Jojo Dickson saw a great need and decided to do something about it.
The former Baldwin High School, the University of Idaho and a professional football player have lobbied to move an ESPN 300 football camp to Maui, and more than a year’s work will bear fruit when the camp takes place in King Kekaulike on July 2 takes place stadium.
“It’s exciting, I mean, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.” Dickson said Saturday. “I think the inspiration goes back to Just Win Camp when I was in high school. I have visited this camp two years in a row and we had a great time.
“I just thought it was so cool to have pretty much the best players in the state there competing and learning. I always wanted to bring something like that back here.”
After graduating from Baldwin in 2007, Dickson was a standout linebacker for the Vandals from 2007 to 2011 and then pursued his dream of playing professional football for more than four years.
He spent time with several NFL franchises on practice groups or off-season rosters, but never hung out for long and never played in an NFL game.
He also signed contracts with teams called the Omaha Nighthawks and Omaha Mammoths.
“Bouncing around for about four years – in that time I’ve played for five different teams. I was with Jacksonville, the Browns, the Jets, the Cardinals and the Chiefs.” said Dickson. “In between I’ve also played in a couple of different leagues – the UFL, the ex-XFL, a couple of leagues that don’t exist anymore, but I went through the wrestlers of the pro leagues and had a tremendous amount of opportunity.
“Unfortunately, it never worked out the way I dreamed it would, but I left feeling relaxed, feeling like I had given it my all and done my best. If it didn’t work out, it didn’t work out. My last team I played for was in Canada – I played for the BC Lions, it wasn’t really much fun, and decided from there that I was going to be done.
When he got home from British Columbia in 2015, he was “I found out my wife is pregnant and I’ve been home ever since.”
Now he and his wife Amber have three daughters – Kailina, 5, Kawela, 3, and Kawai, 3 months.
“I’m outnumbered in this household, I can tell you that.” said Dickson.
Now Dickson runs a training program for local athletes called Dickson Performance. He partnered with The UC Report and ESPN to run the event, dubbed ESPN300 Elite Hawai’i Camp.
“When we come home and realize how little we have, we haven’t seen many camps or clinics along the way.” said Dickson. “I think it’s been like 12 years since the last big football camp and I think at one point it felt almost impossible to do something like that.
“Having COVID and still working with kids during this time, seeing that they’re not in season and very limited in sports and athletics, what kind of toll they were taking, kind of pushed me over the edge, kind of like something to do this.”
The camp is for athletes ages 13 to 17 and fills up, but Dickson intends to make it an annual event.
“I reached out to my old college coach, Rob Akey, for advice – he directed me to his recruiting coordinator, who directed me to The UC Report.” said Dickson. “I reached out to The UC Report, founder and CEO Billy Tucker, and I kind of said to him, ‘We have very little here, but we have a lot of talent, a lot of kids who love to play. I think you could do something special for her.” And he was in favor of it.”
It’s caught the eye of one of the few Maui players currently chasing pro football, USFL Michigan Panthers linebacker Mo Vainikolo, a Maui High grad.
“It’s going to be a camp for the Hawaiian kids — I think it’s probably one of the first big camps Maui had.” said Vainikolo last week. “It’s an ESPN 300 camp, so it’s really good for presentation. I encourage all parents to take their children there.”
The effort started just over a year ago and now it’s a reality.
“Here we are just about to assemble,” said Dickson. “Camp is on July 2nd, so we’re getting the fine details done now. 350 children have registered for it. It’s big business.
“I remembered myself, my former self, my high school me. … Knowing what I know now, if I had that then, what would I want? I want a camp where I can compete with the best but also receive maximum attention. So, that’s exactly what it is.”
Dickson added: “With the new rules, we can’t exactly have college recruiters in private camps. So the UC report is probably the next best thing. They’re an NCAA-compliant recruiting service, they’re the best in the country — they work with 110 Division I schools and about 100 lower-level schools.”
Height, weight, arm length and wingspan are measured. All participants will be outfitted with the latest Under Armor products.
Headshots and profile photos are taken for publication in The UC Reports database and use for espn.com content.
A seminar will be held where all participants will have the opportunity to learn about the recruitment process.
An NFL combine-style test and practice segment will conclude the camp. High-resolution videos are recorded for all practice work and 1-on-1 exercises, which can be evaluated by college coaches.
After the event, the combination results are sent directly to the athlete via a free app. Media representatives from ESPN, Rivals and 24/7 Sports will be present at each event to assess and interview prospects.
“They show how you behave on social media, how you create your highlight tape, what camps you attend and how you go about your business with recruiting.” said Dickson. “I’ve seen profiles they make for other players and they’re some of the most detailed profiles I’ve seen.”
Tom Luginbill, ESPN’s national recruiting director, will be in attendance, Dickson said.
“They do their job, they do it” Dickson said about The UC Report. “They’re great, they’re partners with ESPN, Under Armour, Gatorade. And so not only do the kids get coverage, they are put in direct contact with recruiters, they get to compete.”
* Robert Collias can be reached at [email protected]