Home vs. Away : Terror to Affect Recruiting?

Will the horrific and tragic events of September 11th affect recruiting? Afterall, distance does play a factor into a prospect's decision. How will air travel now factor in? I asked some coaches and prospects this very question.

There are many factors that go into a decision as to why high school football prospects choose schools to play for, such as early playing time, tradition, the coaching staffs, college atmosphere and distance from home. Each recruit is different and they all have different priorities in making this big decision. One such factor, that could loom larger than ever, is distance from home, especially after the tragic events of September 11th.

The top ranked Miami Hurricanes have the luxury of a great backyard. They recruit South Florida and get the nation's best talent. That is what former Head Coach Butch Davis did to bring Miami back to prominence. But they didn't stop there. The Hurricanes have gone out and signed some of the best talent from California (Ken Dorsey) to Dallas (Darryl Jones) to New Jersey (Bryant McKinnie). In all, thirty-two players currently on the Hurricane roster are a plane ride away from home.

Georgia Tech, Tennessee, and Florida State are three other schools in the South that tend to recruit outside the southeastern region. Some schools do it out of necessity and some schools just go after the nation's finest football athletes. In fact, if you combine the four rosters of the Hurricanes, Seminoles, Yellow Jackets and Volunteers, eighty-one players (23%) are from a long distance away. That is almost a full roster in itself.

What does this mean? It's simple. There are certain schools in the country that can sign players from great distances. Quarterbacks Casey Clausen (Tennessee), Chris Rix (Florida State) and Ken Dorsey (Miami) are all from California. Coincidence? No. Nowadays, with only eighty-five scholarships allowed per program, schools comb the country for the best available players.

Will this trend continue with the tragic events that happened on September 11th, 2001? People are reluctant to fly. It will take time for this country to once again feel comfortable with air travel. Do the recruits feel this way? Will college football programs change their recruiting tactics? The tragedy of September 11th could have a huge affect on recruiting, at least in the short term for this upcoming recruiting season. "Two schools I am very serious about are Nebraska and Michigan," said running back Gerald Riggs, Jr., from Chattanooga (Tenn.) Redbank High School. "They are both a plane ride away. I have given it some thought and it makes me think I might want to stay closer to home. Then again, I can't let what happened in New York and Washington D.C. affect my life. I have to make the most important decision of my life. It will set me up for life both on and off the field. The best thing we can do is live the way we are accustomed too. But it is in the back of my mind." Riggs is one of the country's most sought after players. He is also strongly considering Tennessee, Florida, Auburn and LSU.

The nation's number one rated prospect is Lorenzo Booker. Booker, from Ventura (Cal.) St. Bonaventure High School, is leaning to Southern Cal at the moment but he is also considering Florida State, Tennessee, Clemson and Washington. "I am not afraid to fly," said Booker. "Everyone has beefed up their security, so it is the best time to fly. Who would try to do something horrific right now? My mom has talked to me about staying close to home but she is not going to limit me." Booker's mother was afraid to fly prior to September 11th, so they have developed a plan for his official visits. To compensate for his mom's future absence on recruiting visits, Booker will bring a video camera for coaches to answer pre-taped questions from his mother.

"If I was a recruit, I'd think twice about the whole safety of the airline industry," said Mark Jackson, the Director of Football Operations for Southern Cal. "But, no, I don't think it will curtail our ability to recruit out of state. Everyone will be cautious, but the measures the government are taking will make it more safe to fly than ever before. I'm seeing that when we travel on charters. It's evident even there that they're being a lot more cautious and I'd imagine it's the same for commercial flights."

No team has recruited better over the last decade than the Florida State Seminoles. This is a big season why they have been able to sustain a level of excellence. FSU wins the big recruiting battles and they now have the recruiting power to go out and sign kids from anywhere in the country. With that being said, things just got a little tougher for the Seminoles. "Anytime you recruit outside the state or ever your region, it becomes a lot tougher," said Florida State Recruiting Coordinator John Lilly. "What happened on the 11th will add to it. I think it will still depend on the individual and what they want to do."

Tennessee is a program that has to go out of state to recruit because of the lack of quantity and quality type prospects that can excel at the highest level of college football. The Volunteers have players from New Jersey, Florida, Texas, California, Arizona and Illinios, just to name a few states. "We have talked about the tragedies quite a bit," said Dan Brooks, the University of Tennessee's Recruiting Coordinator and Defensive Line Coach. "This is tough for us. I think what we have to do is turn a negative into a positive. It (distance) will be a factor. We have to find out from the parents what is important to them and is the distance a factor? Can we win their trust? That is critical. In the end, it is always tough for these kids to leave their home states. The easy way out is to stay home. Regardless, they have to be strong if they are to leave."

One family that is strong is Karen Wright and her All-American son Julian Jenkins. Jenkins, from College Park (Ga.) Woodward Academy, is one of the top defensive end prospects in America. Jenkins is currently favoring Notre Dame and is also showing strong interest in Miami, Stanford, Penn State, Northwestern and Michigan. Miami is the closest campus and that is a long drive or a short flight to Coral Gables. "My son has a great opportunity," said Karen Wright, Jenkins' mother. "The situation our country is in right now will not change or affect his decision. His decision will be based on academics and the prospective schools commitment to my son's future."

Another parent steadfast with the belief that we need to live on is Derek Morris, Sr. His son, Derek, Jr., is arguably the nation's top offensive lineman and he likes a few schools that are not in a reasonable driving distance from their home in Charlotte, North Carolina. "Our house was in shambles and we were glued to the television," said Derek Sr.. "I am a firm believer that when it's your time, it's your time. We do not fear death nor will we as a family stop living life. You can't ignore what happened but you have to keep on living. It will not affect our decision."

James "Buster" Davis is a linebacker from Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland. He has a few dozen scholarship offers and can pretty much play for anyone in the country. Last week, Davis was leaning towards leaving the great football state of Florida, for what he thought of as greener gridiron pastures at Nebraska, Ohio State, Southern Cal or Notre Dame. "The terrorism stuff is now factoring into my mind just in regards to setting up official visits," said Davis. "My parents are now questioning the official visits and it is starting to sink in with all of us. I am now looking at schools a little closer and re-thinking some of the Florida schools like FSU and southern schools like Georgia. But at the same time, I am thinking that I should not sacrifice the biggest decision of my life because men and women died for me to have my freedom of choice of any school I want to attend. I will not be afraid.

"But what if something terrible happens again? Can I get to my parents quickly? Can they get to me quickly if there is another tragedy?"

Michigan, like Tennessee, is a program that has the power and the pull to recruit prospects from all over America. In their mind, the terrible events of two weeks ago will not change their recruiting philosophy. "Recruiting will not change at all," said Bobby Morrison, the University of Michigan's Recruiting Coordinator. "We have to recruit the country. What happened will not stop us."

One thing is certain, kids choose schools for different reasons and now, more than ever, distance will play a bigger factor in their decision. Players want to return home to see their families and conversely, mom and dad want to go watch their sons play football. Perhaps Randy Taylor, The Director of Football Operations for UCLA said it best, "Over time, I think everything will return to normal. By the time recruiting season starts in December and January, it will be business as usual. Kids that want to leave their home state will leave. Kids that want to stay in their home state will stay."

Hopefully, it will soon be business as usual for the recruiting world, and for everybody else.

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