Hargrave Military Academy, Chatham, Va.
Famous Alumni: Torry Holt (Rams), Charles Grant (Saints), Leonard Pope (Georgia).
Vidal Hazelton wasn't sure he was ready for this. It was the summer of 2005, and a couple of months earlier, the 6'3", 200-pound native of Staten Island, N.Y., had wowed a group of recruiters at a high school combine workout in New Jersey. Suddenly he went from unknown to a top-five receiving prospect. Now college football was a serious option. Vidal's father, Dexter, an Army sergeant, worried that the not exactly stiff competition his 18-year-old son faced at Moore Catholic high school would hurt him in college. He also feared that Vidal wouldn't make the grade academically. Dexter told his boy it was time for a change, then shipped him off to the 'Grave for his senior year.
For most of its 101 years, Hargrave was a middling football school. But in the early 1990s, after the NCAA raised admissions standards for incoming freshman athletes, places like Hargrave and Virginia's Fork Union Military Acacemy (Eddie George's alma mater) became popular football factories. Often, top-notch seniors are recommended to these schools by their college suitors. One postgraduate year of getting grades up gives players four years of NCAA eligibility. "Now we have 20 or so kids in the ACC and 20 or so kids in the SEC," says Hargrave's coach, Robert Prunty. "I think we recruit harder than colleges do now."
Two dozen of the school's 53 players are post-grads, including defensive end Justin Mincey (committed to Florida State) and defensive tackle Jerrel Powe (Ole Miss). And since talent follows talent, another two dozen Division 1 prospects transferred as underclassmen. That, more than anything, is why a kid from Staten Island left his friends and family for small-town Virginia. "Every one of our DBs is going D1, so I knew that would make me get better," says Hazelton, who has committed to USC. "Working against that competition, how can you not?"
It doesn't hurt that Hargrave's schedule also includes a slew of JV college teams. But even those games aren't as competitive as practices can be. Nearly 300 college coaches trekked through a December snowstorm to attend the academy's combine workouts. One ACC coach walked away saying, "There are 10 kids out there who you could see becoming NFL first-rounders. They have better defensive linemen than a lot of Division 1 schools."
Which is exactly what next years crop of Hargrave recruits wants to hear. –BRUCE FELDMAN
Stratton Mountain School, Stratton, Vt.
Specialty: Skiing and Snowboarding
Famous Alumni: snowboarders Lindsey Jacobellis, Ross Powers, Alexis Waite, Michael Goldschmidt; 2005 NCAA alpine ski champ Greg Hardy
Location, location, location. As in real estate and retail, the right mountain is as essential to an aspiring snowboarder or skier as comfortable boots or a freshly waxed board. So when a rising snow star has outgrown his hometown slope, he has to relocate. "At my home mountain, you could barely call what I was practicing on a halfpipe," says Danny Davis, a 17-year-old from Highland, Mich., who transferred 700 miles east to Vermont after a breakout sophomore season in 2004. Seven months later, Davis (now a senior) was one of four Stratton Mountain students signed by the U.S. Snowboard team.
He's not alone. SMS has sent 28 skiers and snowboarders to the Olympics. And with students from the United States to Australia to the Czech Republic enrolled, the school has earned a worldwide rep for churning out champs. Location is, naturally, the key. The 51,000-square-foot campus - including an 8,000-square-foot gym and 4,000-square-foot weight room - sits less than a mile from the base of Stratton Mountain, which hosts a world-class SuperPipe and five terrain parks. Its 45 acres of Shangri-La for the snow set. SMS athletes spend up to four hours each day training under the tutelage of 16 coaches, including former World Cup and Olympic head men and women.
The program began with 13 students in 1972, when some local parents wanted to let their ski-crazy kids train as much as possible without skipping school work. The notion of adolescent sports factories was still novel, but soon SMS was recruiting top coaches and attracting kids from all over the country. By keeping the teacher/coach to student/athlete ratio small - even today, its just eight to one - the school has seen performance in and out of the classroom spike. Stratton boasts a 100% graduation rate, and 90% of this year's 22-student senior class will head straight to college. About 10% of SMS skiers and snowboarders annually defer their freshman year to compete.
While alpine skiers still dominate the student body - 77 of 130 students race downhill, and 22 of the schools 28 Olympic alums are two-plankers - the 12-year-old snowboard program is creating the most buzz. Ross Powers, who won gold in Salt Lake City, is a Stratton alum. And 2004 grad Lindsey Jacobellis is the favorite going into Torino.
But champions aren't made cheap. A year at the school costs $31,800 for boarding students and $21,750 for commuters. The upside, says SMS admissions director Todd Ormiston: "The best kids now were not necessarily the best kids when they got here. That's worth the price of admission." -ALYSSA ROENIGK
South Kent School, South Kent, Conn.
Famous Alumni: Dorell Wright (Miami Heat), Andray Blatche (Washington Wizards)
The charge seemed impossible: turn a school with 142 students, an 80-year history of losing and a gymnasium that seats 250 max into a local hoops kingpin. And do it pronto.
Turns out those expectations were too low for Raphael Chillious. Since taking over at South Kent in 2003, after two seasons at West Nottingham Academy in Colora, Md., Chillious has not only made the Cardinal a New England power, but a national one as well. Each fall, more than 200 college coaches travel through the Litchfield Hills of northwest Connecticut in search of talent, and Chillious is on speed-dial status with several NBA scouts. "I was tired of South Kent being the doormat in every sport," says headmaster Andrew Vadnais, who hired Chillious on the recommendation of UConn's Jim Calhoun. "I just wanted to be competitive, but I never envisioned this."
Chillious, who is just 34, worked this wonder by being well-connected. A former guard at Lafayette College, he played professionally in Italy and Spain before beginning his coaching career at the U. of Victoria in Canada. All that time outside the United States gave him a fat international phone book, which he's used to fill South Kent's phat roster. Seven of his 16 players this season are foreign-born, with home bases in Austria, England, Nigeria, Senegal, Serbia and South Korea.
Chillious is big on skills. When Calhoun recruited current Huskies big man Josh Boone out of West Nottingham, the UConn coach said it would be a year before Boone cracked the starting lineup. Chillious boldly told Calhoun his star pupil would start as a freshman - and he was right. Word began to spread that Chillious players are fundamentally sound shooters, dribblers, passers and defenders. That made him popular with college coaches. "I never want a coach to tell me that one of my kids isn't skilled," Chillious says. "If he's not big enough or athletic enough, that's one thing. But when he leaves here, he's going to have a skills package."
When Chillious joined South Kent, he already had such a good rep that ballers throughout the country - scratch that, throughout the world - soon began knocking on the prep school's door. This year's studs are 6'6" swingman Gilbert Brown of Harrisburg, Pa., and 6'6" forward Rob Thomas of Harlem, both true seniors. Brown (27 ppg) has signed with Pitt and Thomas (25 ppg) will likely choose between Pitt, Arizona and Virginia Tech. Next year, keep an eye out for power forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning, a 6'9" junior from London. Says Chillious, "I think we have about five future pros at our school."
And one very pleased headmaster. -CHRIS BROUSSARD
East Cobb Baseball, Inc., Marietta, Ga.
Specialty: America's pastime
Famous Alumni: Michael Barrett (Cubs), Kris Benson (Orioles), Adam Everett (Astros), Corey Patterson (Orioles)
Years before Kevin Costner heard that voice saying, "If you build it they will come," Guerry Baldwin was saying the same thing to everyone in the greater Atlanta area. "I felt there were a lot of good players down here who were going unnoticed by the college coaches and pro scouts," Baldwin says. "And there had to be a way to get them more exposure."
The year was 1985, and Baldwin, a former local high school coach and player, decided to heed his inner Shoeless Joe. Just 20 miles north of Turner Field, he built a 30-acre complex that includes eight manicured diamonds, indoor and outdoor batting cages, a weight room, video equipment, even dorms to house visiting teams, of which there are many. From March through November, East Cobb buzzes with games. But even during the December-February down period, you'll still hear the sound of batting practice.
"They play a lot of games, and they welcome the best competition," says Braves farm director Roy Clark. "They'll host a tournament, and a scout or college coach can stay on-site all day long, knowing he's going to see some high-quality players."
While places like Hargrave, Stratton Mountain and South Kent mix school and sports, East Cobb has only one aim: to attract and develop the best baseball talent in the country. As Clark says, "I've seen families relocate just so their sons could be a part of the East Cobb program."
Each year, that program fields 55 to 60 teams, with players ranging in age from 8 to 18. Club dues are $175 annually, but with tournament entry fees, the tab for a teenage player runs to four digits. Most say that's a small price to pay, considering the potential upside. The East Cobb Yankees, made up of 16- to 18-year-olds, is the program's pinnacle ball club. Last year, the team won the Connie Mack World Series, the fall classic of the American Amateur Baseball Congress. Ten former enrollees have become first-round Major League draft picks, including Orioles pitcher Kris Benson and Marlins outfielder Jeremy Hermida. There could be another one this spring in first baseman Cody Johnson. At the very least, earning a spot on the East Cobb Yankees practically assures you of a shot at playing Division 1 college baseball.
"Really, that's all I wanted to do for these local kids," Baldwin says. "The success we've had in the draft has just been a bonus."
The kind that only comes when you plant your field of dreams. – JEFF BRADLEY