Showcasing their skills

Soccer players get exposure to college coaches at Western Slope Showcase Camp

Western Illinois soccer coach Eric Johnson sets up a drill for a group of boys Thursday during the Western Slope Showcase Camp at Canyon View Park. Johnson was one of 14 college coaches at the camp, which gave Western Slope players some exposure they normally would have had to drive to Denver to get.



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Western Illinois soccer coach Eric Johnson sets up a drill for a group of boys Thursday during the Western Slope Showcase Camp at Canyon View Park. Johnson was one of 14 college coaches at the camp, which gave Western Slope players some exposure they normally would have had to drive to Denver to get.

It’s instruction like, “Girls, this isn’t softball, we run,” and, “Turn it over every time if you have to, just try something different, and I’m happy” that make New Mexico Highlands University women’s soccer coach Justin Wagar such a dynamic teacher.

He’s also one of more than a dozen college coaches who have gotten a better look at the soccer talent in Grand Junction this week at Canyon View Park during the Western Slope Showcase Camp hosted by Fire FC.

He certainly likes what he sees.

“You guys should have an elite premiere team from this area that can go to big tournaments and compete. With all this talent, absolutely,” Wagar said. “There’s enough talented players, and if you really get the players from all four schools on the same page and working together, this has potential to be a really strong area for soccer.”

Wagar and other college coaches in attendance each hosted their own high-energy 90-minute session to evaluate talent and teach skills that college coaches are looking for in recruits.

Fire FC Executive Director Shaun Howe said the goal of the showcase is to expose potential college recruits to a wide range of college coaches in an effort to build Grand Junction soccer.

Coaches at every level — from NAIA to NCAA Division I — were present at the camp.

“When I’ve done this in a previous place I lived, I found that 10 to 15 kids every year would be presented with opportunities to go to one of these coach’s schools. It’s really a great way to get them in front of coaches for a small amount of money compared to showcase tournaments. I mean, even these college-showcase tournaments are 550 bucks for the week, not counting travel. This is right in the backyard for $200. Our goal was really to make it affordable for more kids to be seen.”

The player-to-coach ratio at the Grand Junction camp is smaller than Howe has normally seen, and said that it allowed players to make lasting impressions on coaches more easily.

“As far as players go, this is smaller,” Howe said. “But we still have 14 different schools here, so I’ve liked it more because all the coaches know the players’ names. They’ve really gotten to know the players, and it’s a little more intimate of a setting.

“Next year I’m hoping we can grow it by adding more coaches and draw maybe 20 to 25 different schools.”

The exposure to college coaches also benefitted seniors who are unfamiliar with the recruiting process or are undecided about where to play.

Wesley Padgett, an incoming senior and the reigning Southwestern League player of the year, has yet to commit to a college. He said the opportunity to work with different college coaches allowed him to evaluate different coaching styles.

“I liked the coach from Mount Mercy and the coach from South Dakota School of Mines,” Padgett said. “I’ve been looking around and talking to a lot of these coaches, and some of these schools I’d be really interested in.

“You get so much exposure from these college coaches. If I were younger, I’d go to a camp like this earlier in my career because you can just walk up and talk to college coaches.”

Although Padgett learned the recruiting process from his older Alex, who is playing basketball at Otero Junior College, the camp was a learning ground for other seniors and underclassmen who are not as familiar with the recruiting process.

Lukas Smith is an incoming senior at Fruita Monument and a defender on the Wildcats’ boys soccer team. He said the exposure to the recruiting process and the ability to practice skills he doesn’t normally utilize were the highlights of the camp.

Smith said shooting, even though he’s a defender, was a lot of fun and allowed him to display another aspect of his game.

“The exposure, to be honest, is great,” Smith said. “To have them come out and not only look at us, but have them teach us skills and stuff we should be doing and how to do it, is great.”

Incoming sophomore India Hilty said the camp offered her opportunities to connect with coaches as she enters the recruiting process. Although too young to actively take part in the recruiting process, a local camp like the Western Slope Showcase Camp can help her further her soccer career.

“I’ve definitely improved and become more confident using moves,” she said. “Justin from Highlands University taught me a bunch of useful things — probably the defensive skills and using our bodies to push defenders off the ball — it’s just all really helpful.

“I’d come to something like this again because I’m interested in playing college soccer, and I’m kind of young to be recruited this year, so camps like this let me get to know coaches.”

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