Jordan Monk stood in front of 120 high school football players on a recent steamy July Sunday at Bishop Hendricken High School and shared his story. He grew up in Providence, played high school football at St. Raphael Academy and then continued his career at North Carolina State. The path was not that easy.
“I grew up right in Providence. I remember sitting in your seat… right where you are now. I was 16, 17 years old and had no offers. Nobody even looked at me,” said Monk. “I went online and saw Nike Camp in Pennsylvania. Me and my dad drove all the way to Penn State for the camp. That was the closest combine to me. After that camp, my recruitment blew up. It all changed.”
Monk’s performance at the Nike Camp resulted in offers from colleges throughout the country. Eventually, he made a decision to attend NC State where he excelled for four years.
Monk’s story is not unique. One by one, others in attendance at Hendricken shared a similar story. They played ball in obscurity… in a state you could travel from end to end in under an hour. Their drive – on the field and literally in the car – was the only way to showcase their talents in an effort to generate attention from college coaches.
Now, thanks to 12 year NFL veteran Will Blackmon and former Brown and Arena League quarterback Kyle Rowley, that has all changed. Blackmon, the former Hendricken and Boston College All American, teamed up with Rowley and recently hosted the Blackmon/Rowley Combine Camp at Hendricken – their alma mater.
Now in its second year, the Blackmon/Rowley Combine provides an opportunity for high school players to get noticed- an opportunity neither Blackmon nor Rowley had when they played high school football in RI.
“I’ve been around the country,” said Rowley. “We have as much talent here in RI as anywhere else. I think our guys need a fair shot. When I’ve seen them get a fair shot, they’ve gotten college scholarships.”
More than 120 of the top players in RI participated in the recent Blackmon/Rowley Combine Camp and had a chance to showcase their talents and work on their skills with an experienced staff which consisted of many former RI football standouts. Monk (St. Raphael/North Carolina State), Lee Moses (Hendricken/UMass/Arizona Cardinals) and Kwity Paye (Hendricken/Michigan) were among those who comprised the experienced all-star staff, along with some of Blackmon’s former teammates from Boston College, including Jamal Burke (BC/Atlanta Falcons).
“It would be cool to have another famous pro guy like Odell, but he seems untouchable to them …so let me find guys that are right here in your neighborhood, right here breathing the same air, going to the same school,” said Blackmon.
“To have a combine with this staff… with all of their experience is really beneficial. I’m pretty sure the bulk of this coaching staff didn’t have this,” said Monk to the high school players in attendance. “You have pro athletes and former college players…guys that want to help you. We all know guys. Take advantage. Always ask for help. If your willing to put the work in, we’re going to help you.”
After combine skills testing, Blackmon and Rowley put players in one on one situations to showcase their talents in an effort to get them noticed and get them recruited.
Blackmon, who owns a Super Bowl ring with the NY Giants, was impressed with what he saw.
“There’s a lot of talent right here,” said Blackmon. “These kids showed out.”
Rowley said there is plenty of talent in Rhode Island. Players just needed a place to showcase their talent and an opportunity to work with many who have played at pro and highest college level. He and Blackmon are thrilled they are able to provide that opportunity.
“There are college players out here. We just have to get them seen. That’s what we’re doing right now,” said Rowley.
The Comella twins, who will be seniors at Hendricken in the fall, turned in top performances of the day.
“I feel like I learned a lot and definitely got better. I ran my fastest times today. This coaching staff really helped me out,” said Nic.
His twin brother Tom agreed.
“It was great competing… not only against my brother but against all the guys from Rhode Island. We have a great bond because it’s such a small state. We all want to compete and we all want to get better. This camp really helped us do that,” said Tom. “It was great working with Lee (Moses) and Kwity (Paye) because they have all that experience. This was a great opportunity.”
Cam Alves, who will be a senior at Cranston West in the fall, also had a great experience at the combine.
“Today was a great day,” said Alves. “ I really appreciated the input that the coaches had to say. Learning from people who played at the college level and pro level is an experience you get once, maybe twice, so you have to take in everything they have to say. I really appreciated what coach Blackmon and Coach Rowley are doing for Rhode Island.”
The combine came a day after Blackmon hosted his fifth annual free youth camp at Hendricken. Nearly 200 participated.
“I love coming back home to Rhode Island. It’s important to me to give back to the community and offer free football camp for kids who may not otherwise have the opportunity to participate. The youth camp is great and the combine is only going to get better and better,” Blackmon said.