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High School Sports

Football showcase comes to Anchorage to test the skills of high school players

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: December 15, 2020
  • Published December 13, 2020

Alaska’s high school football season ended seven weeks ago, yet East High linebacker Bladen Stubbs said it’s possible he’s in better football shape now than he was while helping the Thunderbirds to a championship season.

Though the season has been over since late October, Stubbs is still training for what he hopes will be a big weekend coming up. He’s one of about 60 high school players registered for a two-day evaluation camp Saturday and Sunday at Fox Hollow.

The Avery Strong Showcase is the kind of thing Alaska kids who want to catch the attention of college coaches sometimes travel to the Lower 48 to attend. This time the event — two days of drills that somewhat mimic an NFL combine — is coming to Alaska.

Also coming to town is Brandon Huffman, the national recruiting editor for 247 Sports, a website that focuses on college basketball and football, including recruiting. He’ll evaluate the players, and anyone who stands out could be awarded a star that marks them as a top prospect.

“It’s really awesome that we get to have this camp in Alaska. Normally we have to fly out, go to Seattle or somewhere to get colleges to look at us,” said Stubbs, a 6-foot, 215-pound senior who was a first-team pick on the 2020 Cook Inlet Conference’s all-North Division team.

“I’m getting really excited about it. I’ve been training a lot at our gym (and) I’ve been going to The Dome two or three times a week. I’m making sure I’m all ready and prepared.”

Stubbs said he’s in the same shape he was during the high school season, “if not better.”

“It’s easier to train in the offseason, because you don’t have games,” he said.

Numerous Avery Strong showcase events have been held in California, Oregon and Washington over the last several years. The Anchorage event costs $250, and kids can sign up online through Saturday.

Gabriell Taylor, an Anchorage man who works as a personal trainer, is the local organizer. He thinks Alaska, because of its remoteness and small population, has talent that doesn’t always register with college coaches.

“As you know, recruiting here in Alaska has been hard throughout the years, and you have to have a strong support group so you can be getting out and getting seen,” Taylor said. “COVID changes a lot of things, and getting out was even harder.

“Brandon Huffman was willing to see what Alaska has to offer.”

Players will be separated into groups by position and participate at different times to avoid large gatherings, Taylor said. Videos will be produced that players can share with prospective colleges.

On Saturday, players will go through various tests and drills that measure speed, agility and quickness. On Sunday. they’ll do work specific to their positions. Among other things, drills will show how fast linebackers get into the backfield, how running backs move through cones, how a quarterback’s timing looks and how quickly linemen move their feet. All the while, Huffman will be watching and evaluating.

Stubbs said he’s attending the showcase with teammates Ja’Sem Atonio and Jordan Holland, who gave the Thunderbirds a potent quarterback-receiver combination. They’ve played together since their sixth-grade Pop Warner football days, and it’s their dream to play college football together.

With high school facilities closed because of COVID-19, Stubbs is working out at private gyms, including Southside Strength and Fitness. He and Holland -- his cousin -- also work out in the garage at Stubbs’ house, where they have dumbbells and a treadmill.

Taylor thinks if Huffman awards any stars or posts stories about anyone on, it could be a boon for all Alaska players.

“I think this is huge for Alaska,” he said. “We’ve never had anything like this before. Depending on how well the kids do and how seriously they take it, we can make an impact as far as changing the environment for recruiting. Even one kid being written about and put on 247sports changes the dynamic of recruiting. We want our sons looked at in the same spotlight as kids in the (Lower 48).”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Gabriell Taylor as a high school assistant coach.