I was speaking at a national sales meeting last week for a large pharmaceuticals company. In the crowd of about 500 sales reps, was a man whose son is a high school football player at a small private school. I received this letter from the rep:
It was a pleasure to meet you during our sales meeting last week. After your talk, I was ready to put on the pads myself. I'm sure our reps are pumped up talking to their physicians this week. Thanks again for your willingness to review my son's highlight DVD and provide your feedback.
All the Best in '08,
John LaLota, Sr. VP
I watched the 3-½ minute highlight film on his son, Anthony LaLota. Anthony is a junior at The Hun School of Princeton – a private school in New Jersey that is highly regarded for academic excellence. Their varsity football team was undefeated this season, and won the Mid-Atlantic Prep League Title. Anthony played his first season of football in 2007, which after watching the video I still find very hard to believe. He is 6-foot-6, 260 pounds and plays defensive end and offensive tackle.
With National Signing Day just around the corner, I wanted to share my response to his father regarding the recruiting process as a whole, and how it relates to his son.
I just got through watching the video of your son. I've been away from the sidelines and up in the booth for a few years – but I can certainly still recognize what a football player looks like. Anthony can play football. I am the lead college football writer/expert analyst for Yahoo! Sports and we just partnered up with Rivals.com; the top recruiting web site in the country. I am going to follow up with them to see where your son stands on their list of upcoming seniors and I will also pass your video along to a few recruiting coordinators who I know to get their opinions as well. My first impression, without even doing any homework, is that with your son's height, size, speed, agility, and I think you said outstanding grades, he will be able to pick and choose whichever school he wants to go to.
I was very impressed with the scope of the highlight video that you sent to me. It is very important to make sure that the video, along with all of your son's vital statistics and grades, gets sent to as many recruiting coordinators as possible. That guarantees that he will be in their database as early as possible.
The video did a great job of accentuating his qualities as a football prospect. I especially liked the way it opened up by showing him run down the field to cover a kickoff. Not only did this show his open-field running ability and a little bit of his nastiness when he knocked that blocker on his fanny, but it also showed his willingness to play on special teams. As you know, many young high school stars can be a little self-centered and don't understand the importance of being a role player and doing whatever it takes to help the team.
It is also a great advantage that the video shows him playing on both sides of the ball. Although your son looks like a can't miss defensive end prospect – and I'm sure the recruiters will tell him just that – I wouldn't be shocked if some are projecting him as a offensive left tackle 2-3 years down the road. I would suggest that you add some offensive run blocking to the video. It only shows him on pass plays (great footwork and knee flexibility) and, although he does an outstanding job of pass pro, it wouldn't hurt to show him pancaking a few guys off the line of scrimmage. Most great offensive linemen in college are great defensive players in high school. As far as Anthony's defensive skills, he has great explosion (first step), and he redirects to the ball exceptionally well. Most importantly, he plays with a fast motor and shows a great desire to get to the football on every play.
I've broadcasted several University of Virginia football games over the last couple of years and he reminds me very much of Howie Long's son, Chris. Chris was an offensive and defensive lineman in high school at a small private school in Virginia (Anne's Belfield School) and Howie thought he was destined to be an offensive guard in college. Now, he is the top defensive end in college football and, according to several services, may very well be the No. 1 player taken in this year's NFL draft. Incidentally, in his senior year in high school, Chris had 92 pancake blocks as an offensive lineman.
If Anthony is intent on being a defensive end, and I think he has all the ingredients to be a great one, he just needs to make this very clear in the recruiting process. All I'm saying is that if Howie Long wasn't sure about what position his own son would play, I'm not about to guarantee your son or anyone else where they will eventually end up.
The timing of when scholarships are offered will vary a little bit with each school. The trend over the last few years is to start offering juniors as early as possible. Some of the top-notch junior recruits will actually get a written offer as early as September. I have talked to several schools who are also having a special Junior Day the weekend before and/or after National Signing Day (Feb. 6) and a lot of offers will go out to juniors then as well.
I can't remember if you said your son already has scholarship offers in hand, but, based on what I saw on his video, I would think he would have quite a few by June or July from the top BCS schools. If not, then you might need to take a more aggressive approach. I would recommend, if he hasn't already done so, that he narrow his choices down to the his top 4-5 schools and make sure he visits those institutions on unofficial visits this spring (spring football game) or summer (1-2 or 3 day) football camps. These summer football camps, offered on campus by all Division 1A college football teams, are the best single way for a high school athlete to find out where he stands at a particular school. After personally working your son out for 2-3 days, I guarantee you, a college coach is going to know whether he wants him or not. It kind of cuts through all the bull! There are also several very good combines to attend between February and April and, although college coaches are not allowed to attend, they will receive all the information that is accumulated there.
Of course, official visits aren't even offered until during or after your senior season so no matter what happens prior to next season there is still a lot of evaluating left to do and a lot of scholarship opportunities left to play for.
Do not feel that your son has to go through this recruiting process if he does not want to. If he has an offer from a school where he has always wanted to attend, that also includes the academic programs to interest and challenge him, there is nothing wrong with accepting the offer and locking the school into the commitment. (Remember, if they offer and you don't accept they may change their mind at a later date) This would make his senior season a lot less hectic to get the decision out of the way so that he can focus on his football and academic objectives.
However, my recommendation is that he take his time and enjoy the entire recruiting process as much as he can. He will never have another opportunity to compare the various campuses, academic environments, facilities, football traditions, and coaching staffs. The people he will meet and the experiences he will have will leave a lasting impression on him. It is a unique opportunity that thousands of young men would love to have.
You probably wouldn't recommend that your son marry his first childhood sweetheart. And he probably shouldn't be locked into a school that he fell in love with as a kid just because he liked their jersey colors or admired a favorite player. Recruiting just may open up his – and your – eyes to a lot of new and exciting possibilities.
I wish you both very good luck,