How has the recruiting process evolved over the years?
Let me count the ways.
Thirteen years ago, when I began gathering information on Chicago area football prospects for then San Diego-based Dick Lascola, one of the pioneers in the business of recruiting analysis, I didn't begin calling high school coaches until January and the emphasis was on juniors only.
Those were the good ole days.
Even as recently as last year, the target was juniors. But the timetable has been moved up drastically. As one high school coach told me a week ago: "A Big 10 coach came into my office the other day and said he wasn't interested in talking about juniors and seniors, he wanted to know if I had any freshmen or sophomores who have Division I potential."
Yes, freshmen and sophomores.
As recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS College Sports has stated repeatedly, an athlete's junior year is the most important time in the recruiting process. That is the time to make a name for himself, to get national exposure, to make college coaches aware of his skill level and potential.
But colleges are evaluating players earlier and earlier, as witnessed by the number of freshmen and sophomores who are offered scholarships in basketball, as witnessed by how Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber was forced to change his recruiting philosophy by wooing the best young players in the state.
Football coaches are employing the same strategy, even though it is conceded that most freshmen and sophomores aren't physically mature and aren't even equipped to play on the high school varsity. Recruiters are looking for the elite prospects, the few who could be difference-makers at the next level. They argue it is never too early to recruit them.
So here they come. Instead of calling for information in January, I begin calling in late October and early November, as soon as the regular season is over and a team is eliminated from the state playoff. The colleges want Lascola's national list in December, not February. The sooner they can get a jump on another school, the better.
And they not only want to know who the leading players in the Class of 2012 (juniors) are, they want to know who the headliners are in the Classes of 2013 (sophomores) and 2014 (freshmen).
And they want even more. Only a year ago, I didn't ask for telephone numbers or home addresses of the juniors. Many schools cited privacy rules and high school coaches were reluctant to provide the personal information.
Not anymore. Colleges not only want phone numbers and addresses but they'll take email addresses, too. Anything that enables them to contact the athletes. And you know what? Only a few high schools still refuse to provide the information.
It isn't driven so much by the colleges and recruiting services but by the parents of the athletes who want the information made available because they want their sons and daughters to receive as much exposure as possible. They understand that other kids are being called and contacted by colleges and they don't want their kids to be left behind.
My list of Chicago area prospects was sent to Lascola earlier this week. After contacting more than 200 high school coaches, I completed a list of 444 freshmen, sophomores and juniors.
So who are the leaders in the Class of 2012?
Simeon quarterback Robert Gregory, Glenbard West defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, Montini wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp, Barrington offensive tackle Dan Voltz and Joliet Catholic running back Malin Jones, who already is committed to Northwestern.
Also Aurora Christian quarterback Anthony Maddie, Marmion offensive tackle Ryan Glasgow, Oak Forest cornerback Tevin Coleman, Providence offensive tackle Ryan Ward and Lake Forest Academy defensive end Faith Ekakitie.
The leaders in the Class of 2013?
Lemont offensive tackle Ethan Pocic, Wheaton St. Francis offensive tackle Kyle Bosch, Maine South quarterback Matt Alviti, Glenbard West running back Kendall Johnson and Joliet Catholic running back Ty Isaac.
The leaders in the Class of 2014?
Prairie Ridge offensive tackle Shane Evans, Fremd quarterback Sam Beutler, Morgan Park running back Charles Bournes, Naperville North running back Deshawn Brown and Kaneland tight end Daniel Helm.