Chad Kelly had no idea what he was really getting into when he began to visit college football programs unofficially. That process for Kelly, a four-star quarterback from Buffalo (N.Y.) St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute, and his family didn't begin this past spring or summer. No, Kelly began to visit schools and attend college summer camps four years ago.
"As an eighth-grader, I saw Penn State, Ohio State and Georgia and loved all those schools," said Kelly, who is ranked No. 81 in the ESPNU 150 and the No. 5 quarterback in the country. "I wanted to go to all those schools. At the end of the day, I bet I have been to at least 15 schools, including 10 this past season. I visited Clemson twice before committing to the Tigers. It was a hard decision, but getting out helps. The more you see, the easier it becomes."
This past June, there were more commitments (304) to BCS college football programs than this past January (295). To put that in perspective, there were on average 10 commitments to BCS schools every day in June. In June 2002, there were 72 commitments. The next January, there were 470 commitments. In June 2005, there were 112 commitments. Fast-forward to June '10, and there were 185.
Last month, there were 196 commits. Combine that with June, and 500 players committed to BCS programs. So here's the math: There are 66 BCS teams, and on average, they sign 22 players each, or 1,452 players total. So a little more than one-third (34.4 percent) of this year's commitments happened in June and July.
"Those numbers don't really surprise me," said Brian Polian, Stanford's recruiting coordinator and special-teams coordinator. "You knew it was trending in that direction, and I have to say that I am not a fan of it. I think it's because of the influx of the Internet and the attention kids get these days. They are making decisions early. Is it the chicken or the egg because coaches are pushing earlier for commitments? Recruits don't want to be left out in the cold."
With college programs evaluating players and verbally offering scholarships earlier than ever, prospects are keeping up by making unofficial visits much more frequently than in the past. They're going to games in the fall, junior days in the winter and spring. They're watching spring football practices and, of course, camping at the colleges in the summer.
The camps have become the biggest part of a school's recruiting strategy. At these camps, which coaches encourage players to attend, the coaches can evaluate prospects up close and in person as opposed to having to rely strictly on film. Players can see how coaches do things, develop relationships with position coaches, see how the staff works together and learn more about the school itself. It's basically another unofficial visit. Most college camps take place in June and July, and many schools net commitments from their camps. This past February, LSU signed 25 recruits, and 23 had camped with the Tigers.
"The spring and summer months are so critical," said LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson. "At one point they become the communication line because it's the only time you can present your program to that recruit and family. You have to put your best foot forward. Our summer camp is our biggest deal at LSU. It gives the prospect a chance to get coached by our position coach at LSU, to get them out there and instruct them the way we coach, as if they are a part of our program. It gives the kid an opportunity to get to know us as coach, our styles, and teaching methods.
"It's one thing to sit behind the desk and say hello and greet families. It's another to show your craft. To see them here is the most critical thing because you may not ever get them back, especially if they are coming from a distance."
With this comes added pressure in the recruiting process earlier on. Before, it was mainly during the later stages of recruiting. Today, because the entire process is magnified, it creates a heavy burden on all the parties involved.
I would tell future recruits to visit as many schools as you can. You never know what you are going to like. See what's out there. This is the next four or five years of your life. Get out there. The earlier the better, because the pressure of recruiting will hit you.
”-- Clemson QB Chad Kelly
Case in point: Hogansville (Ga.) Callaway's Ricky Parks. Parks, who is No. 72 in the ESPNU 150 and the No. 11 athlete in the country, was one of the most sought after athletes from the Southeast. After unofficially visiting Auburn, Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Georgia Tech, including some multiple times, he sat down with his family and announced his decision in June.
"As a dad, I am so relieved that Ricky committed to Auburn before the start of his senior year," said his dad, Unricky Parks . "There was so much pressure on him, and we really encouraged him to make his commitment before the start of his senior year. We didn't want him to have to deal with any added pressure and hype. We wanted his mind settled on his last year in high school. People need to understand how heavy the recruiting process really is."
Denver Muller four-star ATH Cyler Miles would agree. He once dreamed of announcing on national signing day but soon realized he would never last that long.
"I was kind of new to the process, and at one time I wanted to do the big thing on signing day," Miles said. "I quickly realized that was not going to happen. I didn't want to have to go through the recruiting process through my senior season. I visited Cal, Colorado, Illinois and Washington and decided on making my decision on June 3 and committed to Washington. It was time. No way was I going to deal with that through my last year in high school."
That's the side effect: recruiting just wearing players down. Back in the day, it was in the later stages of the recruiting process. Today, it happens months earlier because the process itself is so accelerated. The official visits have more or less been replaced by the unofficial visit. It's as if all the parties are playing ahead, and the summer months have become equally or more important than January and February.
"I would tell future recruits to visit as many schools as you can," Kelly said. "You never know what you are going to like. See what's out there. This is the next four or five years of your life. Get out there. The earlier the better, because the pressure of recruiting will hit you."
Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting both in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.