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An industrial evolution

The recruiting process has intensified as high school sports have ballooned

Posted: August 13, 2009 9:10 p.m.
Updated: August 14, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Today, the recruiting of high school athletes is more than a process.

It’s more than an opportunity for youngsters.

Major college athletics have become an industry.

And recruiting has followed suit.

“It’s become an arms race, almost,” says Brandon Huffman, Scout.com’s West football recruiting regional manager.

The weaponry comes in the form of the student-athletes, who represent the future of a school’s product on the field.

Recruiting outlets have popped up over the past decade to cover the process, from the camps to the high school season to national signing days.

The three sports that receive the most coverage are football, boys basketball and girls basketball, and players are rated in a five-star system.

“I think recruiting is a fascinating case study of today’s youth,” says Jeremy Crabtree, national recruiting coordinator for Rivals.com. “I know a lot of people want to downplay it and say it’s not good for kids because of the attention, but there are still hundreds of stories of great kids who make it and embrace the process.”

Crabtree founded Rivals.com with Bobby Burton in May of 2001 while they were running a magazine called the National Recruiting Advisor.    Because of the internet’s capacity for posting and exchanging information, Crabtree and Burton felt it was the future of recruiting.

The gamble paid off.

Yahoo! purchased Rivals.com in July 2007, and the site employs more than 300 writers. It also claims more than 11.5 million users as of January 2009.

Scout.com was launched as an overall sports network in 2001, and quickly developed a strong reputation as a recruiting outlet before being purchased by Fox Interactive Media in August of 2005.

Thanks to the success of these sites, the recruiting process has changed.

“Back when I played, my coach would say (to college coaches), ‘These are my prospects,’” says Huffman, who played on Ventura High School’s varsity team in 1992 and 1993. “If you weren’t in there, you kind of just accepted your fate. Now anyone who has a DVD thinks they can be a four- or five-star player. More players feel like they can do self-marketing.”

Because of the increased exposure, recruiting analysts like Huffman and Crabtree watch thousands of videos each year.

Crabtree notes that in the 1970s and 1980s, the blue-chip high school players like running backs Herschel Walker and Eric Dickerson had no trouble gaining attention because of their prowess on the playing field.

The same was true of high school basketball legend Moses Malone, who, contrary to popular belief, was fifth basketball player to go straight to professional basketball and not the first.

But now?

There’s definitely ways that kids are able to be nationally known,” Crabtree says. “There’s a ton of information about these prospects. You can know who these kids are and maybe go out and watch them.”

Golden Valley boys basketball head coach Chris Printz played at Simi Valley High with future UCLA star and NBA player Don MacLean.

He’s seen first-hand the change in the recruiting process.

“I remember all the attention (MacLean) got when he was in high school,” Printz says. “What’s different about it now is that back then it was a select few, the top of the top.”

Some players don’t mind the evolution of the process.

Former Hart standout and current UCLA linebacker Patrick Larimore received offers from Stanford, Duke, Utah and San Diego State before settling on the Bruins.

Larimore attended a Nike camp in April of 2007, his junior year. Schools began to contact him after an impressive showing at the camp, and he committed to UCLA as soon as the school offered him a scholarship in December 2007.

The process, which some might consider weary for a high school student, had no such effect on Larimore.

“I enjoyed it,” he says. “It was cool being talked to by the coaches in the Pac-10 and being recruited. I can see kids getting big heads as a result of being highly touted, but I think most kids just want to play college ball.”

Furthermore, Larimore understands the extra attention paid to amateur athletes since the popularity surge of high school athletics.

“I think it’s because college sports are such a business and recruitment is such a vital part of a program’s success,” he says.

Larimore even admires recruiting outlets like Scout.com and Rivals.com, which are frequently criticized for the inexact science that goes into their analysis.

Huffman says he looks at the mechanics of each athlete and their performance throughout the whole game, not just on highlight plays.

Most of all, he’s looking for players who will translate to college.

“There’s a difference between a great high school football player and a college football prospect,” Huffman says. “I think that’s a real sticking point. College football coaches aren’t looking for great high school players, they’re looking for great prospects.”

Thanks to the today’s recruiting process, coaches are finding more and more of them.

The spotlight on talented high school athletes is as bright as ever, and the pressure brings down some players.

Crabtree, however, believes it’s a big step in maturation for any kid.

“I think it’s part of the process that goes into being a college athlete,” he says. “Whether you’re in volleyball, basketball, football, there’s pressure on you to perform on a number of different levels. You have to be able to juggle the hours and you have to be able to deal with being well-known.

“I view the recruiting process as kind of the beginning of that for a kid. It’s the first step toward that life you’re going to have if you’re going to be a successful college athlete.”

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