It is easy to see why college football coaches have stepped up the recruiting process in recent years. That's because such talented freshmen as Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis and Jesse Bobbit of Palatine already are making an impact.
Bosch is a 6-5, 260-pound defensive tackle who was moved up to the varsity from the sophomore squad for the state playoff last fall. In January, he made a big-time impression at the U.S. Army underclass combine in San Antonio. The 15-year-old is attracting interest from Notre Dame, Iowa, Kansas, Penn State, Arizona, Oregon and others.
Bobbit. a 6-1, 185-pounder who wears a size 15 shoe, was Palatine's best defensive back as a freshman. He started on the varsity throughout the 2009 season and accounted for four interceptions and a blocked punt. His older brother, Cody, is a highly recruited quarterback/athlete who will be a senior in 2010.
Bosch is the poster boy for Junior Rank, a Chicago-based sports media company that sponsors events for junior athletes in the 11-16 age group to recognize and reward their achievements, conduct football combines and focus on character and academic excellence in addition to athletic ability.
According to Shaon Berry, who founded Junior Rank in 2009, the mission is to identify the next generation of great student-athletes. It is about instruction and development and character building. The organization has partnered with Chicago-based recruiting analyst Tom Lemming and Chicago-based National Collegiate Scouting Association (NCSA).
Berry, 41, from Cherry Hills, N.J., played football at Pittsburgh. He relocated to St. Charles while working for Baxter Health Care. His daughter Karley is a junior at St. Charles East.
After working in human resources and coaching youth sports for a long time, Berry got the bug to get organize his own company after meeting with people from Football University and the U.S. Army All-American Game.
"I wanted to do something that emphasized character and academics with athletes," Berry said. "Yes, we've been criticized by Sports Illustrated for getting kids involved in this process too much, too soon. I don't claim that anyone that we profile is ready for college. But colleges have interest and they have been recruiting out of middle schools for 20 years. UCLA once offered an eighth grader a football scholarship.
"I spend as much time trying to make them understand the importance of their character and academics, development that has nothing to do with the sport. These are kids who the colleges need to look at in the next three or four years. We have over 4,000 kids in our data base. We also conduct recruiting seminars for parents to educate them about the recruiting process."
Junior Rank, which eventually hopes to get involved in basketball and baseball, is sponsoring a football combine for ninth graders on Saturday, May 8, at the Lake Barrington Field House, 28156 W. North Pointe Parkway in Lake Barrington, from 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. More than 100 of the Chicago area's top 100 freshman athletes will be evaluated on their performance in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump and agility shuttle.
The evaluating staff will include Berry, Baltimore Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski, Randy Taylor of NSCA, Lemming, and former Chicago Bears wide receiver Macey Brooks. For information, call (877-571-7265) or call Tracey Windle at (630) 569-0028.
In August, Junior Rank will sponsor the Diamond Flight Camp in San Diego, Calif., an invitation-only camp for the top 50 quarterbacks and receivers in the country from sixth through ninth grades. The top 50 will be selected from more than 1,000 nominations from across the country.
The invitees include the son of former NFL star Randall Cunningham, 6-7 quarterback Mickey Mitchell of Plano, Texas, wide receiver Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic, wide receiver Tre Stagen of Bartlett, wide receiver Jordan Jones of Aurora and wide receiver Chad Beebe of Aurora, the son of former NFL star Don Beebe. The camp will be directed by Tom Martinez, who has coached NFL star Tom Brady since he was 12 years old.
Lemming, who has evaluated high school players for 31 years, is excited about his involvement with Berry and Junior Rank.
"Berry is preparing kids who have ambitions to play big-time college football," Lemming said. "He is letting them know if they have the ability to do it. He is the best at what he does in the country. A lot of people are doing underclass combines but nobody does it as well as he does."