Changing of the guard

Recruiting moves faster and more furiously today than it ever has before.

You've seen it. Prospects live it.

High school coaches know it. And despite their reservations over the expansion and acceleration of the process, coaches often find themselves helpless against the forces that drive recruiting.

In short, there's little they can do to stop it from spinning too fast.

The rise of offseason events and third-party involvement in addition to the explosion of communication between prospects and everyone in the outside world -- coaches, media, fans -- has left high school coaches in a precarious spot.

The same men who once filled the most important role in the game regularly now find themselves on the outside.

"They've taken the high school coach out of the equation more and more," said Bob Ladouceur, recently retired from coaching at Concord (Calif.) De La Salle after 20 unbeaten seasons in 34 years and a national-record 151-game winning streak from 1992 to 2003. "The high school coach's opinion, I've found, doesn't matter that much anymore."

Ladouceur said he stopped trying to fight the system. After all, he wanted his players to focus on the high school experience, so he steered clear of much involvement in recruiting.

Others keep up the battle.

Despite their waning influence, many high school coaches refuse to relinquish major involvement in helping their players find the right fit in a college.

Roger Harriott, coach of Florida Class 3A state champ Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) University School, said the challenges have grown with so many people competing for the attention of top players. But he manages to stay intimately involved.

Receiver Jordan Cunningham, the nation's No. 107 prospect in the ESPN 150, is among as many as a dozen of Harriott's seniors set to finalize their decisions next week on national signing day.

The coach goes out of his way to stay on top of recruiting. He talks to his players about it often. This month, as college programs rush to complete their classes, Harriott said it was common to find six coaches or more waiting in his office.

"It's a different process now," Harriott said. "Things are more convenient for college coaches. It's easier for kids to get information. It's all taken some of the authority away from the high school coach.

"But it's very volatile in that there are limited parameters on what is ethical or reasonable. Just over the past five years, the recruiting process has become so much more difficult."

What else adds to the difficulty?

Mostly, it involves those outside influences. Harriott said he's encountered every kind, including the most notorious outsiders who have been accused of accepting payment from schools in exchange for the placement of top recruits to whom they have grown close.

"The more exposure a kid can get," Harriott said, "the more opportunity that follows. But I won't get involved with some people who are in it for personal gain."

And then there are the credible third-party influences like quarterback guru Steve Clarkson.

Clarkson often works with players long before high school coaches reach them. He promotes the acceleration of recruiting to such levels that it can entirely remove the high school experience.

Clarkson pupil Tate Martell committed to Washington last summer at age 14 -- before he began high school. Sophomore David Sills of Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian Academy, pledged to USC as a 13-year-old, in large part because of his work with Clarkson.

"I don't like it," Ladouceur said. "My job is to try to give these kids an idea of what it means play on a team -- how to cooperate. Try to give them an authentic experience in dedication and sacrifice and loyalty to your school.

"The recruiting process really hinders that. A kid can become more concerned about himself, where he's going to end up outside of high school."

Omaha (Neb.) Millard North coach Fred Petito said he believes firmly in a coach's participation in recruiting.

Petito coached Eric Crouch before he won the Heisman Trophy at Nebraska and he said he has sent 22 players to the Division-I level over the past nine years. His teams have won four championships in Nebraska's largest class since 2003 and played for three others in the past 11 years.

So he knows a thing or two about coaching success.

"I will go to any extreme to help my kids get to college," Petito said. "That's kind of why we're here. We take a lot of pride in what our kids are doing after they leave this building."

Petito said he'll contact "any college, any time" on behalf of a prospect.

No doubt, recruits are smarter today than 10 years ago, Petito said.

"But I still think the process blows their minds," he said. "They don't have control. With everything else up to this point, they've had control."

For those rare recruits who do, in fact, have control, the high school coach can step aside.

"I found myself just trying to be there," said Houston (Miss.) High School coach William Cook, whose star player, Mississippi State commit Chris Jones, moved from outside the ESPN 300 to No. 46 in the late stages of his senior season.

"A lot of times in recruiting situations like this, the kids find themselves just bombarded. Chris has got a lot of people preaching to him. He didn't need that from me. If he wanted to talk about it, he'd bring it up to me. Other times, we'd talk about everything but recruiting."

If that's what it takes, count Harriott as in.

"Some guys like going fishing," he said. "I like helping kids find a place to play college football."