Jim Halley, USA TODAY High School Sports
Rockwood (Mo.) Summit linebacker and running back Eric Beisel left nothing to chance from his goal of being a Division I college football player.
He got up at 5 a.m. in the offseason so he could drive his teammates, in his Impala or his mother’s van, nicknamed the “Muscle Mobile,” for weight-room sessions at Summit.
But Beisel didn’t limit his training to his high school. Like a growing number of football players, he’s getting outside help. In Beisel’s case, position-specific training at Elite Football Academy in St. Louis.
“I started doing that in the eighth grade,” Beisel said. “I knew I wanted a future in football, and I knew I would do whatever it takes. It’s just getting an edge. I love the sport so much that I didn’t want to get away from it in the offseason.”
High school quarterbacks have turned to outside coaches for years. Steve Clarkson is perhaps the best known, having tutored the likes of Ben Roethlisberger and current Southern California starter Matt Barkley. But players at other positions are increasingly getting extra coaching.
With a typical college tuition being $20,000 at public universities and $60,000 at private schools, parents are more willing to hire outside coaching in hopes of getting their sons athletic scholarships. Beisel, who played for USA Football’s under-19 team this summer, said he plans to sign with Missouri in February.
“It’s a concerning trend,” said Jenks, Okla., coach Allan Trimble. “We have a full-time strength and performance coach who’s cutting-edge, yet we still have parents and players who want to get additional training. You like the attitude of that, but in some cases, there’s overtraining or conflicts with the football team. It can also create ‘me-tendinitis.’ It’s challenging when you’re trying to build camaraderie within a team.”
To the players and outside coaches, however, it is comparable to hiring a tutor in math.
“At the end of the day, our mission is to push kids past their perceived limits and to build sportsmanship,” said Leonard Stephens, a former NFL tight end who runs Perfect Performance, which specializes in position-specific training in the Washington, D.C., area. He started with a handful of clients in 2006 and says he now has 160 athletes in his program, which includes 14 coaches.
“When coaches meet us, when they hear about us, a lot of them do have apprehensions,” Stephens said. “We’re not trying to tell players their coach is incorrect. If a coach uses that technique, we’re going to work on that technique.”
Former Missouri player Matt Biermann began Elite Football Academy in 1999. He said his company, which has 32 coaches at five locations around St. Louis, is teaching fundamentals that many high school coaches don’t have time to work on.
“When we first started, people kind of laughed at what we were doing,” Biermann said. “They said, ‘Why would you do that? That’s what practice is for.’ The bulk of our business is as skill development as an add-on. Unfortunately, it seems most of the time at the high school and youth level is spent on the scheme and team concept. What fell by the wayside is the actual skill-set development. Mom and dad want to see (athletes) help themselves for a chance to get a scholarship.”
Many outside coaching services also advertise their recruiting services, an ability to connect players with college coaches. Some high school coaches fear that position coaches are also selling false hope.
“We have parents that pay these recruiting services,” said Kearney, Mo., coach Greg Jones. “They’re kind of wasting their money. If he’s not starting, there’s probably not a good chance he’s playing college football.”
Shiloh Christian (Springdale, Ark.) coach Josh Floyd said while he sees value in outside coaching, there are limits.
“(Former NFL quarterback) Joe Ferguson has helped us over the years,” Floyd said. “If you have a guy like that, he has some serious value. But there’s so many people out there who want a college scholarship, what drives some of the outside coaching is money. There has to be a balance with it all. You need to enjoy high school, and most of these kids aren’t going to play college football.”
Trimble agrees the odds are long.
“One of 18,000 athletes get a Division I scholarship. Even at Jenks (which has won 12 state titles), we may get four in a year. You would probably be better off putting your personal training money on a hard eight at Vegas.”