BENNINGTON — Mount Anthony football player Jacob Harkins is on a mission this week to make himself better.
Starting today, Harkins, a rising junior at MAU, will participate in the USA Football national development camp, hosted at Towson University in Maryland.
Harkins was one of three Mount Anthony players, along with Will Fischer and Blake Carey, to try out for the national spot at a regional USA Football camp in Boston. When the camp was done, Harkins was chosen to move on to the next level in Maryland.
"It's one of the biggest honors you can get, it shows all the hard work and dedication can pay off," said Harkins on Monday traveling south. "And it's not just, 'Oh, someday it will pay off, it's paying off now.' This is why I get up at 7 a.m. to run or lift weights, the ultimate goal is this."
Harkins and the hundreds of attendees at the regional camp were all tested in combine-style drills, such as the 40-yard dash. Harkins, who stands about 6 feet tall and weighs just shy of 300 pounds, ran a 5.95 40, one of the top times for offensive linemen.
"It's a great showcase to show yourself to college coaches," Harkins said. "It's what separates you from everyone else. Do you do everything they ask? You try to do everything you can to get better."
Players that are chosen from the Maryland camp will be a part of the USA Football development team, a step down from the main USA football group, mostly made up of high school seniors.
Each level faces a Canadian team annually in an International Bowl.
"It's a cool system they have that really promotes football throughout the world and shows people that football is safe," said MAU coach John Martin.
Over the five days of the camp, players will be in full pads for a week of practice, culminating in a game on Saturday that is live-streamed over the internet and attended by dozens of college coaches.
"It's cool to compete with guys from [football] states like Georgia, Texas and Florida," Harkins said. "It can open your eyes and remind you there's always someone better than you out there."
Harkins and his family started a donation page online to raise the money to send Jake to the camp.
"The support from the community has been awesome, there were plenty of donations from local businesses," Harkins said. "I would go to places and they would [give] right on the spot."
Martin said the event gives players like Jake a chance to show off their skills despite coming from a smaller state with not as much football pedigree as the southern states.
"As a coach, it's great to have something that promotes our athletes and show that Vermont has some pretty good football players," Martin said.
Martin nominated Harkins to attend the regional camp and has been a proponent as soon as Martin came to Bennington a couple of years ago.
"I've known Jake since he played football in eighth grade, I coached at the middle school," Martin said. "He's a great representative of Bennington and Mount Anthony and he'll be a good ambassador of football in general."
Harkins has been working this summer to get ready for not only this trip, but for the high school season. Practice begins for MAU on August 15 and the first game of the season is September 2 against Middlebury.
"Jake has always been a hard worker in the weight room, he knows that you can't just come out in the fall and expect to have success, it requires a lot off the field," Martin said. "He's accountable for himself and being a part of what we're doing [at MAU]."
Martin said the opportunity can be life-changing if it's done the right way.
"Football can help you open doors," Martin said. "There's a lot of other things to walk through those doors, but at least it can open them. It's a great opportunity to see coaches and players from all over and the initial step is having that opportunity."