Inspired: Football mom’s idea brings HBCU programs, local players together at Arizona camp

More than 100 HBCU programs have football, and several of those schools will come to Arizona in May to watch local athletes. (Photo by Kaitlyn Morris/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – The idea sprung into Britney Buckles’ head while she was watching her younger son, Xavier, play football at Williams Field High School.

Very few historically Black colleges and universities come to Arizona to recruit high school football players. She and her husband, Vince, were athletes at Howard University, an HBCU in Washington, D.C., and she decided to do something about it by creating a camp that would bring together HBCU coaches and Arizona athletes.

“Recruiting is really hard,” Buckles said. “We talked to a lot of coaches that there’s not a lot of HBCUs that come out here to recruit. So, we thought, ‘Let’s try to put something together where the Black colleges are out here recruiting, (and) the kids are learning about the opportunities they have.’”

She shared her idea with a coach at Howard University and local Valley high school coaches. Encouraged by their responses, Buckles began planning the camp, with coaches being resources for the event.

Now, Arizona’s first HBCU football camp will unfold May 18 at Higley High School’s football field. The camp takes place from 8-10 a.m. and will showcase players in the high school recruiting class of 2025. The camp costs $50.

At least four colleges have committed to attending the camp: Howard University, Morgan State University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and Alabama A&M University. Buckles said the goal is to have 50 athletes attend.

“We just know that whoever shows up, it’ll be really valuable for those college coaches, for the kids and the opportunity for the high school coaches to make some connections with these college coaches and kind of build a pipeline for their upcoming kids,” Buckles said.

OrthoArizona, where Buckles works as the director of business development, is sponsoring the event.

Williams Field High School quarterback Xavier Buckles is among the players that will participate in an Arizona camp that will attracts scouts from HBCU programs. (Photo courtesy Corey Cross/Corey Cross Photography)

Williams Field High School quarterback Xavier Buckles is among the players that will participate in an Arizona camp that will attracts scouts from HBCU programs. (Photo courtesy Corey Cross/Corey Cross Photography)

Jayden Wooden is an example of an Arizona athlete who went the HBCU route for collegiate football. He played football at Centennial High School in Peoria before competing as a safety at Morgan State University, among other colleges. Wooden will be attending the camp to share his story with the athletes.

“I just want to be a mentor and give them a sense of hope through my story that they can achieve their goals, just how I have,” Wooden said.

There are a variety of drills the HBCU coaches will be going through with the players. The players will get their height and weight measured, clock a 40-yard dash time and compete in additional individual football drills. No matter how well players perform during the drills, Papago Pumas junior college defensive backs coach James McKinley, one of the coaches helping run the camp, said academics will be an emphasis.

“It starts with academics,” McKinley said. “Without your academics, you’re not going to be recruitable.”

Xavier Buckles, who plays quarterback at Williams Field High and will attend the camp, said he’s excited to show the HBCU coaches what Arizona high school football players are able to do.

“I believe that we are a top-five football state in the country,” he said. “They need to come out here and see that a little bit more. Once they do step foot, they’re going to notice the talent right away, and then they’re going to hopefully end up recruiting some of us. And then hopefully that ends up working out at their universities.

“Then they come back, and the cycle continues and we can filter Arizona kids through HBCUs, because I feel like that’d be really good.”

JD DeCausmaker, a Higley High School outside receiver who will also be attending the event, likes the idea of paving the way for future Arizona athletes.

“For me, personally, it’s not just about the chance to showcase my skill on the field, but it’s also breaking barriers and opening doors for student athletes like myself,” DeCausmaker said. “This event’s a game-changer, proven access to historical Black colleges and universities that may not be on the radar for other people.”

After the camp, there will be a networking event for the junior college coaches, high school coaches and HBCUs.

“I’m always looking to continue to educate myself with the game, as far as coaching and different perspectives from different levels of football as well as athletic experience,” McKinley said. “Just to get a feeling of how a school like Howard runs their program. I’m excited to see how they do that.”

For more information about the camp, visit the event website:

Tyler Bednar(he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Tyler Bednar expects to graduate in May 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. Bednar has interned at the Chicago Dogs baseball team in Rosemont, Illinois, and the Miracle League of Arizona in Scottsdale.