It is early November, most high school football players in Illinois have handed in their equipment while 64 teams in eight classes are preparing for the quarterfinals of the state playoff. So what is going on with the recruiting process?
Running back Malin Jones of Joliet Catholic became the first junior to make a commitment, choosing Northwestern. He is one of the headliners in a very promising class of 2012 that includes Glenbard West defensive end Tommy Schutt, quarterbacks Robert Gregory of Simeon and Ryan West of Oswego, Barrington tackle Dan Voltz and Montini wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp.
The junior class is better than the senior class, which is well below normal. For the last seven or eight years, the junior year has become the most important time for recruiting, the time to make college coaches aware of who you are, that you have Division I potential.
It all began in 1993 when Penn State's Joe Paterno, feeling pressure from rival coaches, began offering scholarships to the top prospects in Pennsylvania earlier than anyone else, much earlier. The strategy paid off for Paterno so other coaches marched to his drumbeat.
Now coaches feel they must offer early or be left out. Early offers have pushed the recruiting calendar ahead one year. Right now, kids should be playing the best football of their lives. And they should be prepared to make college coaches aware of it.
At the moment, college coaches aren't very interested in the recruiting process. This is a down time for them. They do most of their evaluating from February (after the national signing day for seniors) to August. They call their top prospects once a week. Some set aside one day a week to watch film of high school prospects, some no time at all. They are concentrating on their college teams, which means they are working to keep their jobs.
What should high school juniors be doing to get their attention?
Prepare a highlight tape, with the best plays in front and the best game at the end. Put the tape together and ask your coach to write a positive letter to coaches at colleges he believes you are capable of playing. Ask him to be sure to request a response after watching the film. They will respond because they want to maintain good relations with the high school coach, someone they may have to deal with in future years.
This is the time for high school coaches and their top players to make hay. Unfortunately, sometimes coaches don't want to do anything. Some believe recruiting isn't part of their job description. Sometimes parents have to take the initiative, either pressuring coaches to become proactive or preparing their own highlight films and mailing them out to colleges.
The blue-chip prospects don't need to promote themselves. College coaches already are aware of them. But there are more than 120 Division I schools and hundreds of scholarships available. And there are many more opportunities beyond Division I for a youngster who wants to play football at the college level.
Remember, the emphasis is on juniors. The majority of scholarships are offered by July 1 before a kid's senior year. If you have no responses from Division I schools, then you must lower your sights to Division II, then Division III.
There is plenty of time to make an impression on college recruiters if you mail out tapes in November. Sometimes kids and parents and even high school coaches set their sights too high. They must be realistic and look for other options. Usually a kid will end up where he belongs.