Camp visit by Jim Harbaugh a big deal to UT-Martin and local community

With a son blossoming into a star quarterback and beginning to amass Power 5 scholarship offers, University of Tennessee-Martin head coach Jason Simpson knows well the allure of players getting to work out for renowned coaches – especially at the game’s most focal position.

Likewise, it wasn’t that long ago that the Skyhawks’ quarterbacks’ coach Patrick Ashford was hitting the camp circuit, throwing for the likes of Mark Richt, Rich Brooks and others.

So the Skyhawks and the Martin community, a neat little hamlet tucked in northwest Tennessee, eagerly embraced the opportunity to host lightning rod Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and his new assistant, former Florida head coach Jim McElwain, for an individual prospect camp last weekend.

“Well, first and foremost from a recruiting standpoint, a lot of guys came to camp that we have been actively recruiting,” said Simpson, an established and well-respected FCS coach who’s logged a dozen years at UTM. “That was the No. 1 thing, bring some kids to our campus that might not come if it was just a UT-Martin camp. Coach Harbaugh and his celebrity status brought some kids to us and numbers were up.

“And another thing, we had a lot of people on our campus, standing on sidelines, up against the fence, longtime Michigan and Harbaugh fans, and maybe we made their second-favorite team the Skyhawks.”

Added Ashford, a former Tennessee Vols signal-caller whose coaching has fast-tracked with stops first at Austin Peay and now Martin, “Impact, really is, it’s awesome for those kids. When I was in high school, I thought it was the coolest thing if I went to throw in front of Coach Richt or Coach Brooks or so many others.

“Harbaugh is out there running a quarterback drill and it’s just neat. Coach Harbaugh is awesome because he doesn’t think too much of himself that he won’t work 1-on-1 with any camper there. Whether you’re a (Michigan) prospect or not, he coached every single kid like he was his.”

Simpson’s Skyhawks program has for several years battled SEC powers –Auburn, Ole Miss and Tennessee among them – and has more blue-blood SEC programs, some yet to be announced, on the horizon.
But those showcases always are on the road. This camp differed from Simpson’s annual team and positional sessions, this home-field event drew triple-digit attendees and has already prompted new offers for the Skyhawks, such as Christian Academy of Knoxville quarterback Stewart Howell.

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