College ID Camp allows Alaska players to show their stuff to recruiters
Nathan Walzer had never been to Alaska before visiting in the summer of 2016. As a guest college coach for Rush Alaska’s summer ID Camp program, Walzer, who coached the men’s team at Concordia University in Portland and now heads up the winning women’s program at Limestone College in South Carolina, got to meet dozens of players, watch games galore and meet the families of players who hope to one day have college careers in soccer.
It was without a doubt, he said, a most rewarding trip – which is why he will be back again this year, representing a new college but looking for that same mettle that Alaskan athletes tend to bring to their games.
“Alaskan players have that blue-collar mentality,” Walzer said. “Based on where they’ve grown up and the conditions they grow up in, they just have that working mentality with them where they aren’t afraid to be tough. You do find some diamonds in the rough up there.”
For Walzer, whose women’s program is on a rising tide of success, he said this is just what he is looking for. Often, players have not even scratched the surface of their full potential, especially when they have not been subjected to consistent and rigorous high levels of play.
“You’ll have players who work hard but don’t have skill yet,” he said, “and that’s something we can work with.”
Walzer is preaching to the choir with his praise. Alaskans already pride themselves on their independence and ability to “tough it out.” The challenge, though, is getting noticed. Living thousands of miles away from the nearest recruiting schools mean athletes have to either send game tapes and hope their highlight reel is enough to catch a coach’s attention, or pay out-of-pocket to visit prospective schools – sometimes both.
Fortunately, Rush Alaska brings the coaches to the kids, and the program is really heating up. Now, says, camp director Dan Rufner, not only are Alaska athletes being more heavily recruited, but the visiting coaches are fired up about coming, creating a long waitlist. Since 2012, the Alaska Airlines College ID Camp has brought a dozen college coaches up to scout Alaska’s most competitive players, and for the coaches, it has become one of their most anticipated recruiting trips of their year.
“Players in Alaska do get overlooked because it’s so remote, because we don’t have time or the money to get there,” Walzer said. “But Rush provides transportation and brings the coaches up, and that makes all the difference. There is nothing better than face-to-face contact with athletes.”
Rufner said he is excited to see the enthusiasm among the coaches because they are seeing what he has known all along: The level of play in Alaska is exceptional.
“I made a large list of coaches to invite from schools that fit for Alaskans and was overwhelmed in the hours after all were contacted with everyone wanting to come,” he said. “I now have many coaches on a waitlist wanting to come to have quality time to work with Alaska players they want at their school. Many have already claimed spots for future years.”
The camp opens with a college-recruiting forum the evening of May 28, as a chance for players to meet the coaches, learn about the schools they represent, and gain insight into navigating the difficult college recruiting process.
From May 29-31, campers have two college-level training sessions per day, each session with a different coach. On the final day, players will be selected into teams to compete in the camp showcase games the evening of June 1. The showcase game gives players a chance to apply the skills they learn during the week and provide a final scouting opportunity for coaches. The games are filmed, which provides additional support for athletes in the recruiting process, as they can use this film, as well as evaluations from attending coaches, to assist in their recruiting opportunities with other coaches not in attendance. Teams in town to play are encouraged to come to the Anchorage Football Stadium to watch the highest level of youth soccer in Alaska.
Still, it’s the face-to-face interaction and training with the college coaches that is the most valuable resource for prospective campers. It helps them turn the table on the logistical challenges they usually face.
“We had a few players that reached out to us at the camp last year and while nobody came to us directly from the camp there were a lot of kids who showed interest and several we were interested in,” Walzer said. “College is one of the most important times in their life. I don’t want to waste someone’s time trying to bring them to a university that might not be right, so meeting face to face really helps for the athlete and the coach.”
Walzer, whose school is the only one represented from the East Coast, said he is curious to see how this year’s campers will feel about college in South Carolina. Limestone is a DII college and its women’s team finished 18-2 last season and at one time was ranked as high as 12th place. His team is young and he is looking ahead to fill spots held by current young high-schoolers.
“A lot of kids coming to DII and DIII schools aren’t going to be professional athletes, they just want to play sports in college,” he said. “And that is great. We want to make sure we are the right fit, and coming to South Carolina might be an adventure for an Alaskan.”
Register now for College ID camp
The Alaska Airlines College ID Camp for U15 and older players will take place May 28-June 1 in Anchorage. The cost is $325 per camper. Space is limited to preserve a good coach-to-camper ratio; register at alaskarush.com until all the slots are filled, or registration closes on May 24, whichever comes first.
Visiting college soccer coaches
For 2017, Alaska Airlines Cup has an impressive representation of new and returning coaches from high-quality programs, all of whom have had Alaska players and want more. They include:
Men’s Programs: Humboldt State (DII), Sonoma State (DII), Northland (DIII), St. John’s (DIII), Whitman (DIII), Southern Oregon (NAIA)
Women’s Programs: Central Washington (DII), Limestone (DII), Westminster (DII), University of Wisconsin Lacrosse (DIII), St. Benedict’s (DIII), St. Martin’s (DII).