Jacob Byrd brings in local football legends for high profile skills camp
MANSFIELD — This will be the largest collection of major college talent ever assembled for a youth football camp in north central Ohio.
But that won’t happen if Cade Stover’s name doesn’t come to Jacob Byrd’s mind.
And it won’t happen either if Byrd, a 2013 Ontario high school graduate, doesn’t use his tennis racquet and his connections as a teaching professional to embark on what looks like to a budding career in sports marketing.
Byrd leads NextGen Camps, which is partnering with Columbus-based NIL Management and Nike to host the Nike Football Skills Camp at Arlin Field in Mansfield for three days, June 6-8.
Senior Mansfield head coach Chioke Bradley will serve as camp director, and the impressive roster of instructors will include three homegrown products: Stover, former Lexington star turned Ohio State Buckeye, senior Mansfield grad Angelo Grose ( Michigan State) and Madison grad Tyrell Ajian (Kentucky). ).
Stover is expected to play a starring role this fall for the Buckeyes after starting at linebacker in January’s Rose Bowl win over Utah. Grose and Ajian start defensive backs for their respective schools.
Virginia quarterback and former Shelby great Brennan Armstrong was originally scheduled to be part of the camp, but the Cavaliers are transitioning to a new head coach and he couldn’t make it out of summer practices.
On board were several of Stover’s teammates at Ohio State: running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams, defensive back Denzel Burke, defensive end Zach Harrison, linebackers Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers, and kicker Noah Ruggles.
A side with that kind of star power would have been hard to pull off a year ago at this time. But that all changed last July 1 when an NCAA policy went into effect allowing college athletes to monetize their name, image, and likeness (NIL).
Previously considered unpaid employees by schools making millions, athletes can now earn money through brand partnerships in a number of ways, such as making appearances, giving endorsements and signing autographs.
To say the 4th of July fireworks arrived three days early would be a huge understatement.
It certainly caused Byrd to re-evaluate his career goals.
He had a very good gig as a tennis teaching professional. After earning a degree in business and sports management from Spring Arbor University (Mich.), Byrd was named New Pro of the Year by the Georgia Tennis Association while working at a tennis facility near ‘Atlanta. He has also worked at the Elysium Tennis Center just outside of Columbus and more recently at the Paramount Tennis Club in Medina.
“When I worked at Elysium, I had a Nike retail account, which opened the door on the Nike side,” Byrd said. “It allowed me to organize Nike tennis camps.”
The tennis camps went so well that Byrd started to float the idea of having a Nike football camp, with Stover, in Mansfield or Lexington. Stover, in turn, put Byrd in touch with Chambers and that led to a connection with NIL Management, a sports agency that represents a number of Ohio State players, including Stover and Chambers.
Co-founder Zach Beebe told Byrd he could provide several Buckeyes for the Mansfield camp.
But they didn’t stop there. Byrd’s NextGen Camps is partnering with NIL Management for five more OSU-flavored summer camps. And it’s even better – and busier – for Byrd.
In total, it is contracted through US Sports Camps to run 11 Nike Football Skill Camps in Mansfield, Columbus, Akron, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Dallas, Atlanta, Richmond, Virginia; Lexington, Kentucky; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and Oxford, Michigan.
“The plan was just to have my tennis camps and a football camp with Stover, but things took off very quickly,” Byrd said. “Once these camps with Ohio State athletes were created, I was able to connect with other agents across the country and we created five more sites that have Alabama players, Michigan, Texas, LSU, Georgia and Kentucky.”
Henderson and Ohio State teammate Jaxon Smith-Njigba hail from Richmond and Dallas respectively, so camps have been set up there. Cleveland Browns wide receiver and former Michigan Donovan Peoples-Jones works in camp at Michigan and Browns cornerback Denzel Ward, from northeast Ohio, heads to camp in Akron, with former OSU teammate and Indianapolis Colts wide Parris Campbell, a native of Akron.
Byrd also locked in Georgia defensive end Travon Walker, the first overall pick in the recent NFL Draft, to work in the Atlanta camp.
“I’ve always been a fan of the Ohio State Buckeyes, a huge fan of college football, so that’s definitely something exciting for me,” Byrd said. “But that wasn’t even a possibility a year ago because college athletes couldn’t attend these camps (and get paid).
“All of a sudden we talked, how far can we go? It got to the point where I had to stop being a tennis pro because there was too much.
The Mansfield camp, which will also feature an appearance by former Tyger and NFL star Hugh Douglas, has been set up to accommodate 150 attendees. There are only 35 places left to fill.
(Sign up at usportscamps.com.football) The cost is $495 per person, but a GoFundMe page has raised nearly $5,000, which will pay for 10 campers. Local businesses have also made donations that will cover the cost of another 25 campers.
The GoFundMe goal is $20,000, so donations are always accepted and appreciated. Local businesses that sponsor campers will receive free camp advertising in return.
“Part of the mission is that we want to inspire the kids of Mansfield,” Byrd said. “Sport is an important part of inspiring kids to get out of poverty or the city centre. We felt that being around successful players, some of their favorite players, is an opportunity they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Bradley, who led Mansfield Senior to the national final in 2019, considers it an honor to be part of this camp.
“It was easy (to say yes); it was easy. Count on me,” Bradley said. “I’m going to build our (high school) summer training around that. I have organized camps, but nothing of this magnitude.
Bradley said some of his Tygers will be campers, others will assist instructors.
“Me and Jacob will work together to figure out the best way to make this thing a success,” he said. “You have to make sure that every child who participates is having fun. You want to make sure they walk away with a memorable experience, a lifetime experience they’ll talk about when they’re older. If you do that, it’s a win.
Hosting camps like this has taken Byrd’s life in a rewarding new direction. For now, he has no staff, but he knows that will change. So much has already changed in the past 10 months.
“I have people helping me, but no employees,” he said. “Certainly after this summer, I will need employees.”