NORMAN, Okla. -- As his son ran through drills alongside his high school peers, Ken McCarthy sat in a lawn chair -- video camera in hand -- and assessed how 15-year-old Corbin was stacking up.
The young running back from Norco, Calif., is hoping to get noticed by the likes of Southern California, Notre Dame or Oklahoma -- while Dad has the Ivy League in mind.
"These are supposedly the best of the best," said McCarthy, who brought his son to the Oklahoma Sooners' practice facility this summer for the National Underclassmen Combine's Ultimate Top 100 Prospect Camp.
Pride, dreams of landing a lucrative scholarship, simple desire to make a good college football team -- all of these reasons have contributed to dramatic growth in high school football combines. Many prep football players -- at least 20,000 this year alone -- signed up to run the 40-yard dash and pump iron, just like the wannabe pros do in Indianapolis before the NFL draft. Stats get collected for coaches to eyeball.
While the NFL combine is a pipeline to the pros, the high school versions haven't yet solidified themselves as valuable resources for college coaches. But there are deep-pocketed organizations involved, from Nike to Under Armour, and plans to add more combines next year.
Former Connecticut linebacker David Schuman started National Underclassmen with one modest camp in New Jersey in 2005, attracting 141 kids, including Florida cornerback Joe Haden and Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
About 800 kids attended his five camps the next year and that kept multiplying to 17,000 kids at 51 camps this year. From there, the best players advance to a Top 100 regional camp and then to the Ultimate camp that was in Oklahoma.
"Our goal as an organization is to have as many kids play college football and get an education using that process as possible. It doesn't matter whether they go Division I or Division III to us," Schuman said.
Nike also runs a series of combines and Under Armour, which got into the business two years ago, offered 22 football combines last year, with 300 to 400 players attending each one. Senior vice president Steve Battista said there's been enough interest that Under Armour is considering holding 30 to 50 next year.
"I think for many athletes, one of their primary goals for themselves is actually to see how they measure up across the country and see if they can get noticed," Battista said. "This is certainly a way to do that, there's no doubt."
Once McCarthy factored in airfare, a hotel room and other travel expenses, he figured he'd end up spending about $2,000 for the trip to Oklahoma from Southern California. He'd already spent another $3,000 for a scouting service to help drum up colleges' interest in Corbin, a sophomore who's already made varsity.
"I don't believe this is going to get him recruited," McCarthy said. "I think this is going to give him a taste of the best athletes out there and where he has to be in order to rate."
College coaches aren't allowed to attend the combines because of an NCAA rule created last year, so they can only get information that is provided to them.
That's problematic for coaches like Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, who says he only believes what he sees with his own eyes. He has had plenty of experience with players who don't run nearly as fast as advertised -- whether it's by their father or a combine operator.
"We realize that going in, so we pay very little attention to them," Stoops said. "We still trust what we see when we evaluate, when we go places, when we see them practice."
Colorado coach Dan Hawkins said he likes the opportunity for young athletes to develop, yet he wonders about parents spending money on the combines and the youngsters working hard over and over again.
"It can become a very arduous physical task as well as financial task," Hawkins said.
Part of the appeal of the combines is their connection to Internet-based recruiting services. Rivals.com is a sponsor of Schuman's combines and uses them as a basis for its ratings. ESPN is tied in to the Nike combines.
"People think that it's like this huge moneymaker but it really isn't," Schuman said.
Schuman said he has 10 full-time employees and another 10 who help on the road during combine season. He has tried to extend the reach across the country.
"It makes it a situation where anybody gets a chance to show what they can do, regardless of the high school that they go to. I think that's one of the nice things about it," Schuman said.
"They know what high school you went to, but they don't know until they've seen you perform."
The next wave in the combines will include one organized by John Paul Young, a former assistant coach for the NFL's Saints, Broncos and Chiefs and several colleges. It's his belief that college coaches would be willing to pay for unbiased, accurate combine data on prospects.
"A lot of these combines try to give them a rating -- you know, three-star, four-star, five-star," said Young, who plans to launch his National High School Combine in December. "We don't want to do any of that."
Accurate or not, the combines only go so far toward landing prospects at their dream school. College coaches, who can see players up close at their own camps, have to be comfortable with a kid before offering to pay for four years of college.
"There's a lot of information out there," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "I'm more concerned with when I sit down and talk to a kid. Will he shake my hand? Will he look me in the eye?"