With more than 1,000 athletes and 80 instructors, the four-day camp opening today at the Warhill Sports Complex and Lafayette High is the largest undertaking for the founders of the wildly popular U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio.
Like the All-American Bowl, Top Gun showcases national-caliber talent, and its landing in our backyard is testament to history, infrastructure and luck.
Local fans will recognize a handful of the campers and faculty, but first, some background.
Berman and Rich McGuinness, a former football player at Santa Clara, met on Florio's 1989 gubernatorial campaign and eventually partnered in a youth sports business based in Wharton, N.J. Their annual January all-star game, where many players announce their college destination, is 10 years old and has branched into a summer camp circuit called Football University.
Started in 2007 and touting personalized, hands-on instruction, the camps — there are 28 regional events this year — typically attract about 200 athletes from the 6th-11th grades, Berman said. But this week marks the first gathering of the top 200 Football University prospects in each of the grades.
"This is a new experience for everyone," Berman said Tuesday from his Williamsburg hotel.
Tuition is $599, and in keeping with NCAA amateurism rules, campers provide their own transportation. That includes the 44 from Hawaii on the Top Gun roster.
Berman and McGuinness first searched for venues near their Jersey HQ. Failing that, they asked a synthetic turf manufacturer where it had recently installed multiple fields.
Warhill was the answer. Combine the Sports Complex with Williamsburg's historical and recreation sites, and voila, an ideal locale.
Indeed, if all transpires well this week, Berman envisions Top Gun becoming a staple of our sports calendar.
If Williamsburg folk doubt the impact of such an event, they need only consult Hampton, home to Boo Williams' spring basketball tournaments. Hundreds of occupied hotel rooms? Related business for restaurants, retailers and tourist spots?
What's not to like?
Football mavens have plenty to follow. There are local players such as Phoebus' Romond Deloatch, Christchurch's Taylor Byrd and Lafayette's Ray Kindley, not to mention marquee prospects such as Malcolm Brown of Cibolo, Texas, and Ray Drew of Thomasville, Ga.
Camper Barry Sanders of Oklahoma City is the namesake and son of the most dynamic runner in football history. Skyler Mornhinweg, a quarterback committed to Stanford, is the son of Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
Top Gun faculty includes Peninsula products and NFL alums Chris Slade, Todd Kelly, Kwamie Lassiter and Michael Husted. Other notables are former Virginia and Green Bay Packers quarterback Don Majkowski and star college runners such as Ethan Horton, Blair Thomas and Alonzo Highsmith.
The NCAA recruiting calendar prohibits college coaches from attending, but with reporters from scouting service Rivals, a camp partner, prowling the fields, campers will not lack for exposure.
Gatorade is another camp sponsor, and the more Berman looks at the forecast, the more he orders.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime. Sign up for text alerts by texting "RECRUIT" to 71593.