MUST READ: Outside influences have found their way into high school football

For the past couple decades, high school football has largely been shielded from the damaging effects of “club” or “travel” teams that have plagued other sports and rendered playing for the hometown team nearly meaningless.

There was a intrinsic protective layer that football had unlike other sports because there’s simply no way to mimic the actual game without throwing on pads and helmets and lining up 11 guys to go against 11 other guys.

Until now, that is.

No, nobody is playing full-contact football games in spring. Yes, the best way for college coaches to evaluate players still remains watching their game films from fall. But things are definitely changing.

The proliferation of specialized offseason training by private coaches and privately run 7-on-7 teams are starting to become a bigger and bigger part of the recruiting process. And these private coaches are starting wield even more power and influence than anyone previously thought. As we’ve seen in sports like basketball and baseball, as goes the recruiting process so goes the hearts and minds of athletes and their parents.

Earlier this week in these pages we showed you how and why a private coach like Traison Lewis of “Body By Tra” has exploded in popularity among prep football players. What we didn’t show was the potentially damaging effects that a powerful entity like a Body By Tra 7-on-7 team can have on the sport.

Several prominent high school coaches were contacted for the story on Lewis and Body By Tra, but none of them wanted their comments made public. Sure, the parts where the coaches spoke in generalities about specialized training could have been used. But nothing specifically related to Body By Tra was for public consumption.

Why is that? Are the coaches fearful of repercussions from parents who send their kids to training outfits like Body By Tra? There may be something to that.

No matter one’s opinion of Lewis or other specialized trainers and private 7-on-7 team owners, there’s no denying the success of their businesses are directly linked to the amount of top recruits who they help get scholarships. Read that last line again.

Fact is, Lewis and others like him have become very powerful players in the recruiting process, and thus the overall sport. In some cases, even more powerful than a high school head coach himself. We weren’t joking when we used the line “power player” about Lewis. Anybody who has NINE! players who received scholarships playing on ONE! 7-on-7 team, as Lewis did in 2012, is a very powerful person.

Therein lies the problem for high school coaches. Private coaches like Lewis are gaining steam in the hearts and minds of athletes and parents because they are often viewed as bigger advocates for Lil Johnny’s scholarship cause than his own high school coach. Read that last line again, also.

Then there’s the whole matter of undue influence. Lewis has severed all ties to high school coaches as far as his own staff is concerned. The damage has been done, though. Prior to Lewis making that move, there was a long list of Body By Tra athletes who in recent years left their schools and transferred to Upland where one of Lewis’ assitant coaches was reportedly on staff as, get this, “college recruiting coordinator”.

Lewis isn’t stupid. He knows antics like that will lead the powers-that-be, i.e. CIF, to come down so hard and fast on his business that he’ll be watching in the stands like the rest of us if it keeps up. But he has bigger fish to fry. Lewis has a burgeoning business and a growing brand in the recruiting world.

Ten years ago, I would never be standing on a sideline covering a game, have someone approach and tell me “watch out for No. 21, he’s gonna be a good one” … unless that person was No. 21’s parent or some faculty member at the school.

These days, it happens almost every Friday night. And when I ask around about who the guy that whispered in my ear was, the answer almost always is something like “oh, that’s his 7-on-7 coach”. If it’s happening to me, imagine how many college coaches’ ears a guy like Lewis is getting in.

If you need any help with that, I will leave you with this thought. The day Lewis was interviewed for his story, he told me he had just gotten off the phone with a coach at Alabama who wanted him to bring a convoy of Body By Tra players to Alabama to participate in a camp. The same thing supposedly happened earlier with Tennessee.

College coaches aren’t allowed to attend private 7-on-7 tournaments, but media recruiting services are. Somehow, both the college coaches and media recruiting gurus know Lewis’ name. And now you do, too.

You’ll have to decide whether that’s a good thing.

  • The stands

    There’s an obvious market that Mr. Lewis has tapped and as long as athletes and parents are willing to pay for his services, he and others like him are here to stay. Perhaps this is the natural evolution of the recruiting process now. What did everyone expect? And that he’s feared by coaches is shameful.

    • MonkeyWrench

      Aram you be missing da main point. Dez companies are not getting kidz schollies or exposure. Dez kids be gettin dez companies schollies and exposure. What BBT and others be doing is heavly recruit D1 scholarship guys to play on theier 7 on 7 teams fo free so the can charge high premiums to da the kids who have dreams that will never be realized. You be thinking a 6’4 starting QB from Santa Margaritia Trinity League needed BBT…funny stuff. That QB hasn’t paid a dime to BBT. On da otha hand has da Gomez QB from WestCo paid…. of course he has. This is a business built on exploiting kidz there aint not value added service and introduce imporoper teaching from unqualified people. Next thing you you know these companies will be preying on da elderly….oh wait BBT does that to.

      • Mean Joe Green

        Yikes!! When you put it like that……..

      • Mean Joe Green

        I thought long and hard about your comments Monkey and I have to say this. There is at least one positive point about it. It keeps a lot of kids busy. Also, there is a very noticeable performance difference during Spring practice between those kids who participated in 7v7 and those who did not. Although there is the risk of off season injuries, the 7v7 and camp circuit keeps these kids fine tuned all year long. During Spring practice, the kids who were in 7v7 tournaments and camps are running circles around those kids who have been sitting on their arses and eating bon bons over the past few months. The real question I think is should a kid even being playing football all year round? Who knows. The other sports seem to think so. Why not football?

        • MonkeyWrench

          7 on 7 has value fo sure but under the right conditions with qualified coaches. Dez companies have dez kidz playing win at all cost football in spring because dare companies need bragging rights fo marking. in da mean time kidz are getting hurt and big big fights have broken out at 3 of last 4 big touneys. It’s totally outta control. Yes companies like BBT can do what day want but parents and newspapers should not be dupped into think they are da answers with power to impact a kidz destiney. Show me a occassion where a playa got a schollie they didn’t earn then I be giving credit for being powerful.

          • Why Not

            I’ll give you a kid who blew up on the 7 on circuit but it didn’t translate to a great senior year. Erik Brown from Summit got all kinds of hype for his play on the Ground Zero team last summer.
            He got invited to the prestigious Nike Opening (the Mecca for all high school players) as well as offers from the likes of Norte Dame to Ucla. His offer list blew up but his game didn’t transfer from the passing tourney hype train.

        • OuttaYourMindTrib

          Football year round. I don’t think so. There’s a reason the PRO football players don’t support expanding the season even 2 more games and it’s not laziness. Football is a BRUTAL sport. Guys play on Sunday, many(depending on position) are not “right” until Thursday or Friday. The body just can’t take that kind of prolonged abuse. If they start going pads year round, you’ll see the effects on Friday Nights almost immediately, within 3 years on Saturdays and within 5 on Sundays. And it won’t be pretty. We’ll read story after story of promising kid after promising kid having a career ending injury in the middle of February for nothing.

          I’m all for the 7 on 7 to help guys stay in shape though. work on routes, timing, etc… It’s a reasonable way to sharpen the skill guys up in the offseason.

          • Mean Joe Green

            I agree with you Outta. By year round football, I meant year round participation in the sport, not year round hitting in pads.

      • Scout

        Exactly. To compare 7 on 7 to the other travel sports is laughable. Football is a violent sport that cannot be properly scouted in a 7 on 7 setting. The other sports are actually playing the games they are being recruited to play. College football is not basing it’s judgments on t-shirt and shorts. Kurt Scoby didn’t earn a scholarship because of his work for BBT, he earned it by the film he produced for CO his sophomore year, and his ability to qualify academically. If you look at the Whitfield’s and Clarkson’s of the world, they operate in very much the same way. Tie their reputation to a few high profile prospects they train pro bono, and make your money on the parents who are willing to pay a premium price to see their child work with the Gurus. There aren’t enough D1 level athletes to make this a viable business. It only works by exploiting the masses who have a false sense of what a high level recruit actually looks like.

      • Valley Athletics

        I was thinking the same thing . Just like in any other year round travel team .BBT for example has its elite team And a couple more teams with the kids who pay big bucks . If you follow BBT on twitter , they announce Congrat players who get offers with a tweet without saying what high school they play at . Only that they play for BBT . Like you stated , the elite players are being used to draw in more players and probably are given free services . B2G is probably the biggest , they have a total of 4 teams with there B2G five star team being the main team with Brady white as there Qb .

  • reality

    The sad thing about this is that the innocence and joy of sport is being lost at a younger and younger age. Adults with questionable ethics and backgrounds roam the sidelines from JAA football to little baseball trying to find nice little nuggets of gold. Kinda like pimps at bus stations. Ten year old boys can no longer excel for the pure joy without a mom, dad or wannabe coach whispering in their ear about how great they are and if you push you might just be a zillionaire. Our society is now driven solely by the dollar and if you only want to play sandlot or for your neighbor hood team and you are good then there is something wrong with you. You are not maximizing your potential. The NBA and NCAA have lost their way already chasing money and now the 10-16 year old kid is being pushed in the same direction. Maybe players from BA and Upland should demand to be paid as well, seeing as they make their schools money by attendance and publicity.

    • Nomoredrama

      Wow, someone sounds bitter…..

  • no-step

    Mr. Lewis is a smart man. He saw a business opportunity here and jumped on it. It’s the American Way! However you want to think of it, he’s cornered a market and it won’t be long before others will jump on the band wagon.

    • Nomoredrama

      Exactly, and so what if parents and kids choose to use his services to better equip themselves for the next level. I don’t have sons, I have daughters, and my oldest daughter played travel softball, and took private batting lessons and it all paid off. Through travel ball and her batting coach she received a 5 year full scholarship, has 2 NCAA Conference Championship rings as a player, 1 as an assistant coach, and her degree in Physical Education. She is now an educator.
      I am all for parents doing whatever it takes to assist their children in becoming the best they can be, because at the end of the day, whether the child goes on to the next level in sports or just has the unique experience of being a part of a team sport, life lessons are learned, be it good or bad.
      Good Luck to All!

      • Don

        Looks like a some miss the point that Aram and a couple others are trying to make: the concern isn’t with how much influence these “trainers” have over college recruiting. Coaches who make recruiting decisions already have established criteria for measuring player’s talents and suitability and the word of a guy outside of their system is really of limited value.

        The concern some of these self promoters pose comes from the messes they can cause to high school teams and athletes when they use their influence to convince the kid’s family to move the player around looking for programs and coaches who will “feature” his talents, “showcase” his skills, and give him that which is so desired by sports mommies and daddies everywhere, “exposure”.

        On the other side, the promoter presents himself to the coach as an ongoing source of higher end talent than that available to the team already. An outside the system influencer of families looking for more than their local school can promise. More hope, if you will. Some have no problem with this, others, many of whom dislike any transfers or school moves of any sort, find these influencer’s detestable. Either way, they are game changers just the way the AAU/Club/Travel/Elite teams/organizations/coaches have changed forever baseball, softball, volleyball, basketball, and soccer.

        Just like in the other sports, the real winners won’t be the players or the teams, it’ll be the promoters, the guys getting paid for real and perceived services. Just like all of the other sports, there are way more kids training “for the next level” than there are spots for them to fill. Those mommies and daddies will continue to write the checks though, continue to hustle their little superstar all over so they can get the “exposure” they know they need.

  • Mean Joe Green

    There are many reasons why good athletes do not get great exposure. Social media and 7v7 have changed the game. No athletes who would have never gotten a second look by a college are now on the radar of many programs due to self marketing and the marketing efforts of 7v7 programs. These programs are a great way to gain exposure for athletes whose highlight tapes do not tell the whole story. It also allows colleges (although they cannot attend) a second look at an athlete, because all of his 7v7 highlights are now on the web. Unfortunately, when money is involved you will always find unsavory, nefarious types lurking about. Let’s no throw out the baby with the bath water simply because there are a few bad apples. 7v7 is the natural evolution of youth football. Head coaches can continue to remain silent on the issue, or find a way to create a happy partnership. Let’s be honest, if Johnny B. Goode is filling stadium seats and bringing in college recruits, I am sure no coaches will be complaining too much.

  • Don

    Aram,

    Good stuff, deep drilling’ makes the blog way more fun than reading press releases from Jaime or watching video from some kid’s mom.

    Now, I want more:

    “High School Confidential, Show Me the Money”

    “Dirty Little Secret, Why Nobody Defends the Wing T”

    “Show Me the Donuts, What Really Goes On At Re-Leaguing Meetings”

    “Who Has the Most Shameful Home Field?

    “Where Did All of These Chubby Cheerleaders Come From?”

    OK, maybe not the last one. Keep up the good work.

    • Mean Joe Green

      HA!!

    • AramT

      Classic Don! As always.

  • Math Rat

    Lewis can spin it anyway he wants, but here is the thing. The colleges are hosting 7-on tourney’s to evaluate players on their campus. It’s a step past the eyeball test. But remember…you can be all bad@ss you want in 7-on but the real thing is the true test.

    He can bring a contingent if they allow all-star teams. From a scouting perspective, it’s a lot better than trying to get one high school team there to watch maybe one player. So in the end….it’s not like he tapped into something special or unique.

    If you want a fast and real eval, go to a full-contact 1-day or 2-day camp with the same college. You save money and time.

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