Jalen Camp will miss the magic of college football Saturdays.
“The feeling in the locker room before you take the field, the walk down to the tunnel with your team,” he said.
He’ll miss the dread that he and his Georgia Tech teammates shared before early-morning workouts, as they slipped on their cleats and wondered what sort of agony awaited them.
“We’re all there like, ‘Man, it’s Friday,’” Camp said. “Coach Lew (strength-and-conditioning coach Lewis Caralla) makes up all these crazy workouts on Friday.”
Camp, though, is on to the next chapter as he pursues a spot in the NFL. After announcing Dec. 17 that he would forgo the extra season of eligibility granted to all NCAA fall- and winter-sports athletes, Camp has been working out with his father, Richard, a personal trainer, to prepare for a showcase event next week in Texas and for Tech’s Pro Day.
“It’s definitely pretty exciting,” Camp told the AJC. “And there’s a lot of work that needs to be put in from now to the end goal, but to have it right there and to have something to work towards, it’s pretty cool.”
Camp, from South Forsyth High, said the decision to leave Tech was difficult. When the NCAA voted in August to give fall-sports athletes the extra eligibility, Camp said he and his family met with coach Geoff Collins and decided not to make any decisions until after the season was over. During that time, he heard plenty from teammates lobbying for him to come back. Camp has been a popular teammate, and the past season was his best at Tech, leading the team in receptions (29), receiving yardage (439) and touchdown catches (four), all easily career highs.
“I was being hassled (by teammates) all season, like, ‘Come on, Camp. Come on back,’” Camp said with a laugh. “Especially towards the end of the season. I had (quarterback Jeff Sims) come up to me. I had multiple guys come up to me: ‘We need you back next season.’”
Camp said that when the season ended, he wasn’t leaning one way or the other. He and his family met again with Collins after the season. Based on feedback from Collins and his family, he made the decision to move on.
“I don’t really want to share all the specifics, but I just think that it was definitely a huge decision for me and my family,” he said.
He looks back on the season with appreciation, particularly in light of the fact that he was coming back from season-ending surgery that limited his 2019 season to four games. Even as the Yellow Jackets finished 3-7, Camp described the 2020 season as a blast.
“I made the most of the season,” he said. “I went into this season just kind of grateful, honestly, like, regardless of if I had 20 touchdowns like (Alabama’s Heisman Trophy winner) DeVonta Smith or zero touchdowns and three blocks or whatever the case may be, I was just going into the season like, ‘Let me make the most of it,’ because I saw what could happen last season missing eight games and not being out there with my teammates.”
He said his two favorite games from the season were the wins over Louisville and Duke, to which he contributed, respectively, four catches for 31 yards and a touchdown and two catches for 30 yards and a touchdown. Those were the two games, he said, when the entire team played its best.
“Being out there on offense and seeing the success we had, (punter) Pressley (Harvin) booting the crap out of the ball, all that kind of stuff,” he said. “Just being on the sidelines and watching the defense, seeing how hard they’re playing and how fast they are sideline to sideline, I think those two games, I think we put all three facets of the game together.”
After taking a break of about 2½ weeks to rest his body – “I had the new PS5, so I was on that,” he said – Camp is in his third week of training with his father at his gym in Cumming. He’s working out twice a day and also doing field work.
He’ll attend the College Gridiron Showcase in Fort Worth, Texas, which starts Sunday. According to the event’s website, 31 of the NFL’s 32 teams attended last year.
“That’s 31 different teams that I’ll be able to put on a show for and put my best foot forward and show what I can do, showcase speed, athleticism, physicality, all those things,” he said.
Tech’s Pro Day will follow sometime before the draft begins April 29. In December, Camp’s father said that his son could run the 40-yard dash in under 4.5 seconds and hit 40.5 inches in the vertical jump. Particularly given his size – 6-foot-2, 220 pounds – they would be head-turning scores. Camp shares his father’s belief in his ability.
“I don’t want to be cocky or anything like that, but I think I’m a good athlete,” he said. “The combine and the Pro Day, those are when athletes showcase their abilities. I think all the different events or whatever you want to call it – the drills – I think I’ll be ready for them on Pro Day.”
His statistics won’t stand out – 33 ACC players had more receptions than Camp this season – but he can make an impression in other ways. Camp’s size and strength – his father said he can squat more than 550 pounds – will help set him apart. His ability to win balls in the air is another. One more is his considerable special-teams experience. If he tests as well as he hopes, that obviously would be a significant plus.
Business degree in hand, it’s time for Camp to get to work on finding a job.
“I think I made the right decision, and we’re going to rock with it,” he said.