Ever since the inaugural American Family Insurance ALL-USA was named 30 years ago, a lot has changed in high school football. Players are bigger. Gear is lighter. Players are more specialized. In “Things Done Changed,” we’ll look at how the game has evolved.
While Nick Glass was deciding on plans for his birthday back on Nov. 7, he randomly checked his email and saw a note from Ohio State’s coaching staff.
That’s nothing new for Glass, a safety at St. Pius X (Atlanta) who is widely regarded as one of the top prospects in the junior class. The Buckeyes have been hotly pursuing Glass ever since he committed to Georgia back in April.
Still, when he opened the email, Glass was instantly wide-eyed.
“They sent me pictures of a birthday cake that they got to celebrate my birthday,” Glass said. “It said ‘Happy Birthday Nick.’ I get a lot of different schools doing random things trying to recruit me, but that was one of the craziest. That was definitely outside of the box. I’ll always remember that.”
It’s just one example of how far the recruitment of high school football players has evolved over the past few decades.
Back in 1906, when the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States, the original name for the NCAA, published its first manual, the recruiting rules were cut and dry, including bylaws that forbade schools from the “offering of inducements to players to enter Colleges or Universities because of their athletic abilities."
“Back in the day, coaches wrote players letters and sent them tons of mail,” said Damon Sayles, a recruiting coordinator for ESPN Recruiting Nation and one of thousands of media members who now make their living in covering recruiting. “Now they’re all over Twitter and Facebook sending kids messages and emailing them. Thirty years ago, coaches weren’t texting. That sounds crazy today. It’s a whole new world these days. Coaches have really had to adapt in the last few decades.”
Makes sense since landing the right prospect could potentially impact a coach’s employment. The No. 1 goal for coaches? Make a lasting impression.
“It wasn’t always like that,” former North Carolina State defensive line coach Keith Willis said. “It used to be that the school would sell itself, now you have to stand out a little more to the player. There’s definitely even more competition now than before to land players.”
That competition has made it almost impossible for the players to make up their minds about which school they want to ultimately attend.
“The schools are really creative,” said Auburn’s (Auburn, Ala.) Reuben Foster, a senior who is widely regarded as the country’s top linebacker. “It’s just not an easy decision. There are a lot of good options. It’s hard.”
So hard that Foster, despite tattooing the Auburn logo on his forearm, decommitted from the Tigers in December. Foster had already decommitted once from Alabama earlier last year.
“So many different things happen when you’re getting recruited,” Foster said. “It’s a lot to deal with.”
Ezekiel Elliott agreed, and said his father, Stacy Elliott, often tells him stories about how there was significantly less stress involved in the recruiting process back when colleges courted him in the late 1980s.
Stacy played outside linebacker at Missouri from 1988-1992.
“My dad said that college coaches would always call his house phone and send him typed out letters,” said Ezekiel Elliott, a senior running back at John Burroughs (St. Louis), who is committed to Ohio State. “I can’t even imagine that. Some people don’t even have house phones these days. Coaches come so much harder than that these days.”
A lot earlier too.
Mississippi State made national headlines last summer when it extended an offer to Gabe Angel, an eighth grade running back from Lebanon, Tenn. Angel finished his freshman season last month.
Tate Martell, a middle school quarterback from San Diego, committed to Washington last summer after finishing his seventh grade year.
“You just didn’t see that years ago,” Sayles said. “Coaches have to know about these kids early on and with the way these kids are growing and developing, we could see more and more sixth, seventh and eighth graders being offered. It’s the nature of the beast. Recruiting is a competitive game and as much as it’s grown in the past few decades it will likely grow even more in the future.”