How early is too early for colleges to recruit kids for football?
Or is there even such a thing as being too early in the highly-competitive world of college recruiting? Everybody is looking for an advantage.
This past weekend, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier turned heads by offering a scholarship to one of the top middle school players from the Atlanta area. The future star is Dominick Blaylock, the son of former NBA All-Star Mookie Blaylock, and he’s an eighth grader at Cobb County’s Dickerson Middle School.
As awkward as it seems, colleges making scholarship offers to kids prior to high school is a growing trend in football recruiting. LSU made national headlines last March for accepting a commitment from a Texas quarterback who was in the eighth grade. The Florida Gators offered an Orlando middle schooler a couple of weeks ago.
How early is too early to recruit a kid? We asked some of the nation’s top college coaches within the last few weeks.
Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze: “I’m going to answer it two ways. I think offering kids (in middle school or the ninth grade) is way too early, but I will be guilty of doing the same thing because it’s the world we’re in. Does that make sense? If I had my choice, I’d say we don’t offer anybody until after the completion of his junior football season. That would be my preference. I’ve been a high school coach, and I’ve talked to the high school coaches. I just don’t see it being good for anybody by doing what we’re doing (with offers getting earlier). But I am guilty. I’m not sitting here saying I’m not doing the same thing. But if I could draw up any way I wanted, I’d say we couldn’t offer anybody until after his junior season. That would best for all the high schools, the student-athletes, and us in college. I don’t know if that makes sense to you. I’m not for it, but I’m guilty of it.”
LSU’s Les Miles: “The young player, you question whether or not he will ever be good enough. If that player has very visual and easy-to-evaluate keys such as size, speed, strength and he’s a physical player – it’s easy to offer those guys. You also know that they’re good students and a little bit about their family. You know that they are going to motivated and move in the path that will give them great success. It becomes an easy thing to do, to be honest. You don’t do it very often because you can’t predetermine some guys. But the guys that you can? You didn’t make a mistake. You knew that that eighth or ninth grader could really play. That’s always been the case. We saw La’el Collins as a tenth grader and it was so easy to see him being a great player that it was not funny. And then there have been some other guys that I can’t mention right now who naturally have instincts and ability that are going to project them as a very, very early player in college. When you combine with that LSU does with them once we get them on our campus, if Lord willing they avoid injury, they’ll end up being NFL players.”
South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier: “I have not offered a kid in middle school (before that changed with Blaylock on Saturday), but I could. If for some reason, he didn’t pan out in high school, you could probably find some reason to tell him he needs to go somewhere else. Or maybe you would honor the offer. We’ve honored all of ours. But obviously a lot of schools change their minds as (the kids) go through the years.”
Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy: “We offered a high school freshman a few weeks ago. And I said I would never do it. But we had a kid … who fit for what we look for. We went ahead and made that offer. It was a little unusual for us. We like to stick with juniors because you really don’t know how a young player is going to develop. Our concern and my concern is with the high school coaches, and trying to keep the focus of their players on their team … But unfortunately a lot of things going on out there (in recruiting) are not going to change. Everybody is trying to be the first in the door. And I think it’s going to be the future. You’re going to see a lot of early offers because of the availability of video out there for these college coaches to access. It wasn’t as easy to access in the past. Now you can find video of young man even down to the eighth grade. So for that reason, I think you will see more of this in the future.”
Miami’s Al Golden: “I thought we had rules that we couldn’t do that before certain age in football. Don’t they have to be in high school? Obviously I think at the very earliest, they should be in high school (before getting a college offer). It is moving up in recruiting, though. I think the proliferation of information is moving up (with film on the Internet). For us to make those early offers, we really want to either have a previous connection or they are kids who have been around your program. They’ve come up through your camps, and they’ve been around you a lot – and you know enough about them.”
Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops: “I don’t know. I don’t think you can ever say for sure when that is. What year was Myron Rolle coming out? I offered him as a ninth grader in 2006. He ended up playing at Florida State. I don’t you can set a limit on it. I think it’s risky (to offer that early) just because you don’t know what’s going to happen in over that period of time.”
Tennessee’s Butch Jones: “I do think it’s a great challenge. Kids develop differently. They develop at different stages. It’s easy to throw an offer out there. We try to guard against that. You know, you’re looking into a crystal ball, and you’re trying to project the future. Like I’ve said, they are like our children. They all develop at different paces at different stages. I have an eight-year-old right now, and if anybody is interested in offering him a scholarship, I’m all ears. I’d love to listen to it.”