Isolated college coaches, players deal with change in recruiting landscape
Saturday, March 28, 2020 | 3:06 PM
When it’s time to get serious about next football season, Ethan Carr will get down on the floor and do a series of push-ups and sit-ups, followed by some challenging pull-ups.
Then, he might open the front door and run through the mostly deserted streets of Harrison City.
It is a workout an ambitious 50-year-old might tackle. But Carr, a junior at Penn-Trafford, has his eyes on the starting quarterback job this fall and a college scholarship in 2021.
Not that Carr — or any other high school athlete these days — has a choice. The coronavirus stopped the PIAA basketball playoffs before champions were crowned and postponed all spring sports for the foreseeable future.
Practice, workouts with teammates and what Carr calls “crucial bonding time” have been shelved.
Add to the list of covid-19 victims recruiting season, already truncated with everyone — coaches, players and parents — in isolation.
Carr has postponed trips to Kent State, where he has a scholarship offer, and Penn State. When the school year ended, he had hoped to camp at Pitt and, perhaps, Penn State, but no one knows if those events will happen.
“I had a lot of big visits coming up here, a lot of junior days coming up,” he said. “Schools that I wanted to go to and check out. It definitely affected me, but I’m still thinking positive.”
At nearby Gateway High School, linebacker Derrick Davis faces a different dilemma.
The No. 4 prospect in Pennsylvania, Davis said he had visited Pitt, Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan. He canceled trips to Clemson and Georgia and is considering offers from USC, Miami and defending national champion LSU. He is in no rush to publicly name his favorites, but he could do so this summer.
“(The coronavirus) pushed everything back, but I’m not going to let it take a big toll on me,” Davis said. “Being at home, I finally got to sit down and see what coaches are talking to me the most. I’m just blessed to have options to pick from.”
In keeping with social distancing, the NCAA has banned all in-person recruiting until at least April 15. Gateway coach and athletic director Don Holl said he has taken calls from college coaches working from home.
“You could hear kids running around in the background,” he said.
Penn-Trafford’s John Ruane pointed out, “This makes last season’s film more important than normal, probably.”
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“Everyone is really upset about the situation,” said Adam Friedman, East Coast recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. “But it’s not like there’s something they could have done about it. There are bigger fish to fry nationally.”
Spring is usually a so-called quiet period in recruiting when in-person contact is allowed but limited to college campuses. Typically, spring games are important events, with schools inviting their top prospects. Then, in June, schools hold camps that are breeding grounds for offers and verbal commitments.
“They get a bunch of kids on campus, and guys like me are running around and doing videos of kids and tweeting out stuff and putting things on Instagram and driving everybody crazy,” said Todderick Hunt, senior college football recruiting analyst for NJ.com. “It’s an exciting time on these campuses throughout the month of June, specifically. You see a lot of schools surge.”
Pitt has been especially productive, getting 30 verbal commitments in its past three classes during May and June.
West Virginia coach Neal Brown has tried to stay positive, pointing out his staff has had time for more contact with recruits through social media, text messaging and phone calls, all of which are permitted.
“Multiple phone calls, Facetime calls, doing those at a higher rate,” Brown said. “Communication is probably moreso.”
There is also the possibility of virtual campus tours, even if Penn State coach James Franklin is reluctant to embrace it.
“To be honest with you, I think we have a great building, and I don’t necessarily want (other schools) to know what we have in our buildings,” he said. “l know that’s what we do. We steal ideas from other people.”
He does like Facetime, however.
“It’s one thing to call a player,” he said. “It’s another thing to be able to get on Facetime and be able to interact and smile and see each other.”
But visits to campus often seal the deal, with many coaches using their face-to-face communication skills to woo players and their parents.
“Commitments usually come during visits,” Hunt said.
He hopes prospects can get more time to take visits, if and when the coronavirus restrictions eventually loosen.
“Is it necessarily fair for them to make a decision on a school that they haven’t been to,” he said. “I would be surprised if something isn’t done to allow these kids the opportunity to fully look into their options.”
One result might be more prospects waiting until February to sign letters of intent.
Since the NCAA created an early signing period in December three years ago, an increasing number of prospects have taken advantage of it. The percentage went from 72.8 the first year, 85.2 in 2018 and 88.6 last December.
“The timing will be interesting to watch,” Hunt said, “and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more kids take a little bit more time and see that onus back on February at least for this specific year, like it used to be.”
Of course, recruiting could be moot if the coronavirus threatens what really matters: the games.
ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit said on ESPN Radio he would be shocked to see college or NFL seasons this year.
“Just because from what I understand, people that I listen to, you’re 12 to 18 months from a vaccine,” Herbstreit said. “I don’t know how you let these guys go into locker rooms and let stadiums be filled up and how you can play ball.
“Next thing you know, you got a locker room full of guys that are sick. And that’s on your watch? I wouldn’t want to have that.”
Hunt said the thought has crossed his mind.
“If we don’t have a vaccine until December, how can we play football … and potentially infect one another?
“(The year) 2020 has already (been bad), anyway. That would just about finish it off.”
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