Once upon a time, back in the prehistoric days before ESPN, college football coaches got in their cars and drove across the state and across the country looking for the top high school talent.
The best recruiters were people like Woody Hayes, who would sit down at a dinner table and tell parents their son would be treated like family at Ohio State. Or people like Bear Bryant, whose mere presence in a home overwhelmed both players and families.
Recruiting has come a long way. Wednesday’s National Signing Day (not a holiday…yet) got 12 hours of coverage on ESPNU. It has become nearly as big as the NFL Draft, with high school seniors finally revealing where they will take their talents.
Solon has one of the best big school programs in the state of Ohio. Head Coach Jim McQuaide had four players gain Division I scholarships this season, three for football and one for track and field.
A.J. Hicks, a linebacker for the Comets last season, will attend North Carolina on a track and field scholarship. Hicks broke Jim Mandich’s long-standing school records in the shot put and the discus and also owns the Comet mark for the indoor shot put. The 6-1, 225-pound Hicks was sought after by such football programs as Air Force but settled on Carolina, where he will major in pre-med studies.
Chris Humphrey, Solon's multi-talented quarterback, safety and kick returner, is headed to nearby Kent State, where he will play at wideout. Humphrey (6-1, 175) threw for more than 600 yards and four touchdowns last season in addition to rushing for 841 yards and 16 touchdowns. He returned two of his three interceptions for touchdowns and also scored on a fumble recovery.
Kyle Hammonds and Jovon Johnson will both play for the Ohio University Bobcats this coming season. Hammonds, the 5-9 180-pound tailback for Solon, runs a 4.47 40-yard dash and scored 50 touchdowns in three years as an explosive playmaker for the Comets. He could make an immediate impact for Ohio U as a kick returner. Johnson (6-0, 200) will play linebacker at OU after holding down the fullback and outside linebacker positions at Solon.
All four players were promoted by Solon with highlight tapes. College coaches are not permitted to talk with players until they are seniors, so the tapes serve a key purpose in the recruiting process, along with recommendations from the head coach himself.
“The biggest change has been the influence of the Internet,” said McQuaide, whose teams have gone 74-20 at Solon with seven playoff appearances in his eight years. “Now we have all those player rankings and information, ESPNU, summer camps and All-American games.”
The attention paid to high school juniors is another development in the recruiting game. “When Penn State came into the Big 10 years ago they started offering scholarships to juniors,” said McQuaide. “Now everybody does it.”
The competition for top players has never been more intense, opening the door for rules violations. But McQuaide says “My experiences with coaches have been above-board because they know they will be coming back here (Solon).”
Colleges can meet with coaches virtually year-round, but the players remain off-limits until their senior seasons. “It’s part of what we do as head coaches,” said McQuaide. “Anytime we have a player who gets a Division I scholarship it’s a testament to the program. The success of a team always helps with recognition but the size of a school doesn’t matter. If you’re good they will find you.”
Contrary to popular opinion, colleges do pay close attention to a high school recruit’s performance in the classroom. “I always show them a player’s grades before I show them the films,” said McQuaide. “They want to know what kind of people these kids are.”
Most parents look forward to the day their son is recruited, but few realize what is involved. “It’s a very demanding process,” said McQuaide.
How demanding? College recruiters are already working on National Signing Day 2012.