- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- The timeline for college football recruiting seems to speed up by the day. Some schools, like Michigan, are now getting nearly all of their commitments from players who just finished their junior year of high school. Other programs are going even younger, with recent reports of oral commitments by 14-year-old eighth-graders.
An insatiable hunger for recruiting information has also turned high school prospects into stars right after they hit puberty. Heck, ESPN.com just recently published its first Junior 300, a listing of the top players in the Class of 2015.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has some major concerns about where this is all going.
"We as a coaching body and the NCAA have got to get a grasp on this, in my opinion, to be able to shift the needle back to what's important," he said at Big Ten media days on Thursday.
The Wildcats already have 13 commitments for 2014. But Fitzgerald remembers receiving his scholarship offer to Northwestern after his senior year of high school. He wonders if recruiting guys before their senior year is the right way to go.
"I'm not saying it's an epidemic, but I've talked to some of my colleagues, and it's almost like their senior year becomes a non-year," Fitzgerald said. "You've got to get them going again fundamentally, things like running through the line. All the little things they worked their butts off doing to be able to get on the radar to be a recruit, all of a sudden they forget those because of the process."
And Fitzgerald is not real happy with what the process is doing for the egos of teenage recruits.
"The glorification of 15-year-old kids is at an astronomical high," he said. "You think about some of these kids that have been jet-setted around the country at 15 and have people telling them how good they are. Then they get to college, and they're going to get their lips knocked off and they're going to fail and they're not going to know how to deal with it. We're spending more time coaching kids how to get through that and how to manage that than we ever have before.
"I was scared when I went to college. I had no idea what to expect. And now, I talk to some of my colleagues, and they're like, 'These guys think they're the best thing ever.'"
Fitzgerald can't avoid recruiting players before their senior year if he wants to field a competitive team. But he says he only has junior-year recruits visit his office on campus, rather than going to see them in their family's living room. And he says he tries to make sure committed prospects don't suffer from senioritis.
"We've got 13 guys going into their senior year, and I've told them, "You don't play for us, but I will be talking to your coach,'" he said. "'And if I find out in any way shape or form that you're not busting your [butt] and giving it everything you've got to be a great leader and a great teammate, you and I are not going to be on very good terms."
Fitzgerald said he envisions the NCAA taking away practice time from college teams, perhaps a reference to Jim Delany's comments about a possible stricter enforcement of the 20-hour rule. That might make high school senior seasons even more important.
"Kids are going to have to develop more in high school than they are right now," Fitzgerald said, "or they are going to be behind when they get to our places."