By Ralph D. Russo
AP College Football Writer
PARAMUS, N.J. — Hours before Jim Harbaugh led yet another satellite camp, some Rutgers fans let the Michigan coach know that not everyone was welcoming him to the Garden State: A bunch of red block R car magnets were left on the field at Paramus Catholic High School, along with a teddy bear and a letter telling Harbaugh to “go home.”
A nastier message was embedded in the note.
With the satellite camp boom still a new development, Michigan and Ohio State took one of the fiercest rivalries in college football all the way to New Jersey this week with dueling camps held at exactly the same time, 30 miles apart in the bedroom communities west of New York City. After the Wolverines agreed to be the headliner at the Paramus Catholic camp, it wasn’t long before Urban Meyer and his Buckeyes staff agreed to help an old friend, thrusting Rutgers into the middle of it all with an event at Farleigh Dickinson. The camps drew more than 1,400 hopeful high school football players.
“Want to get noticed?” Meyer told his charges sternly. “Work really hard. Shut your mouth. Do the right thing. Be selfless. Be a great teammate. Don’t draw attention to yourself. If you want to draw attention to yourself, be the hardest working guy out there.”
Then came three hours of drills, mostly run by assistant coaches from Rutgers and Temple.
A short drive up the New Jersey Turnpike, Harbaugh opened his camp for 650 kids by comparing it to the Super Bowl and ended it by proclaiming: “You know what this field is? This field is the field of dreams!”
Harbaugh is turning June, usually a quiet time in college football, into Michigan month. Satellite camps are the second-year coach’s stage. Meyer and the Buckeyes will only be making cameo appearances on the circuit, like this day-trip to Fairleigh Dickinson that stole some of Harbaugh’s spotlight and gave a boost to new Rutgers coach Chris Ash, who was Meyer’s defensive coordinator the last two years.
Ash took over too late to keep Harbaugh from poaching most of New Jersey’s top talent last year, including No. 1 prospect Rashan Gary from Paramus Catholic. Harbaugh was also delivering Thursday’s commencement address to Gary and the rest of the graduating class.
“It’s not about us and Paramus. Us and Michigan,” Ash said. “It’s about us trying to brand ourselves and promote the game of football.”
Ash and Rutgers were invited to the camp with Michigan, Paramus Catholic president James Vail said.
“They have like four or five other camps and they added this one,” Vail said. “It would have been nice. We would have encouraged our boys to go to theirs if it was at a different time. Because as high school people, we’re here to create opportunities for kids not restrict them.”
Harbaugh said he didn’t mind the competition.
“I was all for it. All for it,” Harbaugh said. “It’s all what’s best for the youngsters.”
Creating opportunities for players has been the rallying cry of satellite camp proponents in the face of opposition from Alabama coach Nick Saban and others who wanted to ban guest coaching a long way from home. Harbaugh has an ally in the satellite camp fight in Meyer, but the Buckeyes’ coach did not take his rival’s hands-on approach while in New Jersey.
Meyer kept a low profile at Fairleigh Dickinson, roaming through the drills, talking on his phone and chatting with coaches. He spent time with Jets rookie linebacker Darron Lee, one of 12 Buckeyes taken in the last NFL draft. He didn’t do much coaching and left about 30 minutes before the campers were dismissed.
Right around the time Meyer was heading out, Harbaugh, wearing a Derek Jeter jersey tucked into his khakis, was showing campers how to run come-back routes in Paramus.
“They’re getting their money’s worth,” said Dennis Watkins, whose son, Nasir, was taking part in the camp also attended by Harbaugh’s brother, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “This is one of the best camps I’ve taken him to.”
Considering the current state of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, it makes sense that Harbaugh is the one on a nonstop schedule. Michigan lost 42-13 to Ohio State last season, showing there is still a significant gap between the Buckeyes and Wolverines. But Harbaugh insists the globe-trotting and satellite-camping is not about trying to gain an advantage in recruiting.
“This is about doing what’s good for football and for the youngsters. I’ve said it a million times. Believe it or don’t believe it. I don’t really care anymore,” he said. “I’m having more fun than I’ve had in six months. I’m like a pig in slop out here.”