Recruiting targets keep getting younger

FORT WORTH, Texas – The Aggies offered Drew Tate a scholarship before he took a regular-season snap – in his junior season.

“I thought they had confused my age,” Tate said. “I thought they had probably thought I was a senior. I told my dad, `Hey, Dad, I think it was just a mistake. Call them to make sure.’ He called them and they said it was for real, and that was it.”

College coaches no longer wait until the senior season to evaluate recruits. With the growth of summer camps, the increase of information on the Internet and by attending spring drills, coaches are unearthing recruits early and trying to secure commitments as soon as possible.

“People are making decisions quicker across the country,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “People are watching out for juniors. If they are watching film on a senior and they see a junior, they’ll ask the coach about him. If they see a freshman that’s real fast, there are some people that may say, `Talk to me about him,’ even though he’s a freshman.”

Tate, who has started at Bay City since he was a freshman, attended summer camps but had never been to one at Texas A&M. He went to Purdue for a quarterback camp, where he met then-Boilermakers quarterbacks coach Kevin Sumlin.

Sumlin was hired at Texas A&M before this season, which helped lead to the offer Sept. 1, the earliest date that schools are allowed to make an offer.

“With the camps the way they are right now, you’re getting an opportunity to evaluate men when they’re in the camps at a much earlier age,” said Tim Cassidy, who oversees recruiting at Texas A&M. “With the kids wanting to make early decisions, there is more pressure on the coaches, not only to have one good eye on the upcoming seniors when you’re evaluating, but to also be looking at the upcoming prospects as juniors.”

Players as young as 8 attend these football camps, where coaches can check their size, speed and athletic ability. While an 8-year-old is too young to evaluate, coaches track freshmen who make strong impressions.

“Some of the kids, as freshman, you start to notice, particularly guys that have good size or good speed,” Cassidy said.

Texas A&M offered scholarships to nine juniors last year and a handful this season, Cassidy said.

Coaches are not the only people evaluating recruits earlier. Most evaluation services start tracking players before their senior season.

In 1998, “Dave Campbell’s Texas Football” debuted its list of juniors and sophomores to watch, with a half-page list. In the 2001 edition of the magazine, the list of underclassmen was expanded to almost two full pages. Web sites are also rating prospects well before their senior year.

“Guys that are rated, obviously you try and get film on them,” Texas Tech coach Mike Leach said. “It gives you a starting point.”, also provide film to subscribers.

“You would be surprised how many college coaches or college recruiting coordinators or recruiting secretaries are subscribing to our service,” said Jeremy Crabtree, director of

The Internet also works for recruits, where highlights and biographies can be sent through e-mail.

“It’s real easy for a parent to send an e-mail to a coach or a recruiting coordinator or to a recruiting secretary with bio information, with pictures, with video clips of their kids two or three years in advance,” Crabtree said. “We get e-mails from parents that are pumping up their ninth graders already. Just imagine what the college coaches are getting.”

With the early evaluations have come earlier commitments. Forty-two members of the “Star-Telegram’s” State Top 100 recruits have already committed to play football at a college next year. College coaches have discussed the possibility of an early signing period in their meetings.

“In the long run, everything is going to be sooner and sooner,” Crabtree said. “I think if you asked most college coaches, they would love to have an early signing period so they can keep these kids that are committed to them early on committed to them later on for signing day.”

(c) 2001, Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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