The high school football class of 2011 is in the early stages of the steep climb to its zenith in the internet college recruiting sphere, but most collegiate coaches are already honing in on the class of 2012.
The majority of the scouting has been done prior to one’s senior season, according to recruiting analyst Randy Taylor of the National Collegiate Scouting Association. All that’s left are details like, say, colleges issuing their remaining coveted scholarship offers and waiting with bated breath as rabid fan bases anticipate who will tilt the landscape of college football in February with their school selections.
“I’ve already got a couple of players on my list for the class of 2015,” said Taylor, a former college football coach who was most recently the director of football operations for UCLA and Minnesota. “The coaches are done with the class of 2011 except for maybe looking at a few sleepers.”
Thanks to an ever-growing infusion of media-blanketed summer camps, the technologically eased production and distribution of game film and a new generation of high school coaches educated in player promotion, the last five years have transformed recruiting as we know it. So accelerated is the process that colleges are forced to issue many of their scholarship offers prior to a player’s senior year or risk losing him.
“Most of the college coaches I talk to don’t like the system, but it’s keeping up with the Joneses,” Chino Hills High School football coach Derek Bub said. “If you don’t make the offer, someone else will and where does that leave you?”
Offers prior to one’s senior year were unheard of while Bub was on his way to a college football career out of Phoenix’s Paradise Valley High School. Bub’s most prized recruit at Chino Hills, senior-to-be defensive back Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, fielded eight offers from the Pac-10 alone during the spring. Everybody else is playing catch-up.
“It feels good to have that many people interested in me already,” said Ekpre-Olomu, rivals.com’s 11th-rated cornerback in the nation. “Of course I’m still hoping for some more offers. I’m hoping for USC and UCLA.”
With scholarship offers for each player documented on Websites like rivals.com, scout.com and ESPN.com, coaches can no longer sell recruits their old pick-up lines. With a few clicks of the mouse, each player can see who he is competing with at each position at each school.
Ekpre-Olomu regularly checks the recruiting Websites for exactly that. The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder who has practically played every position aside from lineman at Chino Hills — Boise State wants him as a running back, Arizona State as a receiver — has already run the gamut of camps this summer. He went to the UCLA and USC camps before attending Nike camp and Rising Stars camp at USC.
Though there were no college coaches in attendance, the media present are the ones who have driven the changes in recruiting. The camps are a less effective vehicle for a national recruit the stature of Ekpre-Olomu but a strong showing can put a relatively unknown player on the map over night via the internet.
“Ninety percent of the players that get seen, it’s because they’re proactive and they get out to camps and get their highlight tapes out,” Rick Kimbrel, rivals.com West Coast recruiting editor, said. “If you don’t get out and compete and get written about, you’re behind the kid just as talented as you that did.”
An NCAA rule limiting the number of in-person player evaluations leaves the summer camp circuit largely devoid of college coaches. Thus the scouting falls into the hands of the media. Some college coaches openly rely on recruiting Websites as a compass at the very least, though many deny the credibility of the information flowing through the world wide web.
“If you talk to coaches, they’ll say they don’t care what we think,” said Greg Biggins, the West Coast recruiting analyst for ESPN.com. “But we’ve heard a million stories about a kid who gets 50 letters after he does well at a camp. They like to say they rely on their own guys but I guarantee they’re reading the coverage.”
Aside from camps, highlight videos are the fastest growing recruiting vehicle. While game film is nothing new, the production has changed drastically. Upland High School assistant football coach Mike Esquivel spent three and a half weeks splicing together quarterback Josh Nunes’ highlight tape after his sophomore season four years ago — 34 scholarship offers later he landed at Stanford in 2009 — but what took Esquivel nearly a month then now takes 15 minutes thanks to the leap in technology.
Esquivel is part of a growing contingent of high school football coaches he believes is still sorely lacking — the recruiting coordinator. The public relations and marketing major at Cal Poly Pomona pieces together resumes, transcripts, highlight tapes, media coverage and even personal information all in a tidy packet to distribute to college coaches. He has developed a network of media contacts in the recruiting world through which to promote players.
“I’m sort of part of a new era of coaches who know about internet camps and promotion and how important it is,” Esquivel said. “It’s a full-year thing. When everybody says ‘Aren’t you glad football season is over?’ It’s just beginning for me.”
Esquivel’s reputation has grown such that he receives requests for recruiting assistance from players throughout the Inland Valley. The evidence is growing: the Upland football class of 2009 received a total of 63 scholarship offers. Esquivel’s biggest concern as he sees area players with Pac-10 talent cling to hope for Division II scholarships is the lack of people like him.
“You hear coaches saying ‘The school pays me to coach, not help in other areas like promoting players to colleges. That’s not my job, That’s the parents job,’” Esquivel said. “I cringe when I hear that.”