National signing day for college football is over but the recruiting process never ends. Dozens of high school seniors remain uncommitted. Some have Division I potential but most are better suited for Division II or III. In fact, believe it or not, some would prefer to play in an environment where there is more pressure in the classroom than on the football field.
It might sound crazy to some football-crazed fans in Ann Arbor or Columbus or Tuscaloosa or South Bend or Austin or Norman but, yes, some kids go to college to get a good education. But they want to play football, too. They just don't want the game to dominate their lives from dawn to dusk.
Derek O'Connor is one of those kids. He is a 6-1, 180-pound senior at Bishop McNamara in Kankakee. He scored 31 on his ACT. He wants to study to become a dentist, his father's profession.
Derek would prefer to attend a Division II or III school. He doesn't want to get involved in a Division I program that demands a virtual 12-hours-a-day, 12-months-a-year commitment. To him, football is fun, not a full-time job or an obsession.
Derek has had good guidance. His father Kelly was a Little All-State quarterback at McNamara in the 1970s. He led the Irish to second place in the 1978 Class 3A playoff. And coach Rich Zinanni, who has been in the business of preparing and sending athletes to college for the past 35 years, thinks Derek is ready for the challenge.
But the recruiting process has been bewildering. Derek was accepted at Butler, a non-scholarship school. But it has only so many slots for football and doesn't accept walkons. The team is limited to 110 players. Derek said he was told there were three spots for receivers and if he wanted one, it was his. But when he called to accept the offer, he was told it was gone. Later, the coach said it was a misunderstanding.
Derek also was accepted at Dayton. But the same scenario played out. He also was accepted at Miami (Ohio) as a preferred walkon. At the moment, he is exploring interest from Knox and Illinois Wesleyan and hoping to attract interest from other small schools.
Derek is an outstanding athlete, like his father. He was an All-Catholic League selection as a junior in basketball. He played receiver as a junior in football, then played quarterback as a senior. He also played safety, punted and returned kicks. But he wants to play receiver in college.
"He is a competitor," Zinanni said. "He has toughness. He refuses to lose. He has great hands and a smart head. He is looking for a mid-level school. There is no way he shouldn't be able to play football in college."
Zinanni doesn't have to sell Matt Frazier, a 6-3 1/2, 275-pound offensive guard or center who is the prime attraction on his 2010 squad. Frazier has no scholarship offers yet but he has a lot of interest from Iowa, Indiana, Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois and Notre Dame. He has visited NU and Iowa.
"He is a Big 10 player," Zinanni said. "He is in a class with the best linemen I have had in 35 years. He has great work ethic. He made himself into a good player. He is strong and mobile and is an academic qualifier. All the intangibles are right."
So are Derek O'Connor's.