High School Sports Center

Life Beyond the Endzone

by HSSC | Posted on Friday, May 9th, 2014

Life Beyond the Endzone

Since 1992, Burke County High School has seen a steady flow of athletes stepping onto college fields. Currently, there’s a number of talented hopefuls ready to take their games to the next level; but it’s not as easy as it used to be. The face of recruiting has changed over the years making it much more difficult to get noticed.

 While it’s obvious Burke County has some talented players in their midst, only a fraction of those will receive offers to play at the college level. Head Coach Eric Parker has been steadily taking in these changes and making the needed adjustments while preparing his players to meet the challenges ahead. “Football recruiting has become very, very cosmetic; if you are 5 foot 10′ or 5 foot 11, 180- 190 pounds and run 40 yards in 4:6; that’s not a bad looking high school kid but colleges aren’t going to recruit them, regardless of whether he can play or not. It’s just strange, you either have to run that 40 yards in 4:5 or 4:4, or be as big as all get out,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of hard-nosed kids that nobody’s recruiting and I think the kids can play; but unfortunately as a high school coach I don’t have any scholarships to give out.”

University of Georgia’s Assistant Coach John Lilly agrees; the face of college recruiting has changed. “There’s been a trend towards offering scholarships earlier and extending the search deeper and deeper as far as classes go. You’re trying to get your foot in the door very early. Everything has changed, from access to social media to the accessibility of film and the way the whole process works. You hear about guys so much earlier now. They’re getting picked up as prospects and getting actively involved much sooner.”

 Head Coach Larry Blakeney of Troy University agrees the system has shifted the field towards the younger classes, however he still sees some kids breaking the mold. “There are some exceptional players out there who don’t always meet all the top ‘measurables’. However, these guys can play this game at the highest level because they have one or two of those key attributes combined with a real strong spirit or great desire and are just very hardnosed physical-type guys. In other words, you know they understand how to play the game, whether it be on offense, defense or special teams.”

 Coach Lilly feels students shouldn’t worry if they haven’t received an offer by their junior year because the evaluation process continues well into their senior year. Instead, he encourages prospective students to control what is within their ability to control: “You can be the best player out there; and if academically you’re not in a good position you’re not going to get recruited heavily. I think it is the talent and ability on the field that draws everyone initially; but then you start to look deeper and say, ‘What kind of person is this young man? How did he treat his teammates, his coaches, his teachers, his parents? How is he in society? How successful is he academically? How serious does he take that?’ Those are things you can focus on and control and then the rest of it, you’ve got to leave it up to the process.”

 Troy University encourages players who feel they may have been overlooked to enter as walkons. Coach Blakeney explains why this program is important to them: “We encourage kids to walkon and we’re pretty upfront that it usually takes four semesters for us to offer a scholarship if they’re doing well, are a good student and take the time to prove all that out. They’re either a solid rotator, starter or special-teams player and an allaround good citizen of the campus. We’ve signed a lot of guys into this program this way.”

 At the University of Georgia, Coach Lilly believes that sometimes the choice for a promising student boils down to where they feel like they can play the most and what they are really looking for out of their college football experience. “I’ve seen some that could definitely go to another level of school, a 1AA or division two or three or whatever, and there’s no shame in that. I played in a division three school with pride. Doing that, they can play an awful lot and get a lot of onfield experience. Or else they could be somewhere like a “Georgia” or a top 20 Division 1A program and maybe only get to play a handful of snaps in five years, but get the experience of it, go to bowl games, get a degree from that school. I think it’s all simply a matter of what they want their story to be at the end of those 4 years.”

 Coach Parker is straightforward with his students when they start the program at Burke County High School. He tells them to set themselves up so they can go to college with or without football.“I’m a prime example of a guy that went thinking he could ride it out playing football; but it just didn’t work out. I had enough backing from my parents to know that I needed to get a college degree and it’s served me well,” he said. “Football is football and if it works for you, great. You’ve got to understand that for roughly 90 percent of the kids who play this game in high school, once that last senior game is over, that’s it as far as organized football forever.

And I’m not one of those that thinks there’s only one way to be successful. My responsibility is to encourage the kids to have something solid set up so they can go on and better themselves as a citizen and an adult. That’s where the real action is anyway.”

Author – David Stembridge is a freelance photographer & journalist in the Central Savannah River Area of Georgia.

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