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First HBCU recruiting camp a success for high school players

Jun. 1—All Brittany Buckles could do the morning of May 18 was smile as nearly 40 high school football players took the field for various drills.

After all, her vision she had a year ago had finally come to light.

"We have a strong faith in Jesus, and I believe He put this on my heart about a year ago," Buckles said. "We decided, 'You know what, let's take a step of faith and see what happens.' We know how hard it is for recruiting. This is a great opportunity to bring out the Black colleges and to educate the kids out here about what HBCUs are all about."

Buckles began brainstorming the idea to host a recruiting showcase for Arizona high school football players that catered only to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs.

A graduate and former volleyball player of Howard, Buckles immediately felt the impact of an HBCU during her time as a student-athlete at the Division I level. There's a heightened sense of pride at an HBCU, one that comes with lifelong friends and alumni that flock to the school for game days or every major event, including homecoming.

It's where she met her husband at age 19, who played baseball. It's also where she took her younger son, Xavier, on an unofficial visit. "His eyes lit up," Buckles said.

Son Vincent, a recent graduate of Chandler High School, helped his mom get the ball rolling with the HBCU camp through social media. Xavier, a senior quarterback at Williams Field, participated alongside nearly 40 other football players from schools across the Valley and southern Arizona.

It took time to get universities to commit. It also took a favor from Williams Field's rival, Higley, to host the event. But Higley head football coach Eddy Zubey didn't bat an eye at the thought of hosting a historic recruiting showcase.

"It's awesome," Zubey said. "It's been a good experience for everybody getting to network and meet some new coaches and get these guys in front of them."

The first-ever HBCU camp started small this year. Six colleges and post-grad programs came to the event to evaluate potential college recruits.

Howard, Morgan State, Alabama A&M, North Carolina A&T, Livingstone College and Fork Union Military Academy all were part of the inaugural showcase. Some spectators without kids participating came, too. Buckles was told some just simply wanted to witness history. Many of those also offered assistance getting in touch with more schools, including Grambling.

The players were coached by coaches from the HoHoKam Junior College Athletic Conference here in Arizona, which replaced junior college football. They went through various drills specific to their position group. They also had competition against others.

"It was a great opportunity," Highland wideout Jalen Cross said. "This is my first camp, my first time being out here. It's a good experience for me and a good experience that I didn't want to miss out on."

Cross, a Mesa resident, represented Highland at the showcase. The 6-foot-1 receiver is heading into his senior year hoping to make an impact for the Hawks and get the attention of college recruiters at the same time.

He admittedly didn't know much about HBCUs heading into the event, but quickly learned about the impact they have across the country.

Like many others, he said the experience of getting in front of college coaches was worthwhile, even if he doesn't come away with a scholarship offer immediately. Now, at the very least, each player is on the radar, and they learned about what HBCU culture is all about.

"The culture is amazing," McClintock senior wideout Amari Scroggins said. "It's like a family. They keep each other together. That's what I love about it."

Scroggins represented McClintock alongside his teammate, Alexander Brice.

The two competed against others from surrounding schools, showcasing their speed and pass catching abilities.

They shared similar sentiments to Cross, expressing how much of a unique opportunity it was to get in front of college coaches from HBCUs.

Normally, schools participate in showcases throughout the three-week spring football period. Many host their own, inviting college coaches to come view as many as six teams at one time. They've become a hit as of late, with Saguaro hosting a large showcase that draws in hundreds of college coaches.

There's also the Chandler Unified School District, which hosts a two-day recruiting jamboree at each of its six high schools. Players participate in various drills for nearly two hours, leaving time in between for college recruiters to make it to the next site to evaluate Chandler players for two straight days.

But some players still slip through the cracks at large showcases with hundreds of players participating at the same time.

That's why for Basha senior Dashiel "Dash" Blake, the HBCU showcase was an opportunity to prove himself in a smaller setting.

"We did some one-on-one work, learned some technique," Blake said. "I got a little bit of a taste of what college is going to be like."

Mountain Pointe defensive back Jacob Carter knows it will take extra exposure for him to get the offer he's looking for. That was one of his main reasons for participating in the HBCU camp. Even with talent around him on the Pride defense, he still feels overlooked. Hopefully, that changed.

"I've always wanted to go to an HBCU, Carter said. "It's a great opportunity, the first one in Arizona. I got to go out and compete against some of the best in the Valley."

But, at the very least, the coaches now are aware of the talent overlooked in Arizona. That's enough reason for Buckles to continue making this event bigger and better.

"I cried a lot. I prayed a lot. But it was positive excitement," Buckles said. "It is wonderful to see what everyone has been doing come to fruition on this field."