Northwestern's Fitzgerald urges UM campers to be leaders

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
A group of high school lineman get down and dirty while running blocking drills during the University of Michigan's Exposure U football camp, Monday morning, June 15th in Ann Arbor. (Photo by Lon Horwedel/Special to the Detroit News)

Ann Arbor — Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was not making a statement.

Fitzgerald does not fall on either side of the satellite camp discussion that has raged since Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh launched a multi-state tour of high school camps that essentially concluded last Friday in Macomb at the Sound Mind Sound Body Camp.

When Southeastern Conference coaches called the camps — which they're not allowed to attend because of conference rules — glorified recruiting sessions, Harbaugh extended a nation-wide invitation to two coaches from every program in the country to attend Michigan's "Exposure U" camp, which continues through Wednesday.

Fitzgerald, who made the round-trip from Chicago to Detroit on Monday, said his decision to speak to the campers was simple.

"(Harbaugh) just asked, and it fit my schedule," Fitzgerald said after his talk. "If it wouldn't have fit my schedule, I wouldn't have done it."

There are an estimated 1,400 high school players at the camp, which not only features Michigan's staff, but also coaches from Central Michigan, Northwestern, Ball State, Dartmouth, Northern Michigan, Albion, Adrian and Army, among others.

Anthony Breithaupt tries to avoid a flying exercise ball being thrown at him by his fellow quarterbacks while participating in a drill.

Fiztgerald said he hasn't spent much time thinking about satellite camps because they really don't benefit his program.

"We don't do it," Fitzgerald said. "We're sending a couple (graduate assistants) to Texas and a couple of our GAs are here. We try to get kids on our campus and we've got a lot to sell, and obviously it's pretty convenient for kids to get to Chicago. That's how we do it, and that's not speaking ill of anything or what everybody does."

Penn State coach James Franklin largely has been credited with first taking advantage of a loophole in the Big Ten rules that allows its coaches to work camps around the country. SEC and Atlantic Coast officials do not allow coaches to work camps outside of a 50-mile radius of their programs.

Franklin, who attended the Sound Mind Sound Body camp, balked when it was suggested he made satellite camping popular in the Big Ten.

"Not really," Franklin said. "We were just the people they wrote about."

He defended working satellite camps.

"The NCAA and the Big Ten allows you to do it, so for me to be doing my due diligence for Penn State and giving Penn State the best opportunity to be successful, we have to take advantage of all the rules in place," Franklin said. "The other thing I would say, it creates opportunities for maybe a young kid and a family that maybe can't come to Penn State, we can take Penn State to them."

As with the coaches, who offered words of wisdom to the campers at the SMSB camp, Fitzgerald shaped his speech on life choices.

"Have awareness of what situations they put themselves in and be a football player, be a leader in your community, be a leader of yourself first and help your brothers out to your right and to your left," Fitzgerald said. "It's a pretty common theme that (I use) anytime I address a big group of guys that age.

"I try to impart that wisdom from my own personal experiences. I made a ton of mistakes and learned a lot from them. It's how I try to coach our guys every day but raise my kids, too."