Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan football camp in Australia helps players, country – USA TODAY
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Nathan Chapman noticed something odd at Target recently: a rack of Michigan sweatshirts.
This might not seem particularly unusual, except Chapman’s local Target is in Melbourne, Australia.
To Chapman, seeing those sweatshirts in a store where he lives was coincidental more than anything. A few days earlier, Chapman had confirmed that his football academy — ProKick Australia — would partner with the University of Michigan team for a satellite camp June 3.
“It’s one of the most iconic emblems in the world,” Chapman told USA TODAY Sports’ For The Win over the phone. “We took a picture.”
A few weeks ago on a Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema casually mentioned that his program was looking into “global opportunities” regarding satellite camps. It seemed like a joke. College football coaches hosting camps outside the United States?
Five days later, news broke that Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh had scheduled a satellite camp in Australia.
ProKick Australia — founded by Chapman in 2007 after his attempts to make an NFL roster as a punter were unsuccessful — is an academy that teaches American football mechanics and has a reputation for sending players to the U.S. Its pupils are mostly kickers and punters — former Wolverines punter Blake O’Neill is an alumnus — but this three-hour camp, hosted by Michigan, is open to all position groups.
“Jim is prepared to go to the end of the Earth to find quality talent,” Chapman said. “If you can go and pick up a 6-foot-8 lineman and he’s going to be a freshman, he’d be worth recruiting anywhere in America, so why wouldn’t you recruit him in Australia?”
Chapman met Harbaugh last year when he took a trip to Ann Arbor, Mich., to visit O’Neill. Chapman was doing a bit of a U.S. tour, checking in on several former protégés kicking or punting at American colleges. He also wanted to introduce himself to head coaches in hopes of forming a relationship or pipeline.
In recent years there have been a number of successful Australians with ProKick in their backgrounds at FBS schools — two-time Ray Guy Award winner Tom Hackett from Utah, 2013 Ray Guy winner Tom Hornsey from Memphis, Josh Growden from LSU, Tim Gleeson from Rutgers, Cameron Johnston from Ohio State, Daniel Pasquariello from Penn State and Michael Dickson from Texas, to name a few.
When Chapman arrived at Michigan, he was escorted by then-special teams coach John Baxter, now at USC. Baxter was critical in bringing O’Neill to Michigan from Weber State, where he began his college career.
As they walked around campus, Baxter prepared Chapman for a Harbaugh introduction.
“You see what’s on TV and read articles. You think he’s out there or intense,” Chapman said. “But it was really interesting. We’re walking through the halls, (Harbaugh’s) door is open, and he’s working away and his daughter is running around and sitting on his knee.”
Chapman said he spoke with Harbaugh for about an hour.
“It was quite relaxed, actually,” Chapman said. “It was very easy to go in there and sit down and have a conversation. He was very intrigued about what we do.”
This led to an urgent middle-of-the-night text message from O’Neill several months later. Melbourne is 14 hours ahead of Eastern Time, and when Harbaugh decided he wanted to have a conversation with Chapman about potentially scheduling a satellite camp in Australia, the time difference didn’t register.
“Blake sent me a message, ‘Coach wants you to call him right now.’ And it was three in the morning,” Chapman said. “We laugh. If you get a chance to talk to a coach of his caliber, and it’s three in the morning, big deal. … It’s really funny how sometimes coaches don’t quite grasp that it’s almost opposite the times of day. They sit down to lunch and think, let’s give him a call. But it’s nighttime somewhere else.”
Chapman also has a relationship with Michigan player personnel director Tony Tuitoti, who coached in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns before joining Harbaugh’s staff last year. He played and coached at Hawaii and has connections in Hawaii and Samoa, where Michigan plans to host two other camps this summer.
Australia may be known for kickers and punters, but Chapman notes that former Georgia Tech defensive end Adam Gotsis, taken in the second round of this year’s NFL draft by the Denver Broncos, is originally from Melbourne. And former Alabama defensive tackle Jesse Williams, an NFL free agent who was selected in the fifth round by the Seattle Seahawks in 2013 after being an integral piece of two Crimson Tide national championships, was raised in Brisbane.
This, he says, is why contact with American coaches is crucial. He wants them to see what’s up Down Under.
“I talk to the coaches all the time,” Chapman said. “It’s one of those things, we’ve probably said for four or five years, hey coach, why don’t you get on a plane and come out? … Let’s take you to an Aussie Rules game of football. See what our background is, see why we do what we do and understand it.
“We’ve pleaded, asked, invited every coach. This is certainly not just for Michigan. That offer has been extended to many coaches for many years. I think they see the 16-hour flight from LA. There’s a certain small window of recruiting time, and they’re so busy and you’re in the air for two days, and really one day on the ground, so it’s a timing factor. But if you schedule it in well enough in advance, you make the time for it.”
Chapman says he’s been told that six coaches will be coming for the camp, but it’s unclear if Harbaugh is one of them. The Wolverines have three other satellite camps that day in Florida.
Michigan would not confirm Harbaugh’s attendance because it doesn’t comment on camps outside those on its campus. However, 247Sports has reported that tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh and linebackers coach Chris Partridge will be two of the staff members traveling to Australia, Hawaii and Samoa.
“That’s the beauty about it,” Chapman said. “Not all of these guys can afford to fly to the states and be seen by coaches, so if they’re coming here, they can get some coaching. If some stand out, great. If not, it’s still great for Australia.”