It’s a signing day ritual at high schools — beefy football players who look uncomfortable in ties pose for photographs while signing a national letter of intent.
Wednesday, some photographs will be more crowded than others. As many as 16 football players at St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale) will sign national letters of intent, including nine expected to sign with Division I schools. It has become a tradition at Aquinas, which had nine NFL players on opening-day rosters this past fall, four more than any other high school.
“We hold a ceremony in the auditorium, and the players go up one at a time with their parents,” says Aquinas athletics director George Smith. “We don’t do any of that changing hats stuff. We’ve been a heavily recruited school for a while, so it has had a snowball effect.”
Roughly 1,300 miles north in Detroit, Cass Tech will have eight or nine players sign with Division I schools while Good Counsel (Olney, Md.) is planning to have a ceremony with seven players signing with Division I schools.
It’s not a coincidence that all three were in the Super 25 football rankings and won their final games of the season. Aquinas won the Florida 7A title, Cass Tech won its second consecutive state Division I title and Good Counsel won its fourth consecutive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title.
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It takes good players to win, elite players are attracted to successful high school teams and colleges heavily recruit players from successful high schools.
“Good players want to go to high schools where other Division I players are going,” says CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. “They also want to go where they know they’ll be developed as players.”
“I think I have 20 players on my team who have Division I offers,” says Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher. “You get a good player who is recruited and that gives college coaches an opportunity to see other players you have. Most importantly, schools are trying to recruit kids who are willing to make sacrifices to win.”
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One overlooked factor is all three schools have enhanced academics. St. Thomas Aquinas and Good Counsel are private Catholic high schools that have a high rate of students who go on to college. Though Cass Tech is a public school, it is Detroit’s only magnet school, and students must pass an entrance exam and have good middle school grades to get in.
“There are a lot of players out there who are talented that no one ever heard of and you never will because they didn’t work hard or have the proper academics,” Smith says.
One advantage Aquinas has over Cass Tech or Good Counsel is it in a state that allows spring football. Nearly 80 college coaches attended the school’s 2009 spring game, Smith says.
“We had players like Gio Bernard (a North Carolina redshirt sophomore who has entered the NFL draft), LaMarcus Joyner (a safety at Florida State) and James White (a running back at Wisconsin),” Smith says. “The coaches who came knew about those guys, but they didn’t know about the rest of our players and that’s how they got the exposure.”