Inside college football recruiting: When your teammates are star recruits

Two of the top college football recruits in the Class of 2015 play for the same high school, St. Peter's Preparatory School in Jersey City, N.J. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush and cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick drew a tremendous amount of attention the past two years, with a combined total of more than 60 offers from schools such as Alabama, Miami, Florida State, Michigan, and Ohio State. 

With so much attention poured on the two stars, several of their teammates – noteworthy players in their own rights – drew less attention than they may have if they hadn't been playing alongside Wimbush and Fitzpatrick. The two teammates ended up on fairly routine recruiting schedules, but doing so while watching Wimbush and Fitzpatrick's respective recruitment frenzies affected them in different ways.

For Corey Caddle, a running back raised in a particularly rough neighborhood in Jersey City, where there were two murders in a single week last fall, a football scholarship looked like a ticket out. “I had to [get a scholarship], some way or another. I needed it more [than some of my teammates], for myself, my mom," he says. Yet even as he excelled on the field, colleges never called.

If he was two inches taller, his high school coaches and several college coaches said during the 2014 season, every college in the country would’ve been clamoring for Caddle. His attitude on and off the field further his case, as he is an upbeat kid and natural leader. At 5-foot-8, though, he didn't hit the height that most recruiters seek. Seeing the attention lavished on his teammates, while he kept waiting, was difficult.

“It was hard for me. I was the one trying to do everything I could to get a scholarship," he says. "I was always happy for Minkah, but it was tough for me. I thought ‘I’m done, it’s not going to happen for you.’”

There were times he considered pursuing a baseball scholarship instead – he’s one of the few dual-sport athletes on the Prep football team – but hoped his junior season would be enough to catch a football coach’s attention.

A few days after Prep lost in the 2013 state championship, Caddle finally saw his efforts pay off: He received a Facebook message from the coach at Fordham University, soon followed by an offer. The letter couldn’t have come at a better time. Caddle’s dad was in prison, and he didn’t want his mom to be stressed about paying for college.

Corey Caddle (Photo courtesy Mark Wyville/St. Peter's Prep)
Corey Caddle (Photo courtesy Mark Wyville/St. Peter's Prep)

He has a sister who is attending a local college, Montclair State, and three younger brothers, plus they were paying for lawyers for his dad. Getting that offer released a lot of pressure for him, much of it self-imposed. 

Once Fordham offered him a scholarship, several others quickly came in. Caddle chose to commit to Fordham because he respected that the Bronx school noticed him first. 

During senior year, though, the pressure and the doubts came back in full force. Caddle again saw the amount of time recruiters spent speaking to Wimbush and Fitzpatrick throughout the season, even after they'd verbally committed. He found himself wondering why he wasn’t hearing from Fordham nearly as often. Was the school still interested?

When a coach from the University of New Hampshire contacted him to wish him luck in the state final, he considered going there for an official visit. He mentioned it to Fordham's coaches, though, and has heard from them every day since. He decided not to visit New Hampshire, remaining solid in his original committment.

Fordham coaches came on a home visit the first day that NCAA rules allowed, and have returned once each week as permitted. The school has shown it's commitment, without showing an obsession. It seems the healthy way to recruit players, and to show them that a program trusts a verbal committment. 

For all the stress that the attention on their teammates created for Corey, it had the opposite effect on three-star linebacker Jordan Fox, according to his parents. Jordan has always been a standout at Prep. He was named freshman player of the year. He started hitting the camp circuit that summer, starting with Penn State.

Jordan Fox (Photo courtesy Mark Wyville/St. Peter's Prep)
Jordan Fox (Photo courtesy Mark Wyville/St. Peter's Prep)

Returning that fall, he and Fitzpatrick were the only sophomores to start on defense. Colleges started inviting him to campus, offering him tickets to games. Yet despite all the game invitations, scholarship offers didn’t arrive.

If Jordan was disappointed, though, it didn’t show. He was confidant that he was playing at the right level, and that the offers would come. He also didn’t have the same stress as Caddle, the same feeling that he would only be able to go to college on a scholarship.

“We didn’t even think about it,” says Dee Fox, his mother. “We said just keep working hard, someone will see you.” After all, that's how this process used to work. Leading into junior year, Fox was often the best linebacker at summer camps. Schools were noticing, and continuing to invite him to games.

Junior year, Fox missed most of the season with an injury but made it back just in time for the state championship game. And then, as with Caddle, the offers started coming in.

“We were glad he didn’t have to deal with it as a sophomore or a junior,” his mom adds. “We were happy he didn’t have the pressure. Then you don’t have to worry about it, with all the reporters from certain schools.”

Jordan Fox visited Ohio State with teammates Brandon Wimbush and Minkah Fitzpatrick in October 2013. Photo courtesy Twitter/Minkah Fitzpatrick
Jordan Fox visited Ohio State with teammates Brandon Wimbush and Minkah Fitzpatrick in October 2013. Photo courtesy Twitter/Minkah Fitzpatrick

But for all the calm of junior year, senior year was not easy. By then, Fox had set his sights on Stanford University. He received an offer during the Stanford summer skills camp – but an offer there is no guarantee. The school holds athletes to higher academic standards than other schools.

Fox fell short on the SAT score Stanford requires on his first two attempts. He had to take the test again three times during his senior season – twice on game-day mornings.

After the first, he told me, "I never want to take that test again." He also added two Advanced Placement courses to an already-heavy academic schedule. Through all of it, he stayed calm, knowing that he had several other options if he didn't make it into Stanford.

Fewer reporters called to check on Fox, at least during the season, as most of the calls coming to Prep related to his teammates. Virginia continued to pursue him, as did Syracuse. He narrowed it down to UVA and Stanford in the final weeks of the season, still hoping for the SAT score he needed.

He took the SAT for the final time on the day after Prep won the state championship game. This time, he aced it. 

On Jan. 14, Dee Fox texted me. “He crushed the last test and got over the amont the he needed!” she wrote. “So we are happy to say that late Friday night Jordan heard from the head coach. He is officially accepted into Stanford! Yeah!!!! Jordan is thrilled, excited, and was totally over the moon!”

He took an official visit to Stanford that weekend, and would go to UVA the weekend after, just to make sure he was completely solid in his decision. He was - and he made it official on Jan. 27, when he tweeted that he'd committed to Stanford.

For Caddle, seeing Wimbush and Fitzpatrick so heavily pursued added stress. For Fox, it took him out of the spotlight and allowed him to just enjoy high school football and concentrate on his schoolwork. In the end the process worked out for both, on a timeline that was once considered typical in college football recruiting.