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The 2013 National Signing Day is Wednesday, but Virginia Tech and most other schools have turned their attention to the future.
Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer had 10 commitments for the 2013 class by April 30, and already has four for next year.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has already secured seven commitments for the Aggies’ 2014 recruiting class.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
With much fanfare and hardly a disparaging word, football programs across the country will formally announce their 2013 recruiting class on National Signing day Wednesday, once recruits can fax in their letters of intent.
The final hours will include some high-profile announcements, most on live TV with trite variances to build suspense. But for the most part, the makeup of the 2013 class is established long before signing day.
With the recruiting process starting earlier and earlier in the careers of high school prospects, the timetable for commitments has been accelerated. The 2013 class might grab headlines this week, but coaching staffs across the country have long been focused on 2014 and beyond.
“When coaches come in here now, they want information on freshmen and sophomores,” said Oscar Smith head coach Rich Morgan. “They don’t even want information on seniors now because they’ve already moved on to the next class.”
It’s occurring across the country. Although written scholarship offers can’t go out to a player before Aug. 1 of his senior year, that hasn’t stopped recruits from pledging commitments to schools well in advance of that.
Of Rivals.com’s top 250 recruits for 2014 — high school prospects who are just beginning the second half of their junior years and cannot sign anything official with colleges until next February — 53 have already given an oral commitment to a school.
Virginia Tech and Virginia are among those teams in on the early action. The Hokies have four commitments for next year’s class already — Fredericksburg defensive end Vincent Mihota; Hampton running back Marshawn Williams; Lakeland, Fla., defensive back Javon Harrison; and Lawrenceville tight end Xavier Burke, all of whom had committed prior to last August.
The Cavaliers have one 2014 commitment from Lakeland, Fla., defensive tackle Chris Nelson.
While commitments used to be spread out across the year, a good number of recruits these days are latching on to a school before the start of their senior season.
The Hokies had 10 commitments for their 20-member 2013 class before the end of last April, up from eight the previous year. In the eight years prior to that, they had nine total commitments before April.
“The attention that’s paid to recruiting, a lot of recruits, frankly, I think they get tired of it,” Virginia Tech running backs coach Shane Beamer said. “And because of that, I think you’re going to feel more to just shut it down early so they can have more of a normal life.”
In addition to the natural cutthroat nature of recruiting, J.C. Shurburtt, a national recruiting analyst for 247Sports.com, thinks the proliferation of recruiting websites has added to the rush on early commitments.
“I think some kids enjoy the media attention,” he said. “And you kind of get that thirst for wanting to go do it and be in the spotlight and get in the headlines, so you do it that way.”
Secondly, coaches have more information about who other schools are recruiting.
“So if you’ve got a guy you like and you’re going to take him, it’s in your best interest to go ahead and push for the commit,” Shurburtt said.
Although early commitments are not binding, schools have a good chance of holding onto them. Shurburtt estimated that 75 to 80 percent of kids who make an early decision known publicly stick with their commitment, making it worthwhile for a program to make an early impression.
The accelerated timetable creates issues, though. For starters, high school coaches are finding it difficult at times to keep kids’ egos in check with all the media attention given to recruiting.
“The amount of [publicity] and the social media and all those things, that part has changed,” Morgan said. “You try to keep all the kids grounded and keep them focused on the fact that you’re here for the team first and once we achieve our team success, there will be other successes for you and all those other things.”
Because of the byzantine NCAA recruiting rules, developing relationships with players that young is difficult for college coaches.
Although the NCAA is exploring changes to its rules, coaches currently are not allowed to make off-campus visits with recruits until a player’s senior year. Official visits aren’t allowed until a prospect’s senior year, too. By then, most have made up their mind where they want to go.
That complicates scouting, which is becoming more reliant on game tape and at ages when players are not fully developed.
“Sometimes kids hit a growth spurt and the next thing you know, they’ve changed athletically,” Morgan said. “And that’s tough. That’s when you have to call people and get as much film on it as you can and say, ‘Look, the kid didn’t do much his freshman and sophomore year, but he exploded this year.’ And you try to put that film in front of the coaches so they can see.”
For college coaches, it adds to the importance of getting prospects on their campuses well before their senior season. That happens either through unofficial visits on the recruits’ own dime or, what is becoming increasingly crucial for evaluations, on junior days and at summer camps, when coaches can actually work out players and see them in action.
“We always say if we can get them on Virginia Tech’s campus, we’ve got a chance,” Beamer said. “When you get them up here for the first time, whether it be for a junior day or a spring game, you’ve got to make that like an official visit.
“We probably show them more on junior day than when they come back for their official visit, because generally by the official visit, pretty much everyone that came in this year had already committed to Virginia Tech and they’ve been here before and seen everything.”
The accelerated recruiting timetable has renewed a debate that’s gone on in NCAA circles for years: Should college football adopt an early signing period?
Proponents say it would allow prospects to finalize their recruiting earlier, freeing them from being bombarded by calls and visits by coaches that intensify as signing day nears.
However, the issue becomes more complex when factoring in when to have the date (before the season or after it?) and what do in the event of a coaching change.
The current recruiting timeline allows for recruits, who don’t sign anything binding until February, to switch their allegiance should a school make changes to its coaching staff.
“If you have 126 schools, you’re getting 126 different opinions,” Virginia Tech director of recruiting and high school relations Jim Cavanaugh said.
Regardless of whether or not there’s an early signing period for football, the recruiting process isn’t slowing down.
The NCAA Division I board of directors recently approved 25 proposals meant to simplify and deregulate recruiting rules. Beginning Aug. 1, college coaches can make unlimited phone calls to recruits and contact them through previously-banned modes of communication, including text messages.
With so much external pressure on recruits to make a college decision, it could lead to more early commitments.
“That’s a lot for a kid to deal with,” Morgan said. “I think a lot of kids are like, ‘Look, I’ve done my research, I like this staff, I like this school. This is where I want to be, so let’s just end it now and this is where I’m going to go.’
“I think a lot of kids grow weary of the process the longer and longer it goes on. You can start to see it in their eyes. They just want to get to a school that’s best for them and commit and move forward.”
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