Commentary

Proud high school coaches prepare for multiple signings

Originally Published: February 1, 2008
By Christopher Lawlor | ESPN.com

Billy Rolle, by his count, will visit the fax machine at least 14 times Wednesday morning.

That's not coincidental but factual.

[+] EnlargeBilly Rolle
Pedro Diaz for ESPN.comMiami Northwestern head coach Billy Rolle expects 14 of his seniors to sign letters of intent Wednesday.
Rolle is the head coach of America's greatest high school football team of this century. He steered the Northwestern Bulls, a Miami powerhouse, to the school's second consecutive Florida Class 6A state championship in December. He did it with an inordinate amount of talent.

Some say Rolle's team was so stacked with talent it's inconceivable it could have lost.

The observers were right, Northwestern rattled off its second straight undefeated season (14-0 and 29 straight wins) while finishing No. 1 in the ESPN High Elite 25 high school football rankings.

The fax machine will inhale the binding NCAA national letters of intent much like the Northwestern Bulls did their opponents: one at time, in succession.

Rolle will dial the University of Miami Hurricanes football offices around 9:05 a.m. on national signing day (annually the first Wednesday in February), faxing their letters.

Like so many high schools, it is a reason for celebration and relief.

Unlike most high schools, Northwestern High is expected to have at least 18 players headed on to play college football in the fall; four Northwestern players already enrolled earlier this month at the university in nearby Coral Gables.

"It was an extra special class," said Rolle, who is in his second stint as the Northwestern coach. Northwestern's class added new layers of hyperbole to recruiting.

Three of the four players enrolled at Miami were ESPN 150 players; the fourth, quarterback Jacory Harris, is the nation's 21st-rated quarterback.

Rolle noted Harris, wide receiver Aldarius Johnson (No. 63), linebacker Sean Spence (No. 21) and defensive lineman Marcus Forston (No. 27) may sign their letters in Northwestern's library on Wednesday morning, joining their teammates, but is unaware of their class schedules.

"Arguably they (Northwestern) are one of the greatest teams ever," contends ESPNU analyst Tom Luginbill, the national recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. "There are nine to 12 high major players; you don't see that happen too often."

Wide receiver Tommy Streeter is mulling offers from South Carolina, Miami, Tennessee and Oregon.

Offensive lineman Benjamin Jones (6-6, 280 pounds) is torn between Clemson and Miami.

With the advent of the Internet and expanded national and regional television coverage, football recruiting has branched out. Coaches have more access to information not afforded a decade ago.

That's why the trend of schools sending 10 or more student-athletes annually is a reality rather than a pipe dream.

Sending student-athletes from the mean streets of Cleveland has been the mantra of Ted Ginn Sr. since he took over at Glenville High in 1997.

It doesn't matter the amount (who sign); even one is a blessing.

-- Glenville coach Ted Ginn Sr.

Ginn, whose son Ted Jr. is one of four Glenville alumni currently in the NFL, estimates he's sent "over 100 players to college on scholarship."

By Glenville standards, the Class of 2008 is down; only six players will sign, mainly with Big Ten Conference schools (including two with Ohio State).

"It doesn't matter the amount (who sign); even one is a blessing," said Ginn, the executive director of Ginn Academy, a new Cleveland public school for at-risk inner city males.

In 2005, Ginn says 21 players (including sub-Division I) went to play in college. But there is a pipeline from Glenville to Ohio State, where in the last six years Ginn says "around 20 have signed."

Notably Ginn's son and quarterback Troy Smith, the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner.

"I don't send players to a certain school, they go where they feel comfortable," Ginn said.

DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.), a regionally-ranked powerhouse, captured its fifth straight Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship with 15 returning starters. Coach Bill McGregor, a tireless worker, normally sends 10-12 players to BCS schools.

"I was working the phones today (Jan. 30) looking for a home for one more player," said McGregor, who has 250 victories in 26 seasons. "I'm hoping that some schools will call back after the initial wave of faxes comes through on signing day."

In the business, that second wave of recruiting occurs four or five hours after the colleges receive their commitments. If there are scholarships remaining, coaches will call their top prospects based on the best available athletes or by position.

Anthony Listorti, an all-state linebacker from DeMatha, has several small-school offers but McGregor is holding out for a bigger offer."

"I told Anthony to be patient," he said. "He's still alive and on several colleges' boards but he doesn't have to sign Wednesday morning. If he waits, that second window could open within the next 24-48 hours.

"I called schools this week to remind them we still have players available and if anything opens to please call us,'' he said.

Rolle agrees the recruiting game for players stresses patience.

"I have a player looking for a home in-state. He wants Florida, Florida State or South Florida," Rolle said. "He will sign with a Division I-AA school but he wants to play at the highest level. That's why I'll tell him to wait and see what unfolds on signing day."

In Cincinnati, coach Steve Specht of No. 2 St. Xavier High is nearly finished with the rigors of recruiting. After winning a second Ohio large-school state championship (Division I) in December, Specht has four players, including a preferred walk-on, going to Louisville.

"You might say we have a Louisville connection this year," he said.

[+] EnlargeDarius Ashley
AP Photo/Tony DejakRunning back Darius Ashley started the Louisville trend at St. Xavier.
It started when star running back Darius Ashley committed in the fall, and he made sure the coaches were aware of wide receiver Stephon Ball and first-year defensive end Greg Scruggs, who was a drummer in the band for three years before deciding to go out for football.

"Darius had a good relationship and a friendship with coaches (Jeff) Brohm and (Steve) Kragthorpe," Specht said. "Stephon and Greg are friends with Darius, so it seemed to work out."

Additionally, Luca Romeo, a bruising 5-10, 190-pound fullback, will walk on, but Scruggs' story is seemingly Walter Mitty.

"It's the greatest story," Specht said of his 6-5, 235-pounder.

Scruggs zoomed up the recruiters' lists this fall, coming out of nowhere to go from one of the Midwest's unknowns to a budding defender.

"(Scruggs) will add 30-40 pounds and if he continues to develop at this pace, it wouldn't surprise me if he's playing on Sundays."

The school with the most NFL alumni, Poly (Long Beach), is back in business. After a few down years, the Jackrabbits' on-field success meant a solid recruiting class with six players expecting to sign.

"It's been a while, but we're back to where we're used to," said Poly Coach Raul Lara, whose team won the CIF Southern Section Pac-5 championship with a 13-1 record.

"We'll have 10 playing (in college) at different levels."

Wide receiver Kevin Norrell (Washington State), lineman Douglas Spacht (Fresno) and tackle Jordan Gross (Jackson State) are set while defensive lineman Jurrell Casey (USC) and defensive back Vaughn Telemaque (Miami) are expected to make official announcements Friday night; Herman Davidson is still open.

California's Division I state champion, No. 8 De La Salle (Concord), has one signing.

Wide receiver Michael Czyz is headed to Northern Arizona but two other players, tackle Xavier Cigney and defensive back Travis Carie, still need to qualify academically.

Linebacker Brady Amack has offers from Boise State and UNLV but may opt to walk on at California or Stanford or attend an Ivy League school.

"It was a quiet year in the Bay Area, not many will sign letters" DLS Coach Bob Ladouceur said. "Ironically this was one of my better teams. We won the state title without any surefire Division I players."

Northwestern isn't the only south Florida school on the speed dial of college recruiters.

The pipeline continues to fuel the major schools from No. 4 Booker T. Washington (Miami) and No. 10 Pahokee.

In the Overtown neighborhood of Miami sits a recruiters' paradise.

Booker T. Washington's Tim "Ice" Harris, the coach of the Florida's Class 4A champions, has "between 15 and 19" headed to college.

"We're trying to develop a program where every year we send many players to college," Harris said. "The city of Miami has a lot of talent. Winning a state title is important but not more than helping our student-athletes find schools. It's an honor for me and the staff to do this."

Six BTW players are visiting schools on the final weekend of recruiting before signing day. That includes Harris' talented son, Brandon.

Brandon Harris
Jerry Rodland for ESPN.comBrandon Harris, undecided on his college choice, ranks as the No. 3 cornerback overall in the 2008 class.
Brandon Harris, the uncommitted gem of the class, is a coveted defensive back and a key member of the state championship run. Brandon Harris, the No. 28 recruit in the ESPN 150, took an official visit to Miami last weekend and will sign his letter on one ESPN's family of networks.

Brandon Harris played in the Under Armour All-America Game and is one of several uncommitted players in the ESPN 150. His brother Tim Jr. is a three-time All-American track athlete at Miami, and he took his final visit to Central Florida.

BTW's Sancho McDonald is also looking. McDonald, a 6-2, 185-pound quarterback, was injured in September, missing the rest of the season with a torn Achilles tendon.

McDonald recently played in a local all-star game and is considering Middle Tennessee and Rhode Island.

"He (Sancho) likes both situations," Ice Harris said.

BTW receivers Thearon Collier and Davon Johnson have already committed to Miami.

Blaze Thompson, the first-year coach of No. 10 Pahokee, is new to the recruiting game.

Pahokee (pop. 6,459), located on the shores of Lake Okeechobee in Palm Beach County, is fertile recruiting ground, having produced several NFL players, including Anquan Boldin of the Arizona Cardinals.

"I'm working the phones, we still have a few players looking for schools," he said via cell phone Wednesday.

Despite playing in Florida's second smallest of seven classifications, Pahokee packs a wallop, having won two straight 2B state titles. Fifteen seniors off a 49-man roster will play in college.

The Blue Devils' star player, Janoris Jenkins, opted for early graduation and has enrolled at Florida. His teammate, tackle Micanor Regis (6-5, 300), verballed to Miami and is expected to sign with the Hurricanes on Wednesday afternoon. Four others will receive full rides and five more are expected to attend junior colleges or sub-Division I-AA schools.

"It's a work in progress; we might not have everyone with a school until March," said.

That won't be the case at Cardinal Mooney (Youngstown, Ohio), a team which spent most of the season ranked in the ESPN High Elite 25.

Mooney, with an enrollment around 620 students, has five high majors signing.

Linebacker Brandon Beachum has already enrolled at Penn State. Since 2000, Mooney has had at least one player sign a national letter.

"We have a unique situation," Mooney Coach P.J. Fecko said. "The school's never had a cluster of this size in one group."

That group of impact spent four years at the Division IV school (third smallest of Ohio's six divisions) winning two state titles (the most recent in 2006) and going 52-7, including 28-1 in the last two years.

With Danny McCarthy (Notre Dame), Michael Zordich (Penn State) and Taylor Hill (Michigan) destined for big-time programs, Tim Marlowe, a speedy 5-11, 180-pound wide receiver, needs to decide.

"Except for Timmy (Marlowe), our players are all locked up; now the (college) coaches will come through and explain the paperwork," Fecko said.

His decision might come this weekend with Nebraska offering. Bo Pelini, the recently hired Cornhuskers' coach, is a Mooney alumnus.

In a recruiting quirk, Fort Bend Hightower (Missouri City, Texas) will have four wide receivers signing.

The quartet, led by Clyde Lee (5-11, 175), had plenty of options. Lee, the 103rd ranked at his position in the Class of 2008, will sign with Boston College after catching 40 passes for 550 yards and five TDs.

Anthony Laday, a converted quarterback, made 26 catches for 439 yards and three scores and is headed to Louisiana-Lafayette.

Isaiah Sweeney had 16 receptions for 239 yards and is smallish at 5-9, 170 pounds, but that didn't deter nearby University of Houston. Sweeney, an accomplished track athlete, also will run for the Cougars' track team.

Martin Bayless, who scored five TDs with 21 receptions for 303 yards, is undecided. The California native is considering Ohio State, Washington, California, UCLA, Stanford or Northwestern. His father played for the San Diego Chargers.

Bayless' Scouts Inc. assessment reads favorably for the No. 70-rated wide receiver: "(Bayless) is an impressive, tall long-strider with tools on both sides of the ball as a safety or wide receiver."

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also for worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, where he ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y. and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.

Christopher Lawlor

High School Basketball
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years.