Coach sees boon of national game
Friendship Collegiate touts country's No. 2 player, but exposure benefits whole team
Aazaar Abdul-Rahim isn't shying away from high expectations.
The head coach at Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate knows that with a roster full of college football prospects, high hopes are up and down the school halls. So why not embrace them?
"I'm big on just taking one game at a time," Abdul-Rahim said. "We don't really talk about the whole season, but I'd be upset if the season didn't turn out to be a successful one."
That season starts Sunday, when Friendship will take on Cincinnati Taft. The game will be televised live at 11 a.m. ET on ESPNU.
Abdul-Rahim sees benefits galore in the exposure the broadcast will give his program. First, it can help lure players who might want to be a part of a successful program. The television time is also proof that Friendship's football program has arrived despite existing for just eight years. Lastly, it's a nice bonus for Friendship's players after a long, hot summer of workouts.
"Every player isn't going to be able to play in college," Abdul-Rahim said. "Every player isn't going to be able to play on national television. So that's something they can remember the rest of their life."
Still, Friendship has some players who will return to prime time in college, namely five-star prospect Eddie Goldman, who is considered the best defensive tackle in the nation and second-best high school senior overall.
Goldman (6-foot-4, 310 pounds) recently cut his list of prospective schools down to California, Clemson, Auburn, Alabama, Florida State, Miami and Maryland.
Despite the vast amount of attention Goldman continues to receive, Abdul-Rahim describes him as the perfect prospect and, more importantly, the perfect teammate.
"He understands that we build a team environment where there is a time and a place for certain things. He's not going to be pulled out of practice to do interviews," Abdul-Rahim said. "There's never been a time where I thought Eddie needed to concentrate on football. I never thought that once."
Goldman is joined by other prospects such as safety Albert Reid, who is committed to West Virginia, offensive lineman Andre Whitmire, defensive lineman Marquis Rowland and sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor.
Whitmire and Rowland are hoping to up their stock with a strong season. Tabor seems to be a star in waiting. He already has scholarship offers from Tennessee, Maryland, Clemson, South Carolina and NC State.
Abdul-Rahim admits that recruiting easily can be more of a distraction for him than his players. He can help shelter them, but he can't shelter himself.
"It gets pretty old when you put out a list, and coaches continue to call and try to get in," he said.
Still, having talent is a good problem to have.
Friendship, however, isn't just talented; the team is mature. It has 25 seniors on its roster, including seven starters on offense and nine on defense. That's a long way from where Friendship was when Abdul-Rahim saw talent roaming the halls without a dedication to football. With little parental supervision, quitting -- or never trying -- was too easy.
"I would sit in front of the school and beg people to come back in and work out," Abdul-Rahim said.
Abdul-Rahim credits Friendship's football ascension in part to year-round workouts. Those who have followed that path have improved vastly -- namely Goldman.
"Eddie has been in our school since the ninth grade," Abdul-Rahim said. "He's flourished because he's never stopped working out."
Gaffney (S.C.) High head coach Dan Jones also sees plenty of value in playing in the ESPN kickoff weekend. For one, it means less stuffing of envelopes.
"We tell these kids you don't have to worry about sending tapes out for recruiting," Jones said. "I'm sure [college coaches will] tape this broadcast."
Jones also uses the game as a motivational tool during workouts and preseason camp.
"Any incentive you can get to get your kids to play hard, you're going to use that to your advantage," he said.
That's not an issue with Jones' star pupil, receiver Quinshad Davis. At 6-3, 180 pounds, Davis has scholarship offers from several schools. He is primarily considering Wake Forest, NC State, Clemson, South Carolina and Illinois.
Davis recently attended a camp at Georgia. He and Jones were hoping for a scholarship offer soon after, but one never came. Davis will now take it upon himself this fall to show the Bulldogs he is worth an official invite.
He's not the only prospect at Gaffney hoping to pick up scholarship offers. With eight senior starters on defense and six on offense, there's talent at Gaffney -- as usual. Jones hopes Friday's nationally televised game against Roebuck (S.C.) Dorman at 7 p.m. will open some recruiters' eyes to his lesser-known prospects.
"It gives some other coaches outside of this area an opportunity to see them live and against a good opponent," Jones said. "This could catapult them."
Some of those prospects, according to Jones, include junior defensive tackles Rod Oglesby and Jaylen Miller, along with defensive back Marquis Brannon and athlete Shonquille Byers.
"All these kids are trying to make a name for themselves," Jones said, "but mainly they're trying to win the game."
Eddie Goldman's recruiting is going just as his head coach planned.
"I think everything has to be somewhat of a timeline," Abdul-Rahim said. "Especially with elite players; I think you have to map out their schedule."
Those wishing to speculate might see fewer than the seven suitors Goldman recently cited as semifinalists: California, Clemson, Auburn, Alabama, Florida State, Miami and Maryland.
Goldman has spent a lot of time in the South, which would seem to limit California and Maryland's chances. Miami, as has been well documented, is a mess and is losing prospects almost as fast as credibility.
The SEC seems a likely destination for Goldman, but don't rule out Clemson or Florida State. Both schools, especially the Tigers, have only to put the finishing touches on their 2012 classes so they can focus on the few prospects, including Golden, who remain on their board.
Jordan Watkins from College Park (Ga.) Woodward can't be faulted in the least for how he has handled his recruitment. He has patiently whittled down his schools, evaluating every aspect of each college. That's why it's more than a bit surprising that the Florida Gators, who have 17 commitments -- seven of whom are in the ESPNU 150 -- said they weren't sure whether they had room for Watkins.
The move illustrates much of what is wrong with the accelerated pace of football recruiting. Prospects continue to feel the pressure to make early decisions. Is it wrong for Watkins to want to take an official visit before making his choice? Absolutely not.
Now, I'm certainly not ripping Florida. The Gators are playing the game well. However, I will offer a piece of advice. Watkins strikes me as the all-around good-character kid all coaches should want in their program. If there's a small question about his talent (and by all indications, it should be very small), that character should make up for it.
I'll also offer other prospects some advice: Unless you're the elite of the elite, you'd better accept that scholarship offer when you can. Waiting until national signing day or beyond might no longer be an option.
Mad Hatter's method
Using clothing as a means to predict which school a prospect will choose is a mostly fruitless endeavor, but I'll try anyway.
I've never seen College Park (Ga.) Banneker defensive back Chaz Elder in person wearing any hat other than South Carolina. I recently saw a published photo of him wearing a Georgia hat. Never have I seen him in person or in a photo wearing a Vanderbilt hat. He's expected to choose between the three schools Friday.
The four-star prospect has said he'll likely announce his decision on Twitter or Facebook instead of having a news conference. No word on whether headgear will be worn.
Dave Hooker covers Southeast and Atlantic Coast recruiting. He has covered recruiting and college football for more than a decade. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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