Memorial Day marks the time high school and college students are anxious for the school year to end and the summer to begin; graduation ceremonies take place and families plan their vacations.
Not so fast!
College football coaches and athletes who are going into their senior season of high school football have other plans. For both college staffs and high school athletes, the time period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is extremely important for recruiting.
Many college coaches have been on the road since the middle of April evaluating high school juniors, collecting transcripts and trying to find out personal information about prospects who have been on their recruiting boards for many months. When May gives way to June, college staffs meet on a regular basis to discuss, in many cases, the hundreds of high school football players they are considering to offer scholarships. Many players will be dropped at this point -- because of academic problems, poor performance evaluations, character flaws and not passing the eye-ball test in terms of size. This is the crucial whittling down time during which college staffs make hard choices on whom to take off the board. As ironic as it may sound, other names may be added after spring evaluations; but not nearly as many high school juniors are added as are eliminated.
While the college coaches have been evaluating high school seniors to be, they are also compiling lists of underclassmen they have noticed or heard about during the spring evaluation period. In June, these players are added to the future's board.
Probably the most important recruiting task for college staffs during the summer is to get the best upper- and underclass prospects to summer camps.
These summer camps are crucial for several reasons. First of all, the camp is a chance for college coaches to do a thorough evaluation of the athletes -- exact sizes, speed, agility and football skills can be checked out. Secondly, it gives the staff an opportunity to meet the athlete on a personal basis for, in many cases, the first time. Thirdly, it may keep the better athletes away from opposing programs for at least that day or week.
Summer camps are just as important for the athlete. It gives him a chance to show off his talents in front of college coaches and to sell himself as a person. Recruits, along with their parents and high school coach, usually select a limited number of summer camps to attend. They choose the camps at which they can receive the most exposure and at the schools that have shown the most interest in them -- schools that have already, or could potentially, extend a scholarship offer.
There is the chance a high school player can make a name for himself and be put on a school's recruiting radar if he performs well at a camp. Top performers could even end up with a scholarship offer. Such was the case in 1999 at our Ohio State summer camp.
There was a senior to be from a very small rural high school in central Ohio who did practically everything for his team. He played offense, defense, special teams and was even their punter. He looked very good on film but the competition wasn't the greatest. He came to our camp and ran a 4.45 40-yard dash and was one of the top two athletes at the camp out of 1,500. Even though he had been recruited by just a few smaller schools, we wound end up offering him a scholarship in the fall.
His name is Donnie Nickey, and he became a four year starter, team captain, member of the 2002 national championship team and would be drafted in the third round by the Tennessee Titans. Nickey has already played five seasons with the Titans and is an exceptional young man. If we would not have had the chance to evaluate Nickey at our summer camp, we probably wouldn't have offered him a scholarship. It worked out well for us and for Donnie.
Obviously there is a chance a player is taking a bit of a gamble by going to a summer camp if he doesn't perform up to expectations, but understand; good college recruiters make few mistakes. If the player isn't good enough, coaches will eventually realize it. There's pressure on the athlete to do a good job in front of college coaches but that's the same pressure they are under on Saturday afternoons in front of thousands of spectators.
As relaxing as summer can be for most people, the high-pressured world of a college football coach just takes a new face for that time period; evaluation, elimination, selling and everything else that is part of the recruiting phenomenon continues. For the high school football player who hasn't committed to a college or university, he gets prepared for his senior year of competition under the scrutiny of trying to impress college football coaches. There's a lot at stake for both parties, but that's part of the game.
Bill Conley worked at Ohio State for 17 years as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. Since retiring from Ohio State in 2004, Conley has worked as a contributor and analyst for Columbus-area print and broadcast media and as a professional speaker. He also published a book recounting his years as Buckeye recruiting coordinator, "Buckeye Bumper Crops."