Commentary

Football is in the Poggi family blood

Updated: June 20, 2009, 7:49 AM ET
By Sheldon Shealer | ESPNRISE.com

When Biff Poggi offers fatherly advice regarding football, Jim Poggi listens.

Biff Poggi
Sheldon ShealerBiff Poggi, who played college ball alongside Dan Marino and Hugh Green, is the head coach at Maryland power Gilman.

After all, the elder Poggi knows what the younger Poggi is going through.

Jim Poggi, an 18-year-old rising senior linebacker at Gilman School (Baltimore), is one of Maryland's top high school football prospects. He held more than 20 major college scholarship offers before committing to the University of Iowa in April.

Biff Poggi, Gilman's head coach, was a major college football prospect 30 years ago and played at the University of Pittsburgh alongside Dan Marino, Hugh Green and Mark May.

"He gave me a lot of advice and he gave me his thoughts on certain people, certain places," Jim said. "But he was very forward in saying, 'This is your career, not mine. I already played. You go wherever you want to go.'"

New age meets old-school

Biff Poggi offers a unique perspective on the recruiting process, with which he has been closely linked for more than 30 years, first as a player, then as a college coach and most recently as a high school coach, attempting to place his best student-athletes.

In a day when combine performances, Internet profiles, recruiting services and five-star recruits are all the rage, Biff remains very old-school when it comes to recruiting, especially when it came to his son.

"The only way you're going to get an offer is the old-fashioned way," Biff said. "No matter what anybody says, you are not going to get one because you can jump high or run fast, or your name is my name, or you play for a good team or a bad team, or because you have a [recruiting profile Web] page or you have a number of stars. You are only getting a scholarship on the body of work you do between the sidelines."

Such was the advice he gave Jim.

"I told him, we could do a dossier for you with height, weight, music, running times, jumping performances, and all that kind of stuff," Biff said. "Eventually college coaches are going to ask for film. And if you have film, the rest doesn't matter."

Jim Poggie
Mike LovedayJim Poggi will be playing for the Hawkeyes next fall.

Jim is the second in a family of five. His older brother, Sam, is a 21-year-old junior football player at Duke University. Henry is a freshman at Gilman. Mellie, the eldest daughter, is 11 and Mary is 6.

Jim said his father's advice was valuable as he made his way through the recruiting process.

"He told me the whole time what I'd have to expect when I get [to college] and not to go through it like, 'Hey, I'm getting college paid for and now I'm going to have a good time.' He reminds me that I'm going to work hard. Every cent of that scholarship will be worked for."

Changing scenery

Biff was a 1979 graduate of Gilman, and was one of four players in his senior season to receive college football scholarships. Tom Booker went to Wisconsin, Joe Carroll to Wake Forest and Ned Finney to Delaware. Biff chose Pittsburgh, which was only three years removed from a national title.

He said the recruiting process was much different 30 years ago.

"We didn't think about getting recruited. We thought about playing football," Biff said. "And we thought if we were good enough we might get a chance to go to college and play. The recruiting process was not the enormous industry that it is now.

"The recruiting process was incredibly linear back in those days," he added. "It was between the college coach, the high school coach and, if there was a high school kid who was good enough, then the kid. There was really no parent involvement in it all. And you trusted your high school coach completely."

Biff added that there were no unofficial visits, recruiting camps or combines.

"The way you got recruited back then was on film," he said. "And there was no such thing as a highlight film. Nobody wanted to see a highlight film. They wanted to see a game tape.

"It was all about playing," he added. "No one ever asked what your 40-yard dash was or your vertical leap. There was no such thing as a three-cone drill. It was completely football players playing football."

After a short career at Pittsburgh, he ended up in the college coaching ranks -- first at Brown University, followed by stints with The Citadel and one spring with Temple.

As a college coach, his focus was on film.

"We wanted to see a game film, and we knew within 10 feet of film whether or not that was a player we wanted," he said.

Today, Biff sees recruiting as an industry.

Although he has a staff member who specifically handles recruiting, Biff has dealt with it first-hand as head coach at Gilman. Gilman alumni include current NFL defensive end Victor Abiamiri and former Notre Dame defense back Ambrose Wooden.

"Somebody the other day sent me a link to a Web site that offers, for a fee, to package your child so he can get into private [high] schools. Then wants to continue that relationship with you and package the kid to get you a [college] football scholarship. It's big business with camps, combines and Web sites."

Focusing on one

Gilman has been a perennial top 20 Maryland high school program during Biff's tenure as head coach, twice finishing ranked No. 1 in the state.

It has also become a must-stop on the college coaching circuit.

But when college coaches started to court his son, Biff said it was different than dealing with it as a coach.

"It's different when it's your own child," he said. "I can say things to that child I probably can't say another kid."

"One other thing we tried to say [to Jim] was do not get caught up in all of this stuff," Biff said. "Because if you are lucky enough to get one scholarship offer anywhere, then you are lucky enough to be one-tenth of one percent. You still have to go make that team. You are just some high school kid who happens to be a decent football player in a population of hundreds of thousands of high school football players across the nation. You still gotta go make that team. The actual getting of a scholarship offer is simply the beginning. It's the foothills of the mountain."

Biff taught Jim what to look for during his college visits.

"There's fluff in the recruiting process," Jim said. "You don't get to see the real side of people very often. When I went to a school to find out about the place and the coaches and the people, the best guy to ask isn't necessarily the starting middle linebacker. It's the guy who doesn't play very much. You ask him how Coach treats him and how he likes it. If that guy says it's a great place, then it's a good place with good people."

Jim got that vibe at the University of Iowa and committed, despite holding offers from Ohio State, Texas and Nebraska, along with nearly every ACC and Big 10 school.

Biff feels Jim has handled the recruiting process well.

"I think he has allowed himself to do a little more surfing the Internet and looking at blogs he's on than I would have liked him to have done," Biff said. "But I understand he's a kid. If I was to grade it as 10 being over the top and 1 being not over the top, Jim is a 4. I'd prefer him being a 1, but there's a lot of things I prefer with my children that don't happen."

Being a father

When it comes to Jim and football, Biff -- the parent -- harbors some concern. After all, his own career was cut short by a knee injury.

"I'm very proud of him to go play at the University of Iowa in the Big 10 in those national surroundings. I'm also nervous too. It's a long way from home and he's a kid. … I'm still worried, is he good enough? Will he fit in? Will he perform to the best of his ability?

"Will he look at it as a marathon and not a sprint? Will his goals be to get a redshirt, get his feet on the ground, work a couple of years and play as a junior and senior? If he has those kind of goals, that's great. I don't think those are his goals. He wants to play right away. I worry, as a dad, is he good enough to do it?"

Biff said he is extremely proud of his son, not only as a football player, but also as a person.

"Jim was born a very sensitive, kind and compassionate kid. In school, Jim is the guy who's always hanging the guys who are, maybe, not considered the cool guys. Jim's role in life is as a mediator."

"As a player, Jim is a bona fide Division I football player, but he acts like he's got to earn it every day. If you didn't know it or didn't know him, you'd never know any of that [high-stakes recruiting] happened to him. As a coach, I really appreciate that. And as a dad, I'm really proud of that."

Sheldon Shealer covers high school sports for ESPNRISE.com. He can be reached at Sheldon.Shealer@espn.com .