May 12, 2016
ANN ARBOR — About a month ago, Nathan Chapman’s phone rang at about 3 a.m. Australia time.
The number dialing in was housed in Ann Arbor belonged to Jim Harbaugh.
Chapman, the director of ProKick Australia, met Harbaugh last summer when Michigan began recruiting Australian-born punter Blake O’Neill. The two remained in touch after O’Neill signed with the Wolverines and Chapman dropped suggestions here or there to Harbaugh about possibly holding an American football camp on the other side of the globe.
This call in the middle of the night — which happened to be in the middle of an afternoon for Harbaugh — sealed the deal.
“I had to get on him for not knowing his time (zones),” Chapman laughs. “We had a good chat, talked more about what we wanted to do and then followed up on it from there.”
And just like that — with a little help from the NCAA’s Board of Directors — Michigan was ready to hit Australia.
Michigan’s ProKick Australia camp became official earlier this week but had been in the works for some time. Harbaugh’s relationship with Chapman’s program sparked the initial interest, but once Michigan hired new director of player personnel Tony Tuioti, things ramped up considerably.
Tuioti’s relationship with Chapman stretches back almost a decade, back to his initial days as Hawaii’s director of player personnel in 2008. Tuioti — who also played college ball at Hawaii — was responsible for recruiting Australia during his run with the Rainbow Warriors (2008-13).
One of the biggest scores Tuioti helped land in those days was Scott Harding, who eventually earned Freshman All-America honors as a punt and kick returner for the Rainbow Warriors in 2011 before eventually taking on duties as the team’s punter.
Hired to replace Chris Partridge as Michigan’s director of player personnel this winter, Tuioti had mentioned to Chapman that Harbaugh wanted to have satellite camps in both Hawaii and Samoa at some point this summer.
Sensing some opportunity, Chapman suggested Australia as well.
“We talked with (Tuioti) about what we’ve got in our stocks … and it became a ‘hey, you guys should really come out to Australia and see the product in terms of athletes in different shapes and sizes,’ ” Chapman said. “He said they had plans to be in Samoa and Hawaii and then said ‘maybe we should just keep going (to Australia).’ And I said ‘yeah, you should.’
“And then it turned into Harbaugh saying ‘we might just do that.’ Then, sure enough, a month later we revisited the idea and that was it. Let’s go.”
By and large, most Australian-born American football prospects are kickers. Which is why Michigan will certainly have a special teams presence in Australia for its camp June 3.
And while Chapman isn’t completely sure how many coaches Michigan will send to Australia for its camp — 247sports reported Wednesday that Partridge and co-special teams coordinator Jay Harbaugh will be there — this event won’t just be about field goals and punts.
Chapman explained how popular college football is becoming in his country and knows that Australia has enough elite-level athletes that are worth a look — even if they have little to no experience with the game itself.
“We’ve got athletes here who can play on the Division I level,” Chapman says. “It’s more about the coaches seeing that talent and realizing that they can play. If you’re going to play big-time football, you need big-time athletes and we do have that. It’s a hard decision for a coach to give a scholarship to a guy who has never played and that’s the barrier (Michigan) is trying to cross. They’re saying ‘OK, we know there’s talented guys there, let’s see it for ourselves, rather than watch video or take someone’s word for it.’
“If they came here and liked two prospects, it’d be a big deal. Maybe a lineman, a wide receiver and a punter. Imagine that? That’d be huge. Huge to pick up at one camp on the other side of the world.”
The way Chapman sees it, if Michigan finds one position player — outside of a punter or kicker — then the trip was more than worth it.
Either way, interest is high, and the chance to grow the game in his home country is something he’s more than excited about.
“This is a first, so it’s a little bit of an unknown,” Chapman says. “Michigan is a pretty big deal. There’s quite a large following of American football from the NFL and college level, our program alone has placed 50 to 60 players. There’s friends and family, buddies that are in school. There’s a junior and senior league over here. The interest is there and everyone here knows who Michigan is and who coach Harbaugh is.
“That’s sparked a lot of interest. Within about three hours of announcing it, I think I had about 35 people emailing me asking where to register for the camp. So I’m not sure if we’ll have 35, 75, 150, more … it’s an unknown. But Michigan’s a huge program, we know that. So we’ll see how it goes.”