There are several moments that stick out when recounting the turnaround of Temple's football program over the past four seasons.
For some, it may be Bernard Pierce's highlight-reel touchdown run that helped the Owls win at Navy on Halloween last year. For others, it may have been watching Temple take the field at RFK Stadium last December on national television to play UCLA in the program's first bowl game in 30 years.
Or maybe the most vivid memory of them all was watching Al Golden get a Gatorade bath at Lincoln Financial Field in the closing seconds of the Owls' win over Bowling Green back in October of 2006. After eight tries, the moment marked the first win of the rookie head coach's tenure on North Broad Street.
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Golden thinks back to all of that stuff and more, the night-and-day difference of where Temple's football program is now compared to where it was back in 2006, and he's sure of one thing.
None of it would have been possible without the growth and success of the program's one-day football camps the program has offered each year since 2006, from Memorial Day weekend through the end of June.
"Temple doesn't turn the football program around without that camp," Golden said.
It sounds like a bit of a bold claim, but it's really not.
Fifty-seven of the 78 players who signed National Letters of Intent with Temple over the last three years attended at least one of Golden's camps, and 21 of the 28 2010 recruits who signed with the Owls back in February are former campers.
Pierce, the 2009 Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year and a player the program is promoting as a Heisman Trophy candidate, attended the 2008 Al Golden Football Camp. Junior quarterback Chester Stewart, who will start for the Owls when they open their season Friday night against defending FCS national champion Villanova, made the trip up I-95 from Maryland to attend one of the first camps Golden offered in 2006. And sophomore placekicker Brandon McManus, the player who tied Pierce for the team's single-season scoring lead with 96 points last year? Yes, he's a Golden camp product as well.
And in looking ahead to the future, all seven players from the 2011 class who have already offered a verbal commitment to Temple earned their scholarship offers after their performances at one of Golden's camps in May or June.
How it all started
College programs offering football camps is nothing new, of course. The marquee programs like Penn State and Florida have long offered overnight camps and even 7-on-7 passing camps that routinely draw the nation's top talent.
Golden played, coached and saw his share of big-time football as a tight end and eventually as an assistant coach at Penn State and at other assistant coaching stops at Boston College and Virginia, where he served as the Cavaliers' defensive coordinator before taking the Temple job. But he approaches much of what he has done in turning around Temple from a business and organizational standpoint, stuff that goes well beyond the Xs and Os. He never stops reading books on stuff like leadership and corporate turnarounds.
On more than one occasion, Golden has referenced what he learned from the success story of George Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric. Welch made a signature speech in New York City in 1981 entitled "Growing fast in a slow-growth economy." Golden knows it, and there's a good chance he derived some inspiration from it.
But to describe what Golden took over in December of 2005 as being part of a slow-growth economy would be kind, to say the least. Among other things, the Owls had been kicked out of the Big East Conference and were still dealing with lost scholarships due to substandard numbers in the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate, or APR.
Temple's was the worst Division-I program in the nation at that time.
So in getting started, Golden said he had to know his market. He knew he couldn't compete with the bells and whistles offered at the camps of the tradition-rich programs with fat budgets. He set out to put together what he hoped would eventually be the best one-day program in the northeast region, a stretch of the United States from northern Virginia to Connecticut that Golden often refers to as Temple's recruiting footprint.
He also knew he had to get the attention of school players to campus early. Show them the vibrant growth and development of Temple's North Philadelphia campus. Evaluate them thoroughly and step in with a scholarship offer before others stepped in.
"If we had sat there and waited for what Boston College and Penn State and Virginia and teams like that would leave for us to recruit, there's no way under that paradigm that we turn this football program around," Golden explained. "We had to create a new market. We had to create a new way of evaluating and a way of reaching kids, and we had to create a new way to recruit - and it's worked. And we have to continue to have it work for us."
That new market grew and grew fast. A total of 1,200 campers came to Edberg-Olson Hall in 2006. Golden's first 2010 camp this past May attracted 548 players, which comprised nearly 46 percent of what the program got in all of 2006 combined. And that was on Memorial Day weekend, nonetheless.
When it was all said and done this summer, they set an attendance record with 1,868 campers. They came from 14 different states, Washington, D.C., and even Canada.
How it all works
When the Al Golden Football Camp got started in 2006, it was more of a modest operation in comparison to its regional and national peers. Since then, it has grown to include a more sizable group that provides instruction from not only Golden's staff, but also coaches from the Division I-AA, Division II and Division III ranks, as well as high school coaches from the region.
The camp itself starts at 8 a.m. with registration and goes until about 3:30 p.m. Unless the heat reaches unhealthy levels, which it sometimes does, it's a double-session day that includes action on the turf at Chodoff Field outside Edberg-Olson Hall and up at Geasey Field on 15th Street, where the offensive and defensive linemen typically see a lot of their work.
And even though the Temple staff gets help from the outside world, it certainly puts in plenty of extra hours with the camps before getting some much needed vacation time in July before things get crazy again. No one feels the pinch more than Director of Player Development Ryan McNamee, who has served as the camp director for the past three years.
"The camps are a credit to Ryan McNamee, who runs our camps, and to our coaching staff, who go out there and hustle with the kids," Golden said. "There's a lot of coaches out there who don't want to be bothered with it, but our coaches are unselfish. They do a great job. Much of it is done on their own time, and as a staff, I think we do a great job of communicating and evaluating."
And then there is that piece of it, the evaluating. Yes, there are hundreds or even thousands of high school players who will never sniff a moment of college football in their lives who still get a lot out of Golden's camps, tricks and techniques they can take with them into their high school seasons. That is what they get out of it.
What Temple's coaches get out of it is a valuable chance to evaluate players early, and in-person. The NCAA banned Division I college coaches from attending the numerous scouting and skills combines two years ago, so getting an eye on players in your own environment is an opportunity to be cherished.
"I think over the course of a day, the camp gives us a chance to get a real snapshot of a player," said Matt Rhule, Temple's offensive coordinator and former recruiting coordinator. "Can he run? Can he catch? Can he throw? Can he block? Can he do all those things? But also, can he take direction? Can he listen? Is he competitive? Does he enjoy the game? So I think when you factor all those things in, we've been able to find a lot of really, really good players that have helped Temple win."
Seeing someone with your own eyes, apart from a highlight tape, is something you just can't beat, Rhule said.
"And really, it's not even so much the tape," Rhule explained. "It's all the hype about somebody, and all of that is often based on different things and different combines. So and so was able to go here, so and so was able to go there. We (college coaches) can go to the combines anymore, so it is exciting when a kid comes in here to our camp and he pops. He's a diamond in the rough."
Stewart is a perfect example of that. When he attended Golden's camp in 2006, he had yet to play a single snap at quarterback at Maryland's Dematha Catholic High School. He had no scholarship offers and certainly no experience in running an offense.
But when former Temple offensive coordinator George DeLeone heard - yes, heard, not saw - the zip on one of Stewart's passes that day, he turned his head.
DeLeone, now the tight ends coach with the Miami Dolphins, recruited Donovan McNabb to Syracuse. After hearing Stewart's pass rip through the air, he was intrigued enough to ask, "Who is that?"
That's how it happens sometimes. Without that moment and without that opportunity, Stewart is not Temple's starting quarterback in Friday's season opener.
"You have a guy like Chester who we take out of the camp, and then his senior year, he has 10 or 12 schools go ahead and offer him, because he has a great senior year - and he still decides to come to Temple," Rhule said. "So absolutely, at the end of the day, there's nothing better than seeing someone live and seeing how someone relates and someone handles the camp and handles coaching and the assistant coaches and pays attention to drills."
However Temple's coaches go about reaching the decision to offer a scholarship, be it quickly or over time, the one constant is they know what they are looking for the entire way.
"Most of the time, it doesn't take but five minutes to figure out, especially since we time our kids on that same track," Golden said. "We know what fast is, relative to the fastest players on our team, and we know what we're looking for, based on guys that we have. Is he as good, or can we improve a position? So it doesn't take very long. But we do have to check a lot of boxes along the way on what some people call intangibles. We don't call them intangibles, but others do."
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Stewart still admits he is a work in progress, even as he heads into his first game as an opening-day starter. But the instruction he received at that camp is stuff he takes with him, and the intensity and passion of the coaches at the camp was a big piece of what sold him on coming to Temple.
"I came to the camp and did pretty well at the camp," Stewart told OwlScoop.com. "I stood out from the rest of the group, and I think that helped me. It gave me a shot at the coaches liking me. It gave me a scholarship and gave me an opportunity to come here and do something. What sold me is the coaches showed passion for me. They showed deep interest in me - not just in what I could come in here and do for them. They wanted to better me as a person and make sure I'm taking care of my schoolwork and all that, and they told me that was one of the main things - not just coming here to play football - and that's what I liked."
Golden, Stewart said, was always a visible and audible presence at the camp.
"I liked that Coach Golden was out here himself in the middle of the camp," Stewart recalled. "You don't really see that much from head coaches being out at the camp. Some just let all their assistant coaches handle that. But Coach Golden was out here. He wanted to see for himself what was going on, and I liked that."
If you build it, they will come
In talking about Friday's matchup with Villanova, Golden was asked by a reporter if Temple had once recruited some of the Wildcats' best players like wide receiver Matt Szczur and offensive tackle Ben Ijalana, as well some of the others who played there last season.
"They wouldn't even look at us," Golden said. "They wouldn't even entertain (the idea of coming to Temple)."
Villanova plays at the Football Championship Subdivision level, formerly known as Division I-AA. Those programs are playing with fewer scholarships and fewer resources. Division I programs are generally supposed to win those recruiting battles.
Suffice it to say, things have gotten better. Although they haven't always landed them, some top-notch players have paid a visit to Golden's camps.
Shawn Oakman, a tight end and defensive end from nearby Penn Wood High School who is ranked as a four-star recruit by Rivals.com and the eighth-best prospect in the state, attended one of Golden's camps in June and gave serious consideration to Temple before committing to Penn State. And even Sharrif Floyd, the top-rated defensive tackle from the 2010 class according to Rivals.com, attended Golden's camp at Temple.
"I know they didn't get him," said Ron Cohen, who coached Floyd at George Washington High School before he signed with Florida, "but Al and his guys were the first to identify him, get him into camp and offer him. It's hard when you're competing with an SEC school like Florida at the end of the day, but it impressed me that Temple was on him before anyone else."
Two of Cohen's players, Brandon Chudnoff and Daquan Cooper, are among the seven from the 2011 class who have committed to Temple. Rivals has Chudnoff as the 36th-best prospect in the state in its preseason rankings.
"They've done such a fantastic job of recruiting the city, identifying local talent and developing those kids to help them build Temple into a winning program," Cohen said. "My guys were really impressed with the coaching they got at those camps. I can't tell you how impressed I am."
After a 9-4 season and the EagleBank Bowl appearance against UCLA last season, it has been easier for Temple to get its foot in the proverbial recruiting door, and that means more talent at Golden's camps in May and June.
"I think we're seeing more top-end kids than we have seen," Golden said. "But overall, those kids that you can win with, we're seeing a great number of them and we're just trying to select the right ones that are the best fit for us, to be honest with you. That's still the hardest thing about recruiting - finding kids that are the right fit, guys that want to go to class, come from a good background, that want to be involved in the community and represent the university well."
Sometimes it's not always the high-profile player who catches someone's attention. At a June camp, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid was in attendance. His son, Spencer Reid, a defensive back at Harriton High School, made the trip to Chodoff Field.
Reid came away impressed with what he saw.
"What they're teaching here, they're teaching also to their players," Reid said, "so you can see the detail these coaches are teaching these kids, and then you know that's what's being taught to their players - and that's why they're good."
The mission and the message at Al Golden's football camps is still the same. And if the talent of the players visiting Temple each year keeps getting better, well, that's never a bad thing.
"I think the kids have always paid great attention," said Ed Foley, Temple's tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator. "I think the difference now is we're attracting more top-level guys, whether it's coming to Temple for part of a workout, or for Junior Day, or for coming to camp. We're getting the top level recruit coming through here now so they can look and see what we're all about. And from there, we at least have a shot at getting some pretty good players in here."
That's a heck of a lot more than what Al Golden and his staff could say when they first started the camps back in 2006.
And the players they have signed from the camps over the past five years have helped provide some pretty good memories so far.
OwlScoop.com Editor John Di Carlo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top 5 Al Golden Football Camp products
Over the last three years, 73 percent (57 of 78) of the players who have signed with Temple on National Signing Day have attended at least one of coach Al Golden's one-day football camps. And when you consider the Owls' first six verbal commitments from the 2011 class also camped at Temple, the total climbs to 75 percent.
Here is OwlScoop.com's ranking of the top five players to come out of Golden's camps.
1. Bernard Pierce - RB
This was a no-brainer. Pierce, who camped with Temple in 2008, burst onto the scene in 2009 and established himself as one of the better running backs in the nation. The 6-foot, 218-pound Glen Mills School product set three Temple freshman rushing records last season with 1,361 yards, 16 touchdowns and six 100-yard rushing performances. Those numbers drew a slew of accolades for Pierce, including Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year and first team all-MAC honors. ESPN.com named Pierce to its All-Freshman Team.
2. Brandon McManus - K
Keeping with the theme of freshmen who made a huge impact for Temple last season, McManus tied Pierce as the Owls' single-season scoring leader with 96 points. The 6-3, 190-pound North Penn High School converted 17 of his 24 field goal attempts, including a season-best 45-yarder in Temple's win at Navy on Oct. 31. Getting McManus, a 2009 Big 33 All-Star selection, to sign with the Owls was a coup for Temple's coaching staff, considering McManus has a chance to become the most successful placekicker in the program's history when it's all said and done.
3. Chester Stewart - QB
Stewart, a 6-3, 215-pound redshirt junior, went 3-1 as a starter last season, Temple's most successful campaign in 30 years. Stewart earned his first Division I scholarship offer before he even played a down at quarterback in high school. How? Stewart camped with Temple in 2006 prior to his senior high school season at DeMatha (Md.) Catholic and caught former offensive coordinator George DeLeone's attention when the veteran coach heard the zip of one of Stewart's passes. More than 10 other D-I schools eventually jumped into the fray during Stewart's senior season to extend offers, but Stewart kept his commitment to the Owls.
4. Kevin Kroboth - DB
Like Stewart, Kroboth was unheralded and without a scholarship offer from a Division I program when he came to one of Golden's camps, in 2007. As a true freshman in 2008, Kroboth played in all 12 games and capped his rookie season with an interception he returned 56 yards in the Owls' win over Akron in the season finale. He was later named Temple's Special Teams MVP. Kroboth proved his versatility last season when he was needed at cornerback and started nine games there, tallying 45 tackles, seven pass break-ups and an interception. He has big shoes to fill this season as the replacement at strong safety for former Owl Dominique Harris, who is competing for a roster spot in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills.
5. Myron Myles - RB
Here's the wild card pick of the top 5. Yes, Myles (he recently changed his last name from Ross to Myles) is an incoming freshman who has yet to play a down of football at Temple, but he has the making of the Owls' next great running back and could even help shoulder a small part of Pierce's workload in 2010. Myles, rated the 58th-best running back in the 2010 class by Rivals.com, rushed for 2,215 yards as a senior at Wissahickon High School in nearby Ambler, and he also flashed a time of 10.9 seconds to win the Suburban One league championship in the 100-meter dash, so he has top-end speed. A product of a 2008 Golden camp, Myles had committed to play with Vanderbilt in the SEC before changing his mind to sign with the Owls over offers from Pitt and Maryland.