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College recruiters aim to get ‘em while they’re young

BY TAFT COGHILL JR.

Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney has one rule when determining if a high school player is old enough to receive a scholarship offer from the Tigers.

“I think they should be driving first,” the coach quipped at Atlantic Coast Conference’s recent media day.

But talented underclassmen—including two rising juniors from Spotsylvania County—are testing Swinney’s beliefs.

Chancellor offensive lineman Steven Moss has 13 Division I scholarship offers, including one from Clemson. Massaponax defensive end Vinny Mihota orally committed to Virginia Tech in April.

Moss and Mihota are part of a nationwide trend of players receiving scholarship offers much earlier than normal.

Last week, the University of Washington accepted a commitment from 14-year-old quarterback Tate Martell, and LSU reportedly offered a scholarship to Dylan Moses, a rising eighth-grader who stands 6 feet and weighs 205 pounds.

“It used to be in the ’90s, I’d go out and evaluate the upcoming seniors, and you’d spend the season trying to decide which one you wanted to offer,” Swinney said. “You’d offer them in December, bring them in in January and figure out which one you’re going to get, and you never knew until signing day. Well, all that’s changed. Now when you go out in May, you’re looking for rising juniors.”

DIFFERENT KIND OF FOOTBALL

Moss and Mihota are two players to watch in the Fredericksburg area this season as several schools begin practice today.

They met as teammates on a youth soccer team. Looking at them now, it may be difficult to tell they excelled in that sport.

Mihota now stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 250 pounds. But at one point he was a swift midfielder. Moss is 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds.

“He was the big ol’ goalie who wouldn’t let much by him,” Mihota recalled. “We played on an undefeated team for three or four years straight.”

Even while playing soccer, the pair’s conversations often turned to football. They talked about playing for different Spotsylvania County middle schools, where both starred as running backs.

When they arrived at Chancellor and Massaponax, both were placed on the line of scrimmage. They faced off last September as Massaponax defeated Chancellor 40–18.

“I think it was even in my opinion, but he got me on the swim moves,” Moss said of his battles with Mihota. “I actually didn’t remember that he was on my soccer team, but I was like ‘Man, he’s kind of good.’”

Mihota thought he fared well against Moss.

So when the scholarship offers began to pour in for Moss, Mihota took notice. He had no offers at the time, so he decided to send film of his matchup with Moss to Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster.

Mihota received a scholarship offer from Virginia Tech soon thereafter. Two days later, he committed to the Hokies. He can’t sign an official letter of intent until February 2014.

“I saw Tech and the way they ran their program, and it looked great to me,” said Mihota, whose brother, Anthony, was the starting center at Virginia for two seasons. “I saw no reason to wait around for more offers. I just decided to take a load off and relax with it.”

Mihota and Moss will meet again on Aug. 31. Mihota said he hopes he’s matched up with Moss the entire game.

“I’m left end. He’s right tackle. It’s perfect,” Mihota said. “I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

CONTROLLING THE PROCESS

Mihota was proactive in his recruitment by sending out film of his matchup with Moss.

Assistant coach Chris Lam serves as Chancellor’s recruiting coordinator. He sends out mass emails of video clips of his players to as many college coaches as possible.

Mihota said perhaps the proactive approach helped him and Moss receive so much early attention.

“I hope it’s because we’re that good,” Mihota said of why they were offered scholarships as sophomores. “But I know we sent out tapes and took control of it. We were putting ourselves out there instead of waiting on a call.”

Lam said a tweak in his approach to marketing his players has made his job easier. He said the adjustments helped Moss gain notice among college coaches, and it also aided rising senior safety Chris Holmes, who orally committed to N.C. State earlier this month after receiving 11 scholarship offers.

Lam said instead of copying DVDs and mailing them individually to coaches, he now posts film of his players on YouTube and emails the links to coaches across the country.

“YouTube is a huge recruiting tool,” Lam said. “You don’t have to spend money and time burning discs and mailing them out. You can contact coaches with the push of a button.”

Lam said in previous years he was selective about where to send DVDs and transcripts, but now “I’ll even send one to Arizona just because I can.”

Lam said advances in technology have also helped.

He uses Hudl coaching software that allows him to download player highlights into a database each week. And whenever a player records a memorable play, he places the clip in a separate file to make a highlight reel.

“It’s much easier than sitting in front of the TV with a DVD player and all of a sudden Steven makes a play and you have to write down that it was at 11 minutes, 20 seconds,” Lam said. “Now on the computer, I click and drag it into a separate folder and his highlights build up as the season goes along.”

TOO MUCH TOO SOON?

Offering scholarships to sophomores can be risky, coaches said.

Swinney said if coaches spend too much time recruiting young players, they may miss out on a late-blooming upperclassman.

Chancellor head coach Bob Oliver said that while sophomores like Moss are physically imposing, there’s no guarantee they have what it takes to be college student–athletes.

“I’m thinking to myself, ‘He’s not even taking hard junior, senior classes academic-wise, and these people, you name the university, if they’ve got film on him, they’ve been through to see him,’” Oliver said. “It’s exciting for the kids, but it puts a little bit of added pressure on them.”

Oliver said there’s also the chance a player won’t remain dedicated to high school success, especially if he makes an early college choice. He said he doesn’t believe that will be the case with Moss because “he’s seen the possibilities of what exists for him past high school.”

“When some guys commit early, they’re not as hungry as they were before because they’re content with the offer,” Moss said. “But you’ve got to stay hungry. You’ve got to go out there and keep hitting people.”

Moss, who is known by his coaches and teammates for having a mean streak on the field, said he plans to wait until next spring before he begins to narrow his list of schools.

He visited Clemson and South Carolina recently. At Clemson, he spent plenty of time with Swinney and his wife, Kathleen.

Moss said when Clemson offered him a scholarship in the spring he had just received his driver’s license.

Swinney commented to him that he was as big as some of his current players and that’s making it difficult not to jump on the youngsters early on.

“He said recruiting is getting weirder and weirder,” Moss recalled. “He told me, ‘I offered you and you’re only a sophomore. The next thing you know we’ll be offering ninth-graders.’”

Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/sports/2012/07/29/college-recruiters-aim-to-get-em-while-theyre-young/

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