McALLEN — For Raymondville’s Jayson Cantu, the summer recruiting season could not come soon enough.
The Bearkats rising senior was coming off his first full season as the team’s starting quarterback and looking forward to hitting the recruiting trail when the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the Rio Grande Valley in 2020 and placed a de facto moratorium on recruiting across the country.
Cantu was one of many high school athletes throughout the Valley and beyond that was stripped of the opportunity to travel to campuses and compete at recruiting camps to place himself on the radar of college coaches.
Now nearly a year later with the NCAA’s recruiting dead period being lifted, he’s one of many high school football players across the country who are aiming to maximize their newfound opportunities during the most chaotic month for athletes and recruiters alike in recent memory.
“It’s been humbling for me to start hearing from recruiting coaches and being asked to attend various football camps and campus visits,” he said. “Looking back a year ago, I didn’t think this would be possible.”
Cantu learned to make the most of his chances during a wildly unpredictable junior season leading an explosive Raymondville offense.
He helped the Bearkats score a staggering 35.0 points per game, but the team was limited to a three-game schedule that featured no district contests and only one regular-season game.
Raymondville’s signal caller jumped at the opportunity to compete at a pair of summer recruiting camps hosted by Texas A&M-Kingsville in Weslaco and McAllen on Thursday and Friday, which presented the first chance for Cantu and others to receive hands-on instruction from college coaches in the Valley in two years.
“It was a great experience learning positional skills from the Javelinas’ coaching staff. Being able to attend the camp was an honor for me and a great start to my upcoming senior football season,” Cantu said. “With limited film from last season, these camps have helped me talk with recruiting coaches. It’s an opportunity for them to see me in person perform.”
“It was an awesome experience. I loved the environment and everyone wanted to compete,” PSJA Southwest junior running back Angel Hernandez said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity and it’s a blessing, honestly. I’ve been here in The Valley my whole life and for a college to come down here is just a big opportunity.”
The Javelinas’ dual RGV recruiting camps at Weslaco’s Bobby Lackey Stadium and McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium drew close to 180 combined athletes from every corner of the Valley as well as the Corpus Christi and Laredo areas.
For many, it introduced them into the college football recruiting sphere and represented the first major opportunity to gain exposure on the recruiting circuit without having to travel to other parts of the state.
“The camp was an amazing experience for me and I learned a lot from Coach (Michael) Salinas’ great atmosphere,” said McAllen Memorial junior quarterback JP Cortez, who attended with his brother Sebastian. “It means a lot because we get to showcase our talent so close to home without traveling. It’s been a great opportunity for student-athletes in the RGV to take advantage of.”
For others, the Valley-based camps represented one of many opportunities that have reappeared to start the summer recruiting season.
Cantu and Edinburg Vela senior quarterback Chase Campbell were a few of many RGV players to attend camps hosted by Stephen F. Austin in San Antonio and beyond.
They are a pair of several standouts who are going outside of the Rio Grande Valley to maximize their visibility for many college coaches who are looking to play catch up by scouting as many high school players as possible.
“Before that dead period was lifted, it was just DMs and calls but now with camps opening, it’s everyone trying to get in front of coaches,” said Campbell, who plans to attend camps hosted by Houston, Lamar, SFA and UTSA among others.
“It’s huge because it allows me to get in front of college coaches to showcase my talents and it also allows me to finally meet the coaches that have been in contact with me,” he added. “The level of talent at these camps is huge, so getting reps against those players will definitely get me ready for the season.”
Others like PSJA North sophomore quarterback Ale Aparicio, one of the RGV’s breakout stars during the 2020 season, are going even farther.
Aparicio, who a year ago was preparing for his first varsity season during the summer largely without his teammates, traveled to huge camps at Texas A&M and LSU featuring hundreds of the top up-and-coming players from Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
“Having the opportunity to go to two great camps with high levels of competition and coaching is just a blessing,” Aparicio said. “I was definitely nervous but excited. It was weird for a little bit, but it was beneficial overall being able to show my skill and talent to many recruits.”
“The coaches were very technical through every drill and it really shocked me how every camper got the coaches’ attention,” he added. “I was able to take some words from Coach (Ed Orgeron) and Coach Jimbo Fisher were some words that I will definitely keep in mind on and off the field. Like Coach O said, ‘Don’t let anyone get in the way of fulfilling and our suiting your dreams.’”
Whether competing at camps within the Valley, beyond or both, though, many of the RGV’s top high school players view this frenetic month of recruiting activity as the key to promoting the region’s talent level on the gridiron and bringing more similar opportunities to South Texas in the near future.
“It means a lot to me for this opportunity to have come up,” Cantu said. “The Valley does have a lot of talent. I hope this camp will be the start to more colleges coming down to the RGV.”
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