Recruiting fair draws crowd to Gwinnett

DULUTH - Georgia head coach Mark Richt meandered through the tables at the Gwinnett Center on Wednesday with one of his assistants, Stacy Searels.

Southern California's Pete Carroll also stopped by with some of his assistants, passing by on the way to an afternoon visit with Trojan commitment Brice Butler of Norcross.

But Richt and Carroll weren't looking to find undiscovered senior football talent at the Gwinnett Recruiting Fair, a Touchdown Club of Gwinnett event designed to help college coaches find high-caliber area players. Their visits, like several of the other high-level colleges in attendance, were more public relations missions to talk with high school coaches and lay the foundation for younger prospects.

The other coaches in the room were doing plenty of business. There were 73 high schools in attendance - including all 18 Gwinnett football-playing schools and the local Georgia Force home-school team - and more than 160 college coaches from all over the country working hard.

The high school coaches, each with a table full of video highlights and other information, hawked their college prospects to football coaches, who trolled from table to table in search of hidden talents.

"This gives you a great venue to show your high school's talent," said Collins Hill head coach Larry Sherrill, who was accompanied by a group of his assistants. "And it's a great opportunity for colleges that are far away to fly into Atlanta, rent a car and drive 45 minutes to see a lot of kids. They can do in one day what it might take them a week to do."

The fair has grown considerably since Dave Hunter, still the event's organizer, started it in Gwinnett back in 1997. It was originally held at The Lodge at Brookwood High School, but eventually outgrew that site, even when the Broncos' fieldhouse also was used.

It's been held the last three years at the Gwinnett Center, and Wednesday's fair was the biggest in its history. Cobb County, which has held a similar event for 16 years, joined in this year to increase the number of non-Gwinnett schools in attendance. Boca Raton (Fla.) High even had a table.

The college coaches faced more travel than Boca Raton since most were an airplane flight, or at least a long drive, away from Duluth.

"The purpose is to try and help the kids (play college football)," Hunter said. "We've had a number of kids find colleges from this. I still remember (Brookwood running back) Bradley Hall in 1997. The Citadel got interested in him at this fair."

The fair, like many aspects of high school coaching, has gotten more high-tech since its inception.

A number of schools had projectors and screens to show highlights, if not laptop computers with video of local players. At the very least, teams offered coaches DVDs with highlights, bio handouts and grade transcripts.

Collins Hill had one of the more prominent displays with two video screens and stacks of DVDs, along with an extra DVD burner in case the coaches ran out. The Eagles also had a color printer for bio handouts.

"It's amazing how high-tech it's gotten in 10 years," said Brookwood assistant Leonard Howard, who helped run the event. "You've got laptops, video production. People are burning DVDs right here at the table. Back when we started it at Brookwood we had a VHS setup where we could copy about five tapes and it would take an hour. Now you can get a DVD in a few minutes."

Hunter said invitations to the event are sent to roughly 800 colleges. Many college coaches take advantage of the opportunity, traveling to Duluth from far-away places like New York, Ohio and Colorado.

The fair truly helps the Division I-AA, II and III schools, as well as NAIA programs and junior colleges that lack the travel budget for recruiting of the big-time powers.

"It helps the kids and it's not so much about the Division I kids," Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said. "This helps the smaller (colleges) that don't have the budget to come out to schools weekly like the Division I schools."

Sherrill said the fair also shows the dedication of Gwinnett's high school coaches when it comes to promoting athletes to colleges. Every Gwinnett program was actively involved in getting its players attention from colleges.

Some even helped others.

"I don't know of a coach in Gwinnett County that is not helping his kids (in recruiting)," Sherrill said. "And we help each other. If (a college coach) asks, 'Who's got a quarterback?' I'll say right there. Or if they ask, 'Who's got a kicker?' I point to Parkview, they've got one who kicks it out of the end zone every time. We're all ambassadors for Gwinnett County football."

Some found time even during a busy week. Buford sent a pack of assistants for the all-day fair, even though the Wolves are still preparing for Saturday's Class AA state championship game.

North Gwinnett head coach Bob Sphire, whose team plays for the Class AAAAA title on Saturday, also manned a table. By himself.

He had to leave a little early for practice, but still had a successful day. Some college coaches didn't know local teams were still in the playoffs, and planned to take in North's Wednesday afternoon practice.

"This is so huge for kids," Sphire said of the fair. "For me, on my list of responsibilities and duties as a coach, this is on the same part of my list as working on the offense and defense, or hiring my staff. ... I just hope that any kid who wants an opportunity to play at the college level gets that opportunity."