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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

All Northwest Campers Cradle Lofty Aspirations

From a simple phone call 22 years ago to a full-page spread in the GameDay program for National Football League games.

The All Northwest Football Camp has become the focal point for what is being dubbed the cradle of quarterbacks.

Not bad for a couple of high school coaches with an idea.

Shorty Bennett was coaching in Ellensburg and his friend, Mac Bledsoe, was at Kittitas back in the days when there was just one football camp in Washington.

“I told Mac, ‘You’re quite good at coaching receivers, I know a little about quarterbacks. We really ought to do something,”’ Bennett said.

To draw attention to the first camp, planned for Coeur d’Alene, they figured they needed a big-name quarterback and receiver. Big names at that time were quarterback Jim Plunkett, the Stanford Heisman Trophy winner who had been drafted by the Boston Patriots, and receivers Paul Warfield of Miami and Fred Biletnikoff of Oakland.

Plunkett was a quick yes because the camp was in the Northwest. Warfield said he’d call back, so the call went to Biletnikoff.

“Fred heard Coeur d’Alene was like Lake Tahoe … so he came,” Bennett said.

The camp went so well it’s now in its 22nd year at Whitworth, fourth in Alaska and first in New England.

But that’s jumping ahead.

Plunkett and Biletnikoff enjoyed themselves so much at the first camp they returned as it was moved to Whitworth, and Biletnikoff brought quarterback and teammate Ken Stabler.

“They liked what we did with kids, what the camp stood for,” Bennett said. “The whole thing is, we are a really good camp.”

The next year the Seahawks began training in Cheney, and quarterback Jim Zorn was added to the lineup. That led to unknown receiver named Steve Largent a year later.

And, as they say, the rest is history.

Defensive backs came in the third or fourth year, with Seahawk Kenny Easley the attraction. Now it is a complete team camp.

This year’s headliner, who for obvious reasons never missed the camp, is Drew Bledsoe of the Patriots. Also in the lineup are Jets running back Pat Chaffey and Denver offensive lineman Brian Habib.

The first camp alum to make the big time was Clint Didier of Connell and Portland State. Since then, the Northwest has produced close to 20 quarterbacks with ties to the area, including John Friesz, Mark Rypien and Timm Rosenbach.

“Drew has drawn a lot of attention to the camp,” Bennett said. “He talked about it in Sports Illustrated. Mac and Drew introduce me as the guy Drew grew up in his camp and taught him to throw. That’s nice of them.”

Bledsoe is the reason the camp is headed for the Boston area and what prompted a New England television story to produce an hour-long documentary on the making of a quarterback last summer.

“The signature is quarterbacks and receivers … and it’s all at a high level,” Bennett said. “Team camps are everywhere. Ours has remained essentially a fundamental and skills camp.”

There are 2 hours of theory in the classroom each day. On the field, quarterbacks are introduced to a large number of drops and reads - “all the things the pros are doing, we teach them,” Bennett said.

The Whitworth camp is June 25-29. Cost is $295. Info: (509) 467-7422.