne staff when Freeman played for the Warriors. Freeman, then the defensive coordinator at Cincinnati, asked Wilhite to start the showcase in 2019. One had already been started in Indianapolis and another was starting in Cincinnati.

“The coaches in our conference want to see players, even from other schools, get opportunities,” Wilhite said. “It’s good for the Miami Valley. It’s good for the GWOC to see an excitement and a buzz by college coaches about our players.”

Ohio is one of many states with no spring football practice. In states like Florida and Texas, coaches can scout players at practices. The OHSAA doesn’t allow coaches to coach playing football in the spring except in small groups, but they do allow coaching of football-type movements for large groups like at the showcase. For example, defensive backs can back pedal and change direction as if covering a receiver. But the receiver can’t run the route alongside the defender.

“That’s probably a distinct advantage for players in states with spring practice,” Wilhite said. “So what we’re trying to do is try to level that playing field a little bit for Ohio players and give them an opportunity to be seen doing some football-type movements within what the OHSAA allows.”

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