Recruiting Season

Disclaimer:  I don’t know exactly what I’m talking about here.  I am simply an observer, as I am with many things in life.  I take it all in and form an opinion, then I write about it.  But in the household where I reside, I pick up on a lot of things having to do with football, whether I really want to or not.  Living in this household I have seen and heard many things over the years.  Some I may share, and some I will not.  I’ve seen the good, bad and ugly of recruiting this year.  With all of that said, this is my take.

After the regular season come the playoffs, after the playoffs come the holidays, and right around the new year recruiting season comes into full swing.  I’m asked by friends if I’m relieved when football season is over.  Yes, in some ways it can be a relief, but in many ways it is just the beginning.  Recruiters come knocking.  They come to the school and to the homes of players.  They call on the weekends and at night while my family is trying to have dinner, or when The Coach and I are attempting to have an evening out.  Many of them think that The Coach will sway a player one way or another.  While The Coach can give advice when asked, he normally tries to stay neutral and is much more level-headed than I would be if I were in his shoes.  When The Coach arrives home at night, he tells me about all of the college coaches who have called or sent texts and the recruiters who have met with him that day.  Many times his whole day is spent with recruiters.  It is part of his job, but since he is also the Athletic Director, his job isn’t done, and he spends time between recruiters working on eligibility and working other sporting events at the school.  Sometimes the recruiters even attend the other sporting events to see athletes in action and meet various young people who may be of interest to them in the future.  He’s asked whether or not he has players who could be assets to the university or college.  He has to be honest.  While some players are tremendously talented on the field, many aren’t working as hard as they should in the classroom.

This year loads of colleges have come calling,  because of four-star rated Dax Hollifield.  He’s the kind of player every college wants because he’s simply a great kid.  I’ve watched him grow up.  He works hard both on and off the field, and is truly humble and pleasant to be around.  Stanford is interested in Dax, and a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet David Shaw, their head coach.  I’m not immediately impressed by anyone just because they are a fancy schmancy football coach.  But after meeting Coach Shaw, I was impressed.  That meeting inspired me to watch his Ted Talk about how football can save the world.  Now, I’m not a total believer in that statement, but after years of watching my husband and other great men coach, and learning more about the game of football than I ever wanted to learn,  I truly see value in the game.  In his talk, Coach Shaw explains how Stanford looks for intelligent and academically strong athletes.  They don’t simply wish to be a great school for academics or a great school who wins championships.  Schools don’t have to be one or the other, they can be both.  Coach Shaw explains how Stanford is paving the way for higher education to have greatness on the field and in the classroom in order to create young people who are valuable in a variety of areas and go on to help make the world a better place.  Young people who wish to be recruited have to catch on to this idea.

After the past few months, I find myself imagining what it must be like for high school athletes. There’s a whole plethora of message boards, forums, dot-coms, and recruiting analysts who have something called Crystal Ball Predictions, and it makes me nauseated  to think about the pressure these young people and their families experience. Some are noticed by everyone because of their outward, stand out athletic ability.  On film, they put on a show.   Recruiters know exactly what they are looking for, or do they?  How would it be to feel wanted by everyone?  Fought over constantly?  Some student-athletes know, but others who are talented won’t know.  They have to fight to be noticed.  How can they do that?  Is it worth it for a kid who dreams of playing in college or in the NFL?

According to a little digging and curiosity, I found that about a quarter of the athletes in the NFL weren’t ranked at all or recruited as a high school player.  Here are excerpts from two different articles I found on unranked players:

“Also impressive is that 19 players were rated as 2-star prospects or not rated at all, meaning nearly one-quarter of the players at the top of the league in 2016 brushed off the lack of belief in them by talent evaluators and grinded all the way to NFL greatness.”

Ben Kercheval, CBS Sports Writer

“This is often the most interesting category. These are the players that came out of nowhere and transformed themselves into NFL players. Most did so as a walk-on or playing at a Division II school or smaller.

The Arizona Cardinals first round pick, Haason Reddick, is a perfect example. He walked on at Temple as a defensive back and eventually blossomed into a force at defensive end leading the nation in tackles for loss as a senior.

Wisconsin offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk is another example of unranked to first rounder. He started his career at the Division III level at UW-Stevens Point before transferring to Wisconsin and transforming into an All-American. Now, he’s a member of the New Orleans Saints.

New Orleans Saints second round pick Gerald Everett signed with Bethune-Cookman (Florida) out of high school, while Chicago Bears second round pick Adam Shaheen was plucked out of Ashland University (Ohio).”

Chris Hummer, 247 Sports

Some young athletes are going to have to work to make connections because they will never be officially recruited.  Head coaches aren’t able to make every athlete look like a star.  Even when head coaches recommend players, it never comes down to the word of the coach.  Young men must learn to advocate for themselves, but how?  One of the ways they can help their chances of playing at the college level and possibly receiving scholarships is hard work on and off the field, meeting and talking with college coaches, attending camps, and making college visits.  My friend and coworker, Omar Porter, recently started producing videos and podcasts to help young athletes learn to market themselves as worthy student-athletes and find college programs where they would like to play.

Click here to check it out:  https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D9JLVMxrJPYk&h=ATOsxQfNEL_gK29LXy_YCHdJ5Rdp83uGZl1iRljMg239R4fO-YL7_VHVNi6QDGKBfeDZXHHccIlPJHlgYtSlWtIheEqAwSPNHcuN4cMK974zGTKKQ3unJ42XKA&s=1&enc=AZMkszW8EPy_dy6lRd9xI9aXzUT9nXdURxVhMcak5At9VW5Od96w_dEsKiz-z_Gqg88

In only a few days young men from all over the country will sign a commitment to one school or another.  The hard work of athletes, families, coaches, and teachers will pay off.  May they all follow their hearts and find that the dreams that they have for themselves are greater than they ever imagined, and for those who don’t sign but still have hopes of playing at the college level, may those young men not give up on their dreams but perhaps find another road that takes them where they want to go.

Sugar Bear

There once was a man who was larger than life, and was at times more like an imagined character from a movie.  Around his house Larry was referred to as “Sugar Bear”.  He had a thick head of wavy white hair, and a roundness to him which made him much like a burly bear.  There were barely believable stories he could tell about adventures at the courthouse,  interesting cases he’d heard, or some time from his wilder teenage days driving fast cars on the streets of Shelby.

He announced Friday night football games with a muffled, deep voice that seemed a bit congested, but charismatic none the less.  His laugh was raspy from years of smoking.  Mistys were frequently his cigarette of choice, creating the humorous scene with his large hands holding a dainty “lady” cigarette.   Chuckles of laughter mingled with his words when he spoke.  “It’s a Golden Lion first down.”  There was a smile behind that voice, and every listening ear in the stadium could hear it.  Why was he so happy?  He was announcing the games, his wife always by his side, there helping him spot in the press box.   His oldest son down on the sidelines coaching, or in early years he was “up top” calling plays over the headset.  His younger son dressed out ready to go in for a play.  It was a family affair.  I sat in the stands half-way watching the games, catching up with friends, and sneaking a cigarette in the parking lot during half time.

When I began dating The Coach he took me one night to meet his parents.  This was “The Night of a Thousand Questions”.    Larry, being the magistrate he was, grilled me.  I held up, but it wasn’t easy.  He wanted to know who my daddy was, and where I had come from.  He wanted to know my future plans, and who my friends were.  He asked me whether or not I knew certain people.  Community and connections were important to him.  He passed that love of community along to his family.  He passed many parts of himself along to us.

The Coach loved his dad even though they often times would butt heads and argue over decisions.  I butted heads with Larry even worse than The Coach did.  Larry always had a strong sense of what should happen, and how it should happen.  He would let you know what he thought, even if you didn’t ask.  “You know what you should do Cat?”  He would say to me.  No.  I didn’t want to know what he thought I should do.  I was as stubborn as they come, and sometimes I still am.  I have softened a little bit over the years with lessons I’ve learned the hard way.

Even though he frustrated me at times, I would go to him for advice when I sincerely needed a wise opinion.  He never steered me wrong.  He knew I had a mind of my own, and I think he respected me for speaking up and not simply going along, or taking things at face value.  Sometimes I’m not sure how I ever made it into the inner circle of the Ware family.  I’m not so much like them, but Larry came to love me anyway.  He truly loved people, and wanted to help them make good decisions.  The Coach would call his dad daily to tell him all of the good things that were happening, and to ask him how he should handle difficult people or situations.  I see Larry each time The Coach works with a player, assistant coach, or a parent to help them, or when he meets with players or parents to talk about predicaments or future decisions.  He has such a way with people, and that came directly from his father.

I see Larry everyday.  Certainly not the way  I would physically see him when he was here with us, but I see his character.  My oldest son has a great understanding of sports, and has done some announcing of games for the city park.  He takes after Larry, who he called Papa Shug, in that way.  My middle child is charismatic and charming.  He loves fast cars, and much like Larry he can persuade and talk his way into and out of things with ease.  My little girl is so much like Larry that we often joke that he sent her to us.  She loves people and the kind of social situations that fueled him.  She smiles and laughs with her giggles mingled into  words just like he used to do.  She has a true love for life.  The Coach reminds me more and more of his father with every passing year.  Don’t get me wrong, he is his own man, but we often laugh at how he will try to tell me what I “should do” on a regular basis.  He drags me to hear beach music at every opportunity.  The same beach music Sugar Bear would be listening to each evening as he sat on his stool at their kitchen bar.  The Coach loves people, he loves our community, and he is always ready for a social event.  Through all these things, Larry is alive with us, and carried with us.

He left us on July 9th of 2009.  I remember the doctor coming to the waiting room to tell us that he didn’t make it through the surgery.  I was shaking and my teeth chattered.  I wanted to cry and laugh all at the same time.  It was like being smothered by every emotion simultaneously.  Jolts of pain for those of us left behind, and promises of hope for Larry to be carried on wings to heaven.  “Be Free!”, the words echoed in my mind over and over, “Be Free”.  That was all I could think.  His body had imprisoned his spirit those final years.

I think of him always in July.  It is an interesting time for a football family, because it’s the start of a new season.  It’s as if he knew this, and went just at the time when we would need to be reminded every year of new beginnings and feel hopeful for the upcoming season.  We would be busy with football.  Too busy and occupied to feel sorry for ourselves for very long, because Larry would never want us to feel sad.  He would want us to have a fresh start, a new adventure, and to love life just the way he did.

After he died I had a dream of him driving up in a race car that had number 57 painted on the side.  The window was rolled down and he looked great, younger than I had ever seen him,  fresh,  with a big bright smile.  His handsome thick, white hair was combed back and blowing gently in the breeze.  He wasn’t sick.  In the dream I looked at him and said, ” I thought 56 was your number.”  He laughed that same laugh that I had known when he was alive.  The carefree kind of laugh that he had, even though his life should have been full of cares.  He looked at me and said, “No, that’s Linda’s number on her race car.”  That was terribly funny to me, and I laughed as he drove off and out of my dream.  In my heart I believe it was him.  Speaking to me from the other side of that thin veil that separates this life from the next.