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.