Perhaps it was only a matter of time before the established recruiting news outlets turned to rating the youngest of the young, starting in the sixth grade. Well, now it’s officially happening.
A Rivals.com report from a Massachusetts event called NextGen Boston was published on Friday. In the write-up, two sixth graders were specifically called for praise from the event, and were designated as being the first from the Class of 2021 (2021!!!) that the website will keep an official eye on.
To avoid any ambiguity, here’s the full passage focused on the two sixth graders from the NextGen writeup, which was not provided with a specific author byline:
As impressive at those performances were there were seven athletes that have had their profiles added to the Rivals.com recruiting database. Tyson Thornton and Daron Bryden will be the first 6th grade prospects the website will actively monitor. Thornton is a 5-foot-11, 167-pound running back with great explosiveness and surprisingly good body control for a kid his size and age. Bryden, a small quarterback with a big arm is incredibly composed and very polished — and he can make every throw. And with a father standing nearly 6-foot-7, he may soon have the body to match his arm. Both of these young players were so impressive they were moved up to compete against the eighth grade prospects.
You can go ahead and click-through to those links; both Thornton and Bryden — who once topped former NFL QB Matt Hasselbeck in an accuracy competition — have their own personal prospect pages already. They’re legit.
The question, of course, is what this says about the ever-growing recruiting industrial complex. What was once a cottage industry is now big business — Rivals.com was sold by its prior owners to Yahoo for $100 million nearly eight years ago — and its audience grows each year as consumers desperately search for new ways to connect with football.
That breeds industry competition, and with four major players — Yahoo-owned Rivals.com, Fox Sports’ Scout, independently-owned 247 Sports and ESPN’s internal service are the four largest contributors — the need to differentiate is obvious. That comes both in the form of independently owned and operated as well as co-sponsored events — NextGen Boston, anyone? — and in expanding core services like recruiting rankings. Apparently all the way down to the sixth grade level.
Is that the driving force behind Rivals’ foray into youth recruiting? Is this an industry attempt to legitimize a moral gray area currently occupied by pay-to-play all-star services like Youth1 (unveiling their own middle school player profiles soon) and questionable hoops traders?
Only time will tell. For now, let the record show that Rivals fired the first official recruiting shot in the battle for youth recruiting hearts and minds.