Commentary: How recruiting at N.J. high schools has become a loser's game

Commentary: How recruiting at N.J. high schools has become a loser's game


Commentary: How recruiting at N.J. high schools has become a loser's game


Peel back the layers of the Don Bosco, St. Joseph feud and it’s really about recruiting.

What strikes me is how we might be seeing a tipping point on the forbidden R-word in North Jersey athletics. Parents understand that recruiting is against the rules of the NJSIAA and they seem to want to see it halted.

Of course, reasons vary, but recently I’ve seen the sentiment growing from parents who are angry when they see coaches at non-public schools blatantly try to recruit their child to come to their school. When they engage in “negative” recruiting, meaning, basically saying, School X stinks, come to our school instead, it is even worse.

One of the more interesting things about the Don Bosco allegations is that the parents apparently found the phone call from Green Knights coach Augie Hoffmann distasteful and reported it. Wouldn’t you think just the opposite? That ‘oh wow, here is a prestigious coach who thinks my son/daughter is good and wants them to come?’

And someone would have to have seen the text messages from Green Knights freshman coach Jay Correa and say, ‘you know, this isn’t really right.’

This is why recruiting has always been so hard to prove or track, because what parent wants to confess that their child has been recruited. It’s a badge of honor right? It’s social currency in North Jersey. Who doesn’t like to brag about their child’s athletic exploits?

What are the schools supposed to do? I had one former non-public football coach tell me Tuesday he never called any prospect. He always let them make the first call. And when you answer, you’re really only supposed to say ‘contact our Director of Admissions, here are our Open House days, look forward to meeting you.’

Social media has completely changed the tactics of recruiting. I don’t know how Hoffmann or any other coach at a North Jersey non-public is supposed to held accountable for every tweet, snap or Instagram post by one of his players, or assistant coaches talking about the merits of his school. Technically, that’s recruiting too.

I can also attest that, while staying rivals, there is still an underlying level of respect among the coaches. More often than not, things are settled with a phone call or two.

Something changed though with regard to the football programs of St. Joseph and Don Bosco. I never would have characterized the two as the most heated of rivals in North Jersey, but in the last six months or so, things have gotten ugly. One could guess it is a lot of things, and yes, kids transferring between the two schools is one. The coaching staffs getting rearranged after Greg Toal’s dismissal definitely adds an element of anger as well.

The game Oct. 7 between the two schools was edgy to say the least. I’m sure the Green Knights coaching staff is still mad about the hit on Gavin Sharkey on a punt return, while I’m sure the Ironmen still feel like a couple of calls went against them that could have changed the outcome.

The truth is both schools represent some of the best coaching and best players in all of America. Look at the college players produced by the programs. Former Don Bosco quarterback Frank Nutile has won the starting job at Temple. Former St. Joseph linebacker Joe Giles-Harris is a star at Duke. I could go on and on.

Hoffmann is a passionate, eloquent, hard-working, intelligent football coach who played at the highest level. You know who else has those exact same qualities? Mike Teel at Don Bosco.

You’re tempted to say, why does anyone bother to recruit any more? Is there a football player in Spring Valley, N.Y. who has never heard of St. Joseph? Is there anyone in Franklin Lakes that doesn’t know about Don Bosco?

You’d almost rather just have the school’s educational offerings be the guidepost, not the won-loss record of the football team. St. Joseph’s has an award-winning theatre program. Don Bosco just added a gorgeous new facility to the heart of campus.

But it’s all so intermixed, recruiting, rivalries, hard feelings for real (and perceived) slights. Everyone is always so quick to buy that there must be some rule-breaking going on.

The Green Knights got a warning Tuesday. Probation seems to be the appropriate punishment. It basically means the NJSIAA will have its eyes on the program. The punishments for Correa and Hoffmann seem justified.

The lesson Tuesday is that recruiting isn’t worth the effort or the aggravation. The truth is it is a losing game.

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