Dave Bagchi’s family lives about a hundred meters from Pinnacle High School (Phoenix).
It would be an easy walk for his son Dominik to make this summer entering his freshman year.
But this is a huge step for a quarterback, a position that sometimes is locked up for three years by a player on varsity.
At Pinnacle, it was locked up for four years by Spencer Rattler, who is now on his way to Oklahoma as the No. 1-ranked quarterback in the nation in the 2019 class.
Dominik will attend Notre Dame Prep (Scottsdale, Arizona), a decision that came through a long process that began in the sixth grade with him going to various youth camps at area high schools. He attended camps at Pinnacle, Cave Creek Cactus Shadows, Phoenix Arcadia, Scottsdale Saguaro, Anthem Boulder Creek and Notre Dame.
With open enrollments, athletes leaving the eighth grade can attend any high school outside of their school boundaries without penalty from the Arizona Interscholastic Association.
“No disrespect to anybody,” Dave Bagchi said. “I’m sure (Pinnacle coaches) run a great program.”
More than ever, football parents are shopping their kids before they get to high school. This is especially true for parents of quarterbacks.
Bagchi said it is important for parents to do their due diligence when selecting a high school that they’ll be committed to for four years in order to avoid being part of the transfer circus that has permeated the high school sports landscape and caused the AIA to find ways to try to reel it in.
Dave Bagchi knows his son has a chance to be special on the football field, but he also felt academics had to come first.
“I liked a lot of them, the coaching at a lot of them,” said Dominik, who is 5-foot-8, 150 pounds, and just turned 14. “I felt Notre Dame was the right fit. I felt most comfortable there.”
Transitioning from grade school to high school, in a sense, is like moving from high school to college, where unofficial visits are made. It’s the first big step in a child’s process of trying to get on the college coaches’ radar.
But there are big differences. At least there is supposed to be.
Kids are given tours of the high schools, but it is supposed to be the same kind of a tour a non-athlete student would be given.
There isn’t much a high school coach is allowed to do to avoid the recruiting pitfalls.
He can be cordial and say, “hello,” when the high school coach is approached by players and their parents.
But promises can’t be made. The coach can’t tell the young suitor how he will fit into his schemes.
“(High school youth) camp should be focused on football, the techniques, fundamentals,” said Joe Paddock, assistant executive director of the AIA. “The school itself and coach needs to stay away from talking about their program and really focus on the purpose of the camps.
“That’s all fine until you step over the line and talk about how the student fits into their program.”
Rules are laid out in the AIA bylaws:
“There shall be no recruitment of athletes. Recruitment is defined as the act of influencing a student to enroll in a school or to transfer from one school to another in order that the student may participate in interscholastic athletics. No school administrator, athletic coach or employee of a high school district shall engage in recruitment either by direct contact with a student or indirectly through parents, legal guardians, common school employees, directors of summer athletic programs or other persons who are in a position to influence the student’s choice of a school.”
Soliciting kids to enroll at a public, private or parochial school has to be the same as for all students. Financial aid can’t be given based on athletics. Presentations can be made to all prospective freshmen, not just athletes, with a diversity of topics for all interests. There can be no promise by a coach to an athlete or his parent that tuition will be waived if at a private school.
The AIA bylaws go on to state, “Anything done for an athlete that is not done in a comparable fashion for all students is a violation of the Recruitment Rule.
“When a student at a junior high/middle school or other high school, or the parents of that student, contacts the coach about attending the coach’s school, the coach shall refer the student or parent to the appropriate school personnel (those who have the responsibilities for seeking and processing prospective students).”
Additionally, high school coaches or their representatives may not attend grade school or youth games, such as Pop Warner, for the purpose of evaluating and recruiting prospective athletes, the bylaws state.
The rules state: “Coaches and administrators can’t request booster clubs, players, former players or alumni from that high school to discuss the merits of their athletic program with prospective athletes or their parents by phone, in person or through letters.”
A violation would cause the player to lose eligibility and possibly place the team on probation, making it ineligible for the playoffs.
Notre Dame was hit hard by sanctions three years ago when the football program was placed on probation and banned by the AIA from the postseason for rules violations, including recruiting under Mark Nolan’s watch.
When coach George Prelock took over two years ago, it was important for him to give the school’s football program a clean slate.
He canceled a youth camp his first year, because he didn’t want it to appear any rules were being broken. Even if it was within the AIA parameters of being legal, Prelock said he wanted to avoid perceptions.
He directs every new player to meet with Matt Rylsky, the school’s director of enrollment, who gives tours of the school.
Only once the kids are enrolled and paid their tuition does Prelock feel he can talk football with them.
This year, Notre Dame has advertised its youth camp in June. It is open to the entire public, anyone from the second grade to eighth grade. Player don’t need any prior football experience, Prelock emphasizes.
“We just help them with fundamentals and let them have fun and know what a great game football is,” Prelock said. “It’s just a way of being with the community. It takes place three days a week at the end of June.
“We’re just coaching. If they want an education that is challenging and rigorous, there are a lot of good schools they can choose from. We’re hoping we’re one of the schools on their radar. We’re blessed to have a nice stadium.”
The program usually sells itself.
Chandler, Saguaro, and Peoria Centennial have become destiny schools with the 14 state titles they’ve won among them in the last six years.
Top players are drawn to top programs.
And the best programs tend to have the best feeder youth teams, such as the Argonauts, who have fed Saguaro for years with top talent.
“For us, we’ve not been perennial state champions,” said Mesa Red Mountain freshman coach Leo Aviles, who coordinates the school’s youth camps, including a youth night during the regular season. “But we’re putting 12 to 15 kids at the next level every year. We’ve put a good product on the field. We want to service the kids in our area. We can be an attractive deal on this side of town.”
Even at a school that hasn’t won a state title since 2001, Red Mountain has gotten anywhere from 14 to 18 out-of-boundary kids for football in each of the last three years.
Parents of quarterbacks are going to go the extra mile — or several miles — to find the right fit.
With parents having sons having private coaching since they are 8, many of the parents know who the top quarterbacks are going to be four or five years before they even hit high school age.
Keith Silbor didn’t do much shopping for his son Brayten, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound quarterback, who played a varsity playoff game as a freshman last season due to Ohio State commit Jack Miller’s knee injury.
Brayten could have been put into the Pinnacle quarterback assembly line, but his dad said, without attending a Chaparral youth camp, they went into Chaparral “blind.” They knew Miller would be a mentor who could help Brayten his first two years of high school. He wasn’t expecting to start varsity as a freshman.
“At Chaparral, we’re all friends,” Keith Silbor said. “We’re not competing as parents.”
The search often is about finding opportunities. But competition has to be expected.
“No matter where you go, you’re going to have great quarterback competition,” said Dave Bagchi, who is a coach for Team Impact, which works with youths as young as 6 to start working towards their high school development.
“He has to earn it,” Bagchi said. “The important thing for parents is to visit the schools, sign their kids up for football camps, get to know the coaches, the families. We understand Arizona has a lot of great choices.”
Mesa Desert Ridge head football coach Jeremy Hathcock said the main thing he cares about is protecting his school boundaries and keeping the kids who come in as freshmen through their high school careers.
“Three years ago, we had 25 kids moved in and 22 are gone now because they realized how hard we work,” Hathcock said. “It’s cool to put on a Desert Ridge t-shirt and tweet about it. But it’s hard work.”
He feels recruiting is done by parents more than coaches, and that, in turn, causes schools to try to be more marketable to parents.
Often, parents will seek advice from their sons’ personal quarterback coach, guys like Mike Giovando and Dan Manucci.
“They ask me an opinion and if I know the school and know the coaches and know what they’re doing offensively,” said Giovando, who works with quarterbacks from all over the Valley, including Rattler. “I never tell a kid where to go to school. When we grew up, we played on our local youth team and neighborhood. Now, if he’s living in Surprise, he could be playing in Scottsdale.”
Manucci works with the Purdy brothers, Brock (Iowa State) and Chubba (Perry High in Gilbert, Arizona). He said he encourages parents to look at the high school in their neighborhood first.
“A lot of these kids, by the time they’re in the eighth grade, they already have a good idea where they’re going to go,” Manucci said. “My whole thing is look at the academics and try to stay in the area you’re at. Then, go compete.”
Dominik Bagchi has some familiarity with Notre Dame because he has friends who will be going there. That will provide a sense of home.
He realizes it’s not a given he emerges as the next big star on Friday nights. It will take working hard, failing, learning from mistakes and competing.
In the end, he just wants to know he did his due diligence to find a high school he can call home for four years.
“I don’t really pay attention to the other kids,” he said. “I try to keep working hard.”