For the last eight years, the Buhach Colony football camp has served as a rite of passage for the Thunder players.
The three-day camp, usually comprised of four different schools, served as a culmination of offseason work and a last opportunity for young players to make an impression before practice resumes in the fall.
Legislation passed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown changed all that when full-contact padded practice during the summer was outlawed. Coach Kevin Navarra and company went ahead with the camp last summer, but the results were not good. With the three-week dead period set to begin Monday, the end of the summer has an anticlimactic feel.
“You really need four teams that can bring all three levels of their program to be able to have the camp and we just couldn’t find that many that were interested,” Navarra said. “We learned last year that while it’s nice to line up against someone other than yourselves, it’s just not the same without the contact. Teams just didn’t get enough out of it, and nobody was really interested in doing any more 7-on-7 stuff.
“It’s a shame because we’ve always used the camp as something to look forward to and to build toward. We’re going to finish this week with some 7-on-7 against Atwater, but it’s not quite as exciting a close to the summer.”
In Merced, Golden Valley coach Dennis Stubbs also discontinued the camp he’s hosted since his return to the Cougars.
Stubbs preferred to hold his camp earlier in the summer to serve as a team barometer.
“Some teams like Buhach always held their camp the week before the dead period,” Stubbs said. “I’ve always liked to have ours early so we could see where we were at and what we needed to work on. If a guy needed to be moved into or out of a position, we’d know early. Now we might not figure it out until two weeks into the start of fall practice.
“We didn’t think we’d get anything out of continuing the camp. I didn’t even get contacted by a single school interested in doing it this year. We can line up and go 11 on 11 without contact ourselves.”
With safety the No. 1 priority throughout the prep football landscape, coaches are still learning to adapt to the new rules and how best to utilize their summer under them.
One of the biggest things that will need to change is player evaluation. While talent tends to surface, it’s tough for coaches to know exactly what they have without seeing young players in a game setting. Los Banos coach Dustin Caropreso is navigating those waters this summer after losing key contributors to a team that had consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinal appearances.
“I kind of wish we were going to camp this year,” Caropreso said. “We have five or six sophomores that we may be pulling up. They’ve certainly worked hard and proven they should be there with us, but you never really know until you see a guy in full pads going against someone. Unfortunately, without contact at the camps, there really isn’t any point. We can save money on not traveling and pretty much get the same thing at practice as we would there.”
Knowing he’d be in a similar boat this fall, Navarra said he started addressing the issue in the spring.
“We have a number of guys that we may pull up from a very talented freshman team from last year,” Navarra said. “I looked at it early on and kind of approached it with a bigger vision. I decided to have them lift and train with the varsity from the spring. That’s helped them get more comfortable with that group and allowed the coaches to get extra looks at our younger guys that we might not otherwise get.
“It’s just 18 days from the end of the dead period until the start of the first game. That’s not a lot of time to get the body physically ready for taking hits. I think every program is reassessing how they do things to prepare for that. We’ve done things this summer we’ve never done before. If we don’t see results, we’ll probably change them up again.”