The camp circuit. It's a time for an unheralded high school football player to go from seeing their career end within months to a full scholarship and collegiate education.
If the player comes from a under-the-radar program or perhaps hasn't come close to peaking physically, being seen by a college coaching staff on the university's campus against some of the region's best can open eyes and create opportunities.
A prime example of camps working in a young person's favor is Jerome Dews, who played a majority of his junior season at merely 15 years of age. When he rolled into Knoxville for a camp on June 15, the coaching staff at Tennessee didn't have a clue about him.
"They didn't know nothing about me — literally, nothing," Dews told InsideTennessee.
A clutch performance in front of the right people and a few conversations later and Dews is a scholarship-earning commitment to the Tennessee Volunteers.
When exactly he's part of the Vols' 85-man roster and running onto Shields-Watkins Field donning the orange is up in the air but he fully well plans to be at Tennessee.
"Yes, but I'm going to take all my officials though," said Dews, who hopes to see Clemson, James Madison, Ohio State and South Carolina.
Tennessee linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen got word of Dews' ability from Potomac before the camp got underway.
"I went down to the camp. My coach had told coach Thig to look out for me," Dews said. "I went down to the camp and performed real good, very well in everything I did — drills, 40, 1-on-1s. In 1-on-1s, I played receiver and linebacker. The only one who caught a pass on me was Daniel Helm. I had three interceptions.
"On offense, couldn't no one check me. The dude that smoked out that ran a 4.3, I cooked him on a back-shoulder fade and snagged the ball from him. After I did that, the head coach ran up to me and was like, 'You better not leave this camp without trying to talk to me.' And, I ran across and talked to him. He was like, 'You're a very good player.' And, he really liked me and was 98 percent sure to giving me a scholarship. And, he was like, 'Give me two days to watch my film and we should go from there.'"
From there, Dews said he spoke to both Thigpen and head coach Butch Jones and he's a verbal commitment to the Big Orange.
Playing linebacker for and being around Thigpen in Knoxville is an added bonus to an SEC football career for Dews.
"Man, I can talk to him about any and everything," Dews said of Thigpen. "He's just a great dude. I know when I arrive I will have almost like a father to me on campus. Yeah, I can talk to him about any and everything and he seems like he wouldn't mind."
|Vol linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen (pictured) has left an impression on Dews in a short amount of time.|
Jones left a mark on the teenager as well.
"I really like coach Butch Jones, too. It's not common to get such a good connection with a head coach you've only known for a week and a day."
Dews transferred to Potomac (Md.) High School from Wise and totaled 14 sacks in 2012. He doubled as a wide receiver and caught 15 balls for 220 yards and two touchdowns.
The unranked outside linebacker, who won't be 17 years old until Nov. 15, says he is up to 6-feet-4, 200 pounds after being 6-2, 185 for the 2012 season.
At the Nike Football Training Camp in Ashburn, Va., back on April 21, Dews measured in at 6-3, 197 and clocked a 4.22 shuttle time with a vertical leap of 25 7/8 inches.
FOX Sports NEXT recruiting analyst Michael Clark was at that NFTC and sized up the now-Vol commit: "Dews is a long, rangy prospect with a huge upside. The Potomac standout is very quick and athletic. He does a nice job of diagnosing plays and has good closing speed. Dews does good job of using his hands to shed blockers and is a dangerous pass rusher. While he has flown underneath the recruiting radar, look for that to change because he is just scratching the surface on how good he can become."
That upside is evident by the pairing of his youth and his speed as Dews reports a 4.64 40-yard dash time from that summer camp on campus on June 15.
"I'm very fast off the edge. I love to sack the quarterback. Basically, I just like the game of football," he said. "Right now I'm trying to be more aggressive."
What Tennessee is set to graduate at linebacker — Brent Brewer, Raiques Crump, Channing Fugate, Greg King, John Propst, Dontavis Sapp — is well-documented. Already on the commitment list at 'backer for the 2014 class are four-star Gavin Bryant and JUCO Christopher Weatherd.
"I just know they did say they're losing some linebackers and they're really in need of some linebackers," Dews said.
With the primary concern earlier this month being camp and earning a scholarship offer, seeing much of Tennessee's campus wasn't possible. However, that should change when Dews trips back south for Foundation Day on July 21.
Visits to Rocky Top for games this fall could depend on what neighbor and fellow pledge D'Andre Payne does.
"D'Andre Payne, we're real close friends. So, whenever he'll be there, I'll be there," said Dews, who resides in Oxon Hill, Md., about 12 miles from Washington, D.C.
Dews carries a 2.5 grade point average and scored 1130 on the SAT. He plans to major in Sports Management.
"Anything to be a head coach when I get out of college," he said.
Danny Parker is currently the Managing Editor, Recruiting Analyst and Staff Photographer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously the sports editor at Shelbyville Times-Gazette. He joined the FOX Sports NEXT team July 2011.
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Camp performance yields Dews pledge
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Jun 26, 2013