Last year, Monroe High’s Breonte’ Baker didn’t sign with a college on National Signing Day in early February. Nearly a month later, he only had a partial scholarship to attend Division II Shaw University in Raleigh.
Baker’s life and career changed when he signed up for a free high school football showcase at Charlotte Latin School. Baker, a defensive back who had a 3.0 GPA, got three scholarship offers at the first Carolinas Senior Football Showcase.
The showcase -- designed to highlight unsigned seniors like Baker -- returns to Charlotte Latin Saturday, March 3, and is free.
The showcase is one of four affiliated with the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. They are being held in Houston, Los Angeles, South Florida and Charlotte between Feb. 10 and March 3. Players, who have to meet minimum academic standards, go through a series of drills in front of Division II, Division III and NAIA coaches. They include a 40-yard dash and several strength and agility tests.
For seniors with no scholarship offers or little interest this late in the school year, an event like this can represent a huge last-chance opportunity.
"The leaders in these four cities all deserve huge praise for their efforts to expand opportunities for kids to earn their college degrees with football opening the door," said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. "Their leadership has helped build a free system, literally providing thousands of talented student-athletes the opportunity to continue their educations.”
Launched by a group of Houston high school coaches in 2009, the concept expanded to Southern California in 2013 with Florida and North Carolina added in 2017. Collectively, the organizers anticipate the four events will reach more than 1,500 seniors this year with an estimated one-in-four receiving some kind of financial aid to go to college.
This year, players coming to the four showcase stops will earn more than $6 million in scholarships for their freshman year, organizers anticipate.
The Charlotte event was hosted last year by Blazing 7-on-7, a local company that puts on a series of 7-on-7 high school football passing leagues and tournaments along with camps and combines. The local event was spearheaded by Charles Arbuckle, a college football analyst on SiriusXM who played at UCLA and with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. Arbuckle serves as executive director the Charlotte event.
Blazing 7-on-7 vice president of business development Marcus Kimbrough said 125 players and more than 30 coaches from 20 schools came to Charlotte Latin last year. Of those, 15 players received scholarships.
This year, Kimbrough said more than 200 players are expected to participate and more than 40 coaches are registered to attend.
“The kids can showcase their skills and continue to live their dream of playing college football,” Kimbrough said, “and get a free or reduced college education.”
And that’s what happened for Breonte’ Baker.
He came to Charlotte Latin not sure of his future. He ended up with three offers and ultimately a free education from Manchester University, a Division III Manchester University in Indiana, a 179-year-old strong academic institution known for its award-winning pharmacy school. The Princeton Review has named Manchester a “best in the midwest” college, and U.S News & World Reports called it one of the best regional schools in the midwest in 2012.
Manchester cannot give scholarships, but Kimbrough said Baker’s athletic and academic acumen helped with the school putting together a series of grant and aid packages to cover his $42,000 annual tuition. Baker worked his way into the starting lineup as a freshman.
Kimbrough said success stories like Baker’s are the goal for the Showcase, to give players like Baker not only a chance to continue playing, but to get an education that can set them up for the next 40 years of their lives.
"Most of these types of events around the country charge a fee to participate, excluding a lot of great kids who can't afford the price of admission," said NFF Chairman Archie Manning. "The events in Houston, Los Angeles, Charlotte and South Florida provide all student-athletes an opportunity to pursue their dream of attending college. The NFF Showcases provide a cost effective way for us to make a huge difference in the lives of these kids, and the impact has been phenomenal."
Carolinas Football Showcase
When: Saturday, March 3
Where: Charlotte Latin School
Time: 8 a.m to 3 p.m.