Everything they can
Big job for coaches promoting high school players

The North Gwinnett football team will have at least seven players sign scholarships today, the most in the school's 50-year history.

The Bulldogs reached the Class AAAAA state championship game last season, but that's not why North has so many players headed to various colleges on National Signing Day.

Like most high school coaching staffs in the county, North Gwinnett's coaches have put in thousands of dollars and countless hours to get their players college exposure.

"I can't imagine how many hours we put in total," North Gwinnett head coach Bob Sphire said. "I would not be surprised it if was 500 hours of manpower (a year)."

Talking to college coaches, putting together game and highlight films, sending test scores and workout maxes are just some of the many things coaches do to get players recognized.

Their reward comes today, when schools around the county host ceremonies to honor their seniors who have signed to play college football.

It begins in February

The recruiting process for this year's senior class actually began last February.

Once National Signing Day is over, Division I colleges start heavily recruiting and getting commitments from some of the top underclassmen in the country.

Locally, coaches begin to send out information for rising senior and some junior players, a list that includes the following: name, jersey number, height and weight, stats from the previous season, 40-yard dash time, weightlifting maxes, GPA and SAT or ACT scores, the player's phone number and address and a photo of the player.

Often a bio sheet is accompanied by a highlight tape of the player.

At North Gwinnett, Sphire and his staff send DVDs to every Division I and Division FCS (formerly I-AA) team in the country and some of the top Division II programs.

That's more than 250 DVDs of highlights of all the North seniors and some game footage going out to schools across the country.

"It's a massive amount of work and time devoted to cutting up a film, downloading it to a DVD and getting it ready by the assistant coaches," Sphire said. "While that's going on I'm working on stats and other information to put in the letter to go with the tape."

North Gwinnett will make a mass mailing five times a year. Once after Signing Day, then in May after spring practice, another one after the second game of the season, a fourth video at midseason and an end of the season video in December.

Sphire estimates he's mailed more than 1,500 DVDs over the last year.

The cost can accumulate pretty quickly for so many mailings. Teams have to buy the DVDs, cases and mailing envelopes, not to mention the cost of postage. That can run as much as $5 a DVD.

North Gwinnett is just one example of what a high school coach and his staff will do to make a player available for college coaches. But the Bulldogs' situation isn't unique, it's similar to most other Gwinnett schools, whether it's a large public high school or a small private one.

Camps and combines

A rising high school prospect can make a name for himself in the summer, when colleges across the country hold football camps on their campuses.

"The football coach is nothing more than a door opener for the kids," Sphire said. "I can't show college coaches everything they should see about a kid. That's why the kids and parents have to do their part."

Aside from having a high enough GPA and a qualifying SAT or ACT, there are other things students and parents can do to help their college football recruiting.

Touring a college campus, whether it's an unofficial visit or an official one, can help an athlete decide if he likes the school. Going to college summer camps and recruiting combines can also help.

"Pick out four or five schools that you think you have a legitimate shot of playing at and go to their summer camp and impress them," Brookwood coach Mark Crews said.

Often camps held by colleges can spark the interest of a coach and eventually lead to that team recruiting the player.

Combines have also become a popular way for players to get noticed. A player can go to a combine and if he runs the 40-yard dash in an impressive time or looks agile, it can get the college scouts' attention.

But maybe the biggest thing local high school coaches stress for players and parents is communication, staying in touch with the schools that the player is interested in.

Colleges are recruiting hundreds of prospects, so when they don't hear back from someone, especially at the smaller schools, they may move on to another player.

"It's so critical for the parents and the kids when those doors open to follow through," Sphire said.

By the time the summer is over many of the major Division I prospects have made their commitments. Colleges stay on these standouts the rest of the year to make sure they sign with them in February.

During the season a player that has not gotten much college interest may start to get some from smaller schools, such as Division FCS, Division II and NAIA schools.

The evolution of recruiting

The days of just sending a VHS tape and a letter to a college is long gone.

Teams now have the ability to put game films on DVDs and in some cases on the Internet.

"It used to be such a pain to send out VHS," Crews said. "It would take so long to copy just one tape. Now we can copy five DVDs at one time. If a coach visits and wants a film we can have it ready before he leaves."

The Internet has now become a major factor in the whole recruiting process. Now high schools have Web sites with players' bio information and highlights available. When a college coach asks about a player, a high school coach can direct them to the Web.

No one benefited from that more that than Brookwood's Kenny Miles last fall. The Broncos' running back played sparingly as a junior, so hardly any teams knew about him. After he started rushing for nearly 200 yards every game as a senior, schools began to get interested.

"I'm pretty sure it helped Kenny Miles and South Carolina," Crews said.

Many of the big schools already had most of their scholarship offers taken, so the choices were limited for Miles. But week after week as Miles rushed for more and more yards, several big-time schools began to take notice.

Brookwood is the only team in the county with highlights and games on its Web site, so when coaches asked Crews about Miles he would direct them to the team's Web site.

"I told them I'll put (his highlight tape) in the mail, but you can go to our Web site and look at all 12 games and highlights," Crew said.

The exposure helped. Miles went from a player no one knew about to a major Division I prospect, committing to South Carolina.

The Internet has helped in other ways as well. Sites like Rivals.com and Scout.com are two of the biggest and post players' heights and weights, who they have offers from and where they plan to commit to.

"We've always done a lot of recruiting for the kids from the time I was at Tucker we've always done a lot," said longtime Dacula coach Kevin Maloof. "But it's definitely a lot more advanced now, especially with all the recruiting Web sites like Rivals.com."

But as helpful as Internet sites have become, players and parents have to be careful. Some sites will put your name on a recruiting list for a fee. Those lists usually mean nothing to college coaches, it's what they see in person, on tape and off a high school coach's opinion.

"There's just this huge misconception that college coaches wait around for someone to put their name in front of them with one of these recruiting services," Crews said. "It doesn't happen like that. These college coaches are actively recruiting and we're on their annual routes.

"They trust us more than a Web site for someone that makes you pay money for you to put your name on their site."

That trust factor college recruiters have with high school coaches is especially big in Gwinnett County. It's not uncommon for a high school coach to spend his whole day talking to college recruiters. Once someone from Auburn has left, Clemson is at the door and Ole Miss and Boston College are waiting outside.

A college recruiter will not only ask about that particular school's players, but others in the county.

"They'll ask me who in the county is a good DB this year that you've played against that we should recruit," Crews said. "In Gwinnett County, unless it's a matter of discipline, if you're a good player you couldn't hide if you wanted to."

Small programs

benefit from fair

The recruiting process has a trickle down affect.

The Division I schools have the pick of the litter. Once most of those players are committed, it's the Division FCS schools that come in during the high school season and make their offers. After that it's the Division II and NAIA schools that sort through the best available players.

Those small schools have minimal recruiting budgets, so it's hard for them to make it out to several high schools not only across Gwinnett, but other counties.

That's where the Gwinnett Recruiting Fair comes in.

It was originally started by former Brookwood coach Dave Hunter over a decade ago. It was held in the Broncos' Lodge, but the event grew so much over the years that it is now held at the Gwinnett Center.

All 18 Gwinnett high school football programs were at last December's event along with dozens of others from across the state.

The fair draws 60 to 70 recruiters from different colleges, allowing them to pick up bio sheets, get highlight tapes and talk to coaches about different players. Last year's fair had recruiters from junior colleges, Division I schools, including Southern Cal's Pete Carroll and Georgia's Mark Richt, and Division II and Division III programs.

"I guess if a kid in Gwinnett County can play then we can get him somewhere," Crews said.

It's not enough

From sending highlight and game tapes to talking to college coaches all day, the perception can often be that a coach is not doing enough if he doesn't have several players sign.

Crews still remembers his 2005 team that won 14 games and reached the state championship game. Few players off that squad signed. Many didn't for various reasons, but it appeared to outsiders that Crews wasn't doing anything to help his players get to the next level. He isn't the first coach accused of that by parents, and he won't be the last.

"I think every coach in Gwinnett County that I've encountered does everything they can to promote their players," Crews said. "It's good for the team, it's good for the players, it's good for school, it's good for the whole county.

"This conception that coaches aren't helping their kids is just ridiculous."

But sometimes no matter how much a coach does to help a player play college ball, it's not always up to them.

"The college process has gotten out of hand," Maloof said. "The mindset of some parents is a coach can get them a scholarship. A coach can talk to the school on behalf of the kids, but ultimately the decision of a scholarship comes from that college."