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Option U
High school players develop skills at GSU football camp
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Chris Bartlett, 18, of Mountain View High School rifles a pass Wednesday during Georgia Southern's Option U camp.

    Adrian Chambers said he wants to be a Georgia Southern football player.
    The rising senior at Trinity Christian in Jacksonville, Fla., picked a perfect place to catch the eye of GSU’s coaching staff. He is among nearly 100 athletes on GSU’s campus who are participating in the Option U skill camp for rising ninth- through 12th-grade students.
    Chambers, who plays the safety and cornerback positions, participated in the first day of the Option U skill camp Wednesday. The camp ends today with a competition at Paulson Stadium from 3:30-4:45 p.m.
    “I like (the state of) Georgia. I’ve got relatives here,” said Chambers, who has family in Savannah. “The camp is going good. The coaches are all cool. I want to learn more techniques. And you can always get your fundamentals better, stuff that I can take back with me and perform better on the high school football field.”
    Option U is a series of five camps produced by GSU’s coaching staff. The Option U linemen camp was Monday and Tuesday on campus. The Eagles conducted a one-day Option U camp last Saturday at Mill Creek High School in Gwinnett. They will conduct a one-day camp Friday at Lovejoy High School in Lovejoy. GSU will have a camp Sunday at Fort Stewart in Hinesville that will be free for boys and girls, in grades first through eighth, who have an active-duty military parent.
    “This is our third camp of five different camps we’ll have this summer,” GSU head coach Jeff Monken said Wednesday. “The first was Saturday. We had a camp in the Atlanta area, at Mill Creek High School, that was for senior prospects. And we had a good turnout there. Last year, we went up there and had a camp. It was the first time we had a satellite camp like that, and we had 300 guys show up. It was such a good turnout that we decided we were going to do two camps in Atlanta; one on the North side, one on the South side. We’ll be at Lovejoy High School this Friday. And probably between those two camps be in the same range there, about 300 guys or so.”
    Players from Statesboro High, Southeast Bulloch, Screven County and Savannah Christian are attending Option U camps with players from throughout Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Pennsylvania.
    Players and coaches have enjoyed breezy conditions. During last year’s sessions, daily temperatures reached 100 degrees or higher, GSU assistant coach Brett Gilliland said. Campers range in size from 148 pounds to 308 pounds. They wear helmets, T-shirts and shorts. Despite the unseasonably mild weather, GSU’s staff requires all players to take water breaks as a safety precaution.
    “We had the O-line camp Monday and Tuesday of this week, which was a really good group,” Monken said. "We had great weather. We typically don’t get cool weather. Today and (Thursday) we’ve got the skill player camp. The O-line camp, there are some guys, some cross-over guys, who play defensive line, but it really is a camp that is dedicated and kind of geared toward offensive line play. We teach a lot of the techniques, the stance, the footwork are all things that we do in our offense.
    “Probably a lot of the guys that we get, high school coaches are encouraging them to come to our camp because they run this offense. And the same thing with the skill camp here. We’ve got quarterbacks, receivers, running backs, tight ends, most of whom probably play in high school programs that run a similar offense. We’re teaching a lot of the same things.”
    Aikeem Mingle, a rising senior at Screven County, is participating in the skill camp with the intention of improving as a quarterback and free safety.
    “It’s helping me get better,” Mingle said. “I learned how to do my steps, footwork, on offense.”
    Jacob Smith, a rising sophomore at Screven County, is a quarterback, kicker and punter. He said he is working to improve as a quarterback.
    “I’m working on my footsteps during drop-back passing,” Smith said. “It’s helping me with my timing. I was very surprised that Coach Monken was out here. And surprised that Jaybo (Shaw) was out here.”
    GSU’s coaching staff, as well as former quarterback Jaybo Shaw, are providing instruction that encompasses all facets of football from passing, pass-route running and catching to pitching the ball during the option attack.
    “Both the O-line camp and the skill camp are camps that we traditionally have operated under Coach (Tim) Stowers, and then Coach (Paul) Johnson, and then Coach (Mike) Sewak,” Monken said. “And we kind of picked back up again when we came on board here. Hopefully, the camps will just continue to grow every year. We get some local kids and we get some kids from far away. Hopefully, they will continue to grow and get better. We try to make it a camp where the kids have to work and get a lot out of the camp and learn."
    The cost to attend an Option U linemen camp or Option U skill camp is $240 for overnight campers, $200 for day campers. The one-day camps at Mill Creek and Lovejoy high schools cost $40.
    “For the O-line camp, we were in the 120 range, 125 range,” Monken said of the number of participants. “And this camp here, we’re under 100. We’re close to but under 100. I’d love for the numbers to be bigger. When I was an assistant here under Coach Johnson, both of these camps were four-day camps. The kids would come in on Sunday and they would be here through Wednesday morning. And we would be between 250 and 300 (participants). I know Mike Sewak had an offensive line camp one year that was close to 400.
    “There is just so much competition for camps now. The one-day camps have taken away from the extended overnight camps. Prospects are going to camps for one day or a few hours and moving on to the next school. And that’s really cut down on the numbers in camps like this. But it’s a great camp. A lot of teaching. A lot of learning. We’re going to run the same camp in terms of quality and what we teach and the effort and the enthusiasm that we put into it if there’s 75 or 775. We’re going to put the same effort into it. These kids deserve it. They’re paying to be here, or somebody is, and they deserve it. We’ve got a great staff and they really work hard. Coach Gill (Brett Gilliland) and Coach (Lamont) Seward, who are our camp directors, do a really nice job of putting this together.”
    Monken said GSU’s Option U camps in the Atlanta area help the Eagles identify recruiting prospects.
    “It’s been good for us," Monken said. "We signed a lot of guys the last couple of years out of those one-day camps. And we had some kids this past Saturday that we were very impressed with that, I’m sure, we’ll end up offering scholarships to.”

    Noell Barnidge may be reached at (912) 489-9408.