After leading Wheaton North to a resounding 34-14 victory over Mount Carmel and the Class 5A championship in 1986 and being named the Chicago Sun-Times' Player of the Year, Kent Graham emerged as one of the most widely recruited players in the country.
He admits he got caught up in the hoopla and glamour of the recruiting process and committed to Notre Dame. But he soon realized the offense didn't fit his talents and abilities so he transferred to Ohio State, which was running a pro-style offense instead of an option. It prepared him for an 11-year career in the NFL.
Today, as he goes through the process with his son Taylor, a highly recruited quarterback at Wheaton North, Kent shakes his head at what he sees. He is amazed at how recruiting has changed in the last 20 years.
"I can't even fathom what is going on right now," Kent said. "Rex (then Wheaton North coach Jim Rexilius) didn't let anyone talk to me as a senior. He protected us and made us focus on the season.
"There was no Internet, no recruiting services. Tom Lemming was the guy. It is so different now. Now you can get everything on the Internet. It is a totally different environment. Things happen so fast. To make an educated decision, you feel like you have to see the campus and know the coaches. But the speed of the process makes you question if you have time to do it."
Graham, who wants his son to make his own decision (Taylor is leaning to making a commitment before the season begins) but is closely monitoring the process, is making sure his son gets a thorough education about recruiting. He doesn't want him to make a decision for the wrong reasons, as he did.
"If Taylor gets an offer (he has been offered by Iowa, Arkansas and Duke and expects an offer from UCLA and others), we want to set up a time to meet the coaches and go to the campus for an unofficial visit," Kent said.
"I'm still a rookie in all of this. But I feel I'm better prepared to help my son than I was in 1986. I feel I have a mch better ability to look at offensive systems, to be a judge of them. A pro-style system fits Taylor's talents and abilities, not a spread. A school that is committed to a pro-style offense is best for him."
Understandably, the process began slowly for the 6-4, 215-pound Graham. He got off to a good start as a senior, then suffered a broken ankle in his fifth game and sat out the rest of the season. So college recruiters didn't get a good look at him. But Kent and Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski sent film to 30 schools that emphasize a pro-style offense and the response has been flattering to say the least.
"The process has changed major league. The rules of the game are so different," Kent said. "We're trying to adjust. I don't have all the answers. With Taylor's injury, it is understandable how the process has gone. I'm a bit taken with the speed of this. It is surprising how fast the colleges are coming in now. I guess that's the nature of the game."