Friday, July 27, 2012
What's the big rush?
By Mitch Sherman
The people have spoken. And the response -- from the football community and the public at large -- is overwhelmingly negative to news this week that Washington and LSU offered scholarships to players from the ranks of junior high school.
A SportsNation poll conducted on ESPN.com netted more than 36,000 votes as of Thursday night, with 81 percent labeling it unacceptable for college programs to recruit players who had yet to begin high school.
Coaches at the high school and college levels expressed similar disdain toward the practice after Washington on Wednesday received an oral commitment from quarterback Tate Martell of San Diego and reports surfaced that LSU recently offered linebacker Dylan Moses of Baton Rouge, La.
Both are 14 years old and set to begin eighth grade. Martell and Moses would be eligible to sign letters of intent in 2017.
"I think it's too dang early," said John Walsh, coach of Denton (Texas) Guyer High School, father and former coach of Oklahoma State freshman quarterback J.W. Walsh. "It's way too early, because so many things can change."
J.W. Walsh received his first offer as a high school sophomore. To his dad, that was still too soon.
By the start of his junior year in 2010, Walsh had received offers from Arizona and Kansas, both of which endured coaching changes a year later. The transient nature of college coaching serves as one reason among many, according to several coaches interviewed, to be wary of ultra-early offers.
"I just don't know how you can project someone who hasn't even gotten into high school yet," said Daryl Jones, director of on-campus recruiting at Georgia.
Georgia prioritizes four factors in evaluating prospects: character, athletic ability, academics and the Bulldogs' recruiting needs.
Realistically, it's difficult to evaluate those criteria in looking at a high school sophomore or junior; it's near impossible for an eighth-grader.
Coaches raised other issues, too.
"You just don't know if he is going to be the best by the time he becomes a senior," said an Atlantic Coast Conference coordinator who asked not to be identified. "They know right now that he is better than other eighth-graders. But he still has four more years.
"Does he improve with everyone else? He could show a lot of potential now, but who knows?"
Another assistant coach and recruiting coordinator from a major-college program said his school has not drafted a recruiting board for 2016 or 2017.
"We're still trying to finish the 2013 class," the coach said.
Still, that coach said he understands the temptations to get involved with young players.
"You see kids at camps," he said, "and sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between an eighth-grader and an 11th-grader, if he's 6-2, 200 [pounds]. If a kid like that shows up and runs a 4.46 [40-yard dash], it's going to be hard to pass."
It shouldn't be that hard, said veteran coach Rush Propst of Colquitt County High School in Moultrie, Ga.
"Let the kids be kids," Propst said, "and let them enjoy their high school experience. They have all the time in the world to be a collegiate player down the road.
"I'm not for it. When you're dealing with a 14-year-old kid, he is a kid. For a collegiate coach to offer a kid that young, what's the validity in it? I just don't like where that's going."
Idaho offensive coordinator Jason Gesser, the starting QB at Washington State from 2000 to 2002, said he first played football as an eighth-grader. Even if he began three years prior, the thought of earning a scholarship offer at age 14 would be "insane," he said.
Pressures in college coaching, he said, led to the acceleration of recruiting. Even when college coaches do their homework on high school freshmen and sophomores, Gesser said, it's dicey.
"You start becoming fortune tellers," he said, "and that's when, I think, you start losing some guys."
Others think the early offers are just plain irresponsible. Ted Ginn Sr., longtime coach at Cleveland Glenville, said he grows concerned when a young player receives an offer that it will negatively impact his academics or his work ethic.
"We're living in the microwave world, the ATM world," Ginn said. "It just doesn't work. I'm scared of it."
He said he keeps a close eye on his top prospects. If they don't stay on track in all areas, Ginn said, he'll remove players from the team.
"You can't give kids too much too early," Ginn said.
It's also worth noting, said coach Thomas Wilcher of Detroit Cass Tech, that scholarship offers assure nothing. A promise made to a 14-year-old player can disappear if he fails to progress as expected.
"Colleges will back out of offers," Wilcher said. "They will. That's one thing people need to know; that's one thing kids need to know. They'll offer you today, but if you don't pan out tomorrow, they'll use anything against you that they can think of for why they don't want you."
Wilcher coaches Jayru Campbell, a 2015 QB prospect who received offers as a freshman from Alabama, Notre Dame and Eastern Michigan. Wilcher said he won't discuss recruiting with Campbell until the quarterback's junior season.
Anything earlier is premature, the coach said.
It's a similar story for Jerrod Heard, a class of 2014 quarterback at Denton Guyer, the school that two years ago sent J.W. Walsh to Oklahoma State. Heard, a junior this fall, holds offers from LSU, Nebraska, Baylor, Arizona and Arizona State.
Texas, which declines to offer before the end of a player's junior season, is expected to join the list in February.
"How do you even evaluate the college quarterback traits of a 14-year-old?" said Heard's coach, the elder Walsh. "I think there's so much you can't see at that age. You can see some of the physical stuff by 14, but what you can't tell, really, is the mental process they're going to have going from 14 to 22 years old."
John Walsh said he's pleased that neither of his recent high-profile quarterbacks faced the pressure to commit before learning how to drive.
The way the game is trending, though, Walsh knows that day may arrive.