In Omaha on Saturday, at the Warren Academy Top Prospects Showcase, things were a little different when you walked through the doors. Just to get in the building, you had to run through a list of symptoms confirming none were present, pass a temperature check, and commit to a mask for the next few hours.
Beyond that, there was a football field, coaches, whistles, balls flying through the air and kids just happy to have some normalcy back.
Football, not as we’ve known it, but football nonetheless. Whatever it took to put on this camp was going to be deemed necessary for former Nebraska defensive lineman Steve Warren. Over 100 local high school prospects from the 2021, 2022, and 2023 classes turned out to go through drills and one-on-one work.
“It was still a stressful headache, but at the end of the day, the end result speaks for how much work you put into it in the beginning,” Warren said. Communication was key, making sure everyone was organized. Kids had to monitor their health in the run-up to the event. Masks were required of those not working out, and most of the athletes kept masks on even while on the field.
Few had reservations about coming to participate.
“I’ve been pretty comfortable,” said 2021 Elkhorn South lineman Isaac Zatechka. “It’s just good to be able to compete again.”
With a gym in his basement, Zatechka had spent quarantine working out with his dad before the OPS school board had allowed local area athletes to return to organized team activities.
Omaha Central lineman Deshawn Woods, one of the top 2022 prospects in the state, didn’t have a home set-up, so he was mowing lawns for two different services this summer just as a way to stay outside and stay active. Warren’s showcase offered a chance to get back to some of the excitement of football.
“My whole goal was just to have fun and meet new people,” he said. “If you don’t have fun while you’re playing a sport, I don’t feel like you need to be playing that sport.”
Woods is well-known already, with Power Five offers from the likes of Nebraska, Iowa, Arizona State, and Florida. A lot of his peers on the field Saturday were hurt much more by the closures of summer recruiting camps and lost evaluation time.
While some might have criticized the idea of a football camp in the middle of a pandemic, at the end of the day, helping those kids was important enough to Warren to jump through the logistical hoops of staging such a camp.
“That’s what we do. DREAM is the umbrella for Warren Academy, which is a nonprofit for youth and families to be benefited in some way when they need opportunity. That’s what we do,” Warren said. “The purpose for this showcase was to help the coaches that needed evaluation time and to help the kids that need to be evaluated since camps got canceled. We saw an opportunity to help out and that’s what we did, we jumped in.”
Coaches from smaller name schools in the area were out to watch. They were treated to some exciting moments.
Thomas Fidone, the 4-star tight end prospect from Council Bluffs, Iowa, made the trip to take part in a camp he really didn’t need to, and then balled out.
“There’s no replacement for competition,” he said. “That’s kind of what my coaches have always said. Wherever there’s competition and wherever there’s a place I can get some work in, that’s where I’m gonna be. So, just wanted to come out and grind it out with some of the best of the best.”
That list included names like Avante Dickerson, the 2021 defensive back from Omaha committed to play for PJ Fleck’s Minnesota team, and 2022 Bellevue West tight end Kaden Helms.
“As an athlete, you expect to win when you walk out on the field,” Warren said, when asked how he felt about the turnout. “Today when I walked out on the field, I expected to win with the kids that were coming out. We’re winning today because the kids are winning.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.