Tate Martell has committed to play football at the University of Washington, after coach Steve Sarkisian made a verbal scholarship offer. Martell is also 14, and about to enter eighth grade. I recently heard Tate and his father interviewed on the radio. He seems like a nice kid, and his father also seemed like a reasonable man. In other words, it didn't sound like Todd Marinovich all over again. I don't blame the kid. He sounded like a kid who enjoys sports, and given the cost of higher education, it isn't a bad thing to be handed a scholarship. However, is 14 too early?
Size and skill
What happens if his body does not continue to develop? He is a big kid, but high school is a funny time. Some of the smaller guys sprout up, and some of the big kids from junior high just stop growing. More importantly, what happens if he gets hurt or has a poor high school career? His quarterback instructor thinks he is next coming of Brett Favre, but I would expect a paid consultant to say that.
Kids are funny in that they get really into various interests and then sometimes move on to something else. What happens if this kid lives, eats and breathes football, and then discovers in a couple of years that he hates it? Putting a youngster on a football-only track so early does not leave room for any sort of career change later on. There are plenty of kids who play a sport nonstop for years and then suddenly realize that they are just done.
The business of sports
In general, I don't always love the business aspect to this. It is a necessarily evil at times, but it can also be unsavory. You have people who make their living scouting and coaching young children, directing them to particular high schools based only on sports, and basically packaging them as a brand from a very early age. I know people will always argue that it is "for the kids" and that the kids "love to play." Sometimes that is true, but other times these situations are about the adults and their own dreams of fame and fortune.
A little publicity?
Washington is not the first school to offer a scholarship to a youngster. The NCAA is a little fuzzy on the rules, so kids have received verbal commitments in the past. Will Sark even be at Washington if this kid does walk onto campus in 2017? This feels a little bit like a publicity move. I don't think schools throw around verbal scholarship offers lightly, but I question whether this is entirely about chasing talent.
Let him be a kid
Can we let the kid be a kid? Can we let him just be a high school student, rather than raw material in the football factory? Again, this kids seems like a down-to-earth individual, but will he work hard and push himself now that he already has an offer? Will he be able to just grow up, hang out with his friends and be a student? Or, will life be all about football, and will his friends be strength-and-conditional coaches, nutritionists, public relations people and throwing instructors?
How about we slow down a bit, NCAA? The age of 14 seems a bit young.
The author lives in Los Angeles, but grew up in Seattle and still roots faithfully for the Seahawks. He has been rooting for the Hawks since the old school days of Jim Zorn and Steve Largent. You can follow him on Twitter @tpheifer.
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