BRADENTON -- They came from all over the country, in different shapes and sizes, to receive expert training Friday at the invitation-based IMG All-Madden Football Camp.
There were two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks among an all-star cast of instructors chock full of former NFL players and coaches.
But Bradenton Christian offensive lineman Josh Clark was more impressed with his teachers, Tom Nutten and Mike Gruttadauria, lesser-known names who just happened to have opened gaping holes for Marshall Faulk on the St. Louis Rams’ road to winning the Super Bowl several years ago.
“Greatest Show on Turf,” Clark said.
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Clark said he attended the camp last summer and received an invitation to join this year’s edition at the Gulf Coast Florida Christian Athletes’ 7-on-7 at Braden River.
“Your name gets publicized all around ... people are going to hear about you. It’s great for recruiting,” Clark said.
The three-day camp began with some stretching and other drill work for the 130 players who arrived to learn from former football greats.
IMG Madden Academy director Chris Weinke, a former NFL quarterback who won the Heisman at Florida State, said the number of players has grown in the second year of the camp.
“We were averaging anywhere from 15 to 20 campers a week,” Weinke said of last year. “And we’ve taken that number up to over 45 campers a week throughout the whole summer. And obviously, having 130 guys here is a great representation of what we’re delivering.”
Weinke said the camp mirrors an NFL mini-camp with each player receiving an offensive and defensive playbook. He said players were invited based on their performances in earlier combines.
Another Heisman winner, Ken Dorsey, a former Lakewood Ranch High assistant who played quarterback in the NFL and the University of Miami, also was in attendance. He joined longtime veteran NFL quarterback Vinny Testaverde to teach signal-callers the finer points of the position.
Palmetto’s new quarterback, Trenton Miller, who recently moved to the area from Buffalo, N.Y., took the opportunity to learn from the best.
“Coach Testaverde, he said something that kind of stuck with me,” Miller said. “He said, ‘To be great, you have to put in 10,000 hours at something.’”
Three other Palmetto players were in camp, including another transfer student who has yet to suit up for the Tigers. David Knevel, a left tackle who stands 6-foot-8 and weighs 280 pounds, is a rising junior and is set to join Palmetto on Aug. 8, the first day of practice.
While it’s difficult to leave friends behind and change schools, Knevel said he’s happy with the year-round aspect of playing in Florida.
“The worst was the freezing rain,” he said about playing conditions in his native Canada. “That’s the worst, because you get soaking wet, and then the pain -- every hit’s just harder.”
Meanwhile, Out-of-Door Academy rising senior Brian Ragone is using the camp to get more reps at defensive back. Last year, the left-hander played quarterback before a broken collarbone prematurely ended his season. He said he’s switching positions this season.
“I’ll do whatever the team needs me to do,” said Ragone, who received lessons from Michael Hawthorne, a former Sarasota Booker standout who was a Big Ten Academic All-American during his time with Purdue. He played in the NFL and with the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League.