The equivalent of a rock star walked into Whitehaven High’s football facility last week to take a look at the kind of high-profile athletes the Tigers’ program has been producing.
Alabama football coach Nick Saban arrived in Memphis as part of his recruiting visits to high schools across the country. He was one of a revolving door of college coaches who pass through high school hallways throughout Tennessee, talking with prep coaches.
“It’s every day,” said Whitehaven coach Rodney Saulsberry, who has sent 44 players to FBS schools in the last 15 years. “College coaches are here nearly every day. Sometimes there are four or five coaches, from different schools, who come through wanting to know a little bit about our kids.”
It’s all part of the national recruiting machine. As the high school football seasons come to a close, college recruiters hit the road.
Early signing period forces shift to next year’s football recruiting class
The first Wednesday in February was always Christmas for college football programs as the nation’s top high school players signed to make their decisions official. But starting in 2017, the NCAA allowed those high school athletes to sign two months ahead of schedule, ushering in the December early signing period while also keeping the February signing day.
Those December signees allow college programs to focus on the next graduating class when the new year arrives.
“All of a sudden coaches come to your school and they’re looking at the 2020 kids,” Oakland coach Kevin Creasy said. “The December signing period has come and gone and so in January you have coaches who come in wanting to take a look at the next group.”
College coaches had a contact period that ran from Nov. 25 through Saturday, according to the NCAA. During this period, coaches could make six in-person, off-campus contacts with coaches and seniors only. Dec. 17 through Jan. 10 was a dead period.
Three Oakland stars signed during December, including Woodi Washington (Oklahoma) and Joseph Anderson (South Carolina).
Blackman coach Kit Hartsfield said he has had coaches ask about seniors Adonis Otey and Micaleous Elder. But for high schools that don’t have any FBS recruits unsigned, the conversation is all about the future.
“There isn’t any Division I school that is recruiting this class anymore unless you have an uncommitted FBS recruit,” Hartsfield said. “Everything is about 2020.”
Saulsberry had four players sign in December, as Whitehaven’s Twitter account documents each college program’s arrival. Saulsberry estimates more than 80 coaches — from Power 5 to FCS schools — have visited since November, including Oklahoma, Georgia Tech and Mississippi State on Wednesday.
Saulsberry said Saban was at Whitehaven to look at the Tigers’ 2020 class, which includes four-star linebackers Bryson Eason and Martavius French.
What are interactions like?
What do college and high school coaches talk about?
“You talk football,” Creasy said. “You might also watch film. But you talk about a kid’s skill set and whether you have the kind of athletes that would fit with those college programs.”
Saulsberry makes it point to talk a lot about academics.
“That’s one thing we stress with our kids,” he said. “Because these college recruiters want to know what you’re doing in the classroom. So we talk football, too, but we also talk about academics and we give them details on that stuff.”
Building relationships at heart of it all
Creasy understands the demands placed on high school coaches to deliver accurate information on their athletes but stressed the interactions often come down to relationships.
“That’s the bottom line of it all,” Creasy said. “There are young coaches who may come out to see you and talk to you for about five minutes and leave. But there’s others who come and stay. Those are the guys you get to know. Those are the coaches that want to know about your family, about a kid’s family. It takes time to develop relationships and that’s important.”
A school like Oakland often attracts the Power 5 schools’ attention. The Patriots haven’t missed the Class 6A playoffs since 2007 and have played in two of the last three 6A state title games, winning the title in December.
Creasy was always impressed with recruiters who visited his program when he was at Trousdale County,which has competed in Class 1A and 2A. Creasy led the Yellow Jackets to three state titles in seven seasons.
“You talk and watch film,” he said. “And maybe those guys don’t always snag the kid they want the first time around, but because they’ve developed that relationship, you keep them in mind when another great player is in your program.”
And that may be the end game for the seemingly endless parade of recruiters who pass through these high school campuses in search of a game-changing player.
“I feel any time you get a chance to promote your kids and your program that’s a good thing,” Saulsberry said. “We’re doing something right.”