<
>

Recruits as ambassadors for colleges

The way Chandler Whitmer sees it, he's only extending the duties of a quarterback a little further than usual.

On the field, he's used to leading, which is one reason the Downers Grove South (Ill.) High star is ranked as the 20th-best quarterback by ESPNU. Once he committed to the University of Illinois, he began leading in recruiting, too.

Coaches limited in phone calls to recruits? No problem, Whitmer will be the voice.

A recruit has too many questions for a busy assistant? Dial Whitmer's number.

An official visit wasn't convincing enough and a prospect visits Champaign again?

"I'll be there if they want me to show them around or hang out with them," Whitmer said.

The Fighting Illini's third -- and the most high-profile -- oral commitment for the 2010 class is filling a vital role that is becoming more common as intensity for college football's other sport increases.

Recruits are doing some recruiting. Commitments and visits are coming earlier, and restrictions on coaches are growing more stringent with overwhelming scrutiny.

Prospects such as Whitmer are turning into ambassadors, willing to point a fellow star player toward their school on national signing day.

"I took [the responsibility on] myself as the quarterback, the leader of the future team," said Whitmer, who picked Illinois over Notre Dame, Stanford and Arizona. "I want to have my team win national championships, I want to show kids that they want to play for Illinois, to be there and show them what it's like. It's just feeling the responsibility of that as the quarterback I want to make the best recruiting class I can for my years with the team."

Players can reach out to one another more quickly than coaches, while they are not bound by any of the same rules. In short, recruits can talk to one another all the time.

"In essence," said Tom Luginbill, the national recruiting director for ESPN's Scouts Inc., "it is a way for college programs to recruit and have ambassadors for their programs when they, by NCAA guidelines, are not able to contact uncommitted prospective student-athletes during the recruiting calendar."

With the advancements in technology and proliferation of social-media sites, it was a no-brainer this would develop. Players can stay in contact relatively easily.

"This is definitely a byproduct of early commitments," Luginbill said. "With all the social-networking sites and texting going on between them, prospects have more than enough time to get involved if they choose to do so."

In essence, it is a way for college programs to recruit and have ambassadors for their programs when they, by NCAA guidelines, are not able to contact uncommitted prospective student-athletes during the recruiting calendar.

-- Tom Luginbill

Whitmer, who committed in May, has spoken with tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, offensive lineman Andy Gallik and other commits to answer questions. He gets their numbers from Facebook.com, e-mail and the coaches, and he'll help with what coaches can't.

"Like, C.J., he asked, 'What made it so special?'" said Whitmer, who will enroll early and begin classes in the spring of 2010. "But he could tell just on a visit that it's amazing. I tell them if they have questions come up on a visit and make sure to let me know when they're going to come so I can be around."

Whitmer isn't alone. Alabama, coach Nick Saban's recruiting juggernaut, has an ambassador, too.

Quarterback Phillip Sims is the top-rated quarterback on the ESPNU 150 watch list and a senior at Oscar Frommel Smith High School in Chesapeake, Va. He didn't know the Crimson Tide growing up, but the 6-foot-1, 218-pounder quickly learned enough to commit on April 15.

Soon, he was another recruiter.

"I'm not a guy who wants to just come in and be the only big name of the class," said Sims, who also considered Georgia, Florida State and Tennessee. "I mean, if I feel like we need to get other guys in here to get a better team, I'll do it. Recruiting is fun and everything, but winning is more important."

This is music to the coaches' ears. Fighting Illini coach Ron Zook loved it when Whitmer told him he would embrace this role from the beginning.

As for Sims, Saban has celebrated how his recruits commit and begin to bond with one another early.

Sims said he'll listen to Saban or assistants such as Sal Sunseri or Curt Cignetti for advice on which players may be headed the Crimson Tide's way. Then, Sims will make contact and help where needed.

Like Whitmer, Sims is adamant he doesn't push prospects one way or another. He may do it by accident.

If you receive a text from him, it always ends with this signature: *Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer* -- the Crimson Tide cheer.

He'll come to summations like these: "I felt there was no better history than Alabama football. If other guys are going through the same process, they need to know the same things that I know."

And he's already hooked one member of the Tide's star-studded, 20-person class ranked No. 4 by ESPNU.

Alfy Hill, a 6-4, 240-pound defensive end from West Brunswick (Shallotte, N.C.) High, is the No. 6-rated player at his position in the country. He knew nothing about UA before talking to Sims.

"I asked the coaches for his number," Hill said. "Me and Phillip got close. He was telling me how the coaches were, and he talked to the players and how they were. I went down there, and it was a really good place. Every time he made a comment, it all matched up."

Hill saw Sims' motivation as simple.

"That's where he wanted to play college football," Hill said, "and he wants to get as many good people as he can get to play there."

On Feb. 3, coaches around the country will rejoice. Each will tout his class and crow.

This year, players such as Sims and Whitmer may feel some pride in helping build it.

"This class is going to be special," Sims said.

Added Whitmer, "To see all those athletes coming in, those'll be my future teammates. It'll be exciting."


Ian R. Rapoport covers the New England Patriots for The Boston Herald. He can be reached at irapoport@bostonherald.com.