Early recruiting a "risky" fact of life

DESTIN, FL – Even Mark Richt, who is generally one of the most conservative of his peers, knows there is no getting around making scholarship offers earlier and earlier.

While college basketball coaches have gotten nation-wide attention this spring for taking verbal commitments from players as young as eighth-graders, the trend is more quietly seeping into college football. Major college programs now are actively recruiting, and even sometimes offering scholarships to, players as young as high school sophomores.

And the freshmen may be next.

"It is a little bit Ear," Richt admitted.

But it's the wave of the future.

"If you look at a kid in the 10th grade and you say, ‘If he was a senior today, we would take him based on where he is right this minute,' I don't see a lot of risk in that from an athletic point of view," Richt said.

However, the risk is many major college programs will miss out on players who are late bloomers, and that will go a long way toward increasing the parity in college football because those players will then go to smaller schools, Richt said.

"That's probably why an Appalachian State beats a Michigan," he said. "A lot of kids don't look a certain way when they are 17 or 16 years old. When they are 18 or 19 or 20, they are a whole different guy. I think it's going to make it even more competitive in some ways."

As always, college coaches are suckers for peer pressure in the recruiting game. If one school is going to do something, the rest fall quickly in line.

"It's almost like if everybody else is, we have to," Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer said. "That's the world we've kind of grown into."

Fulmer said recruiting ninth graders would be "a stretch" not out of the realm of possibility.

"Some really, really great freshman, maybe," he said. "That's where we are."

Florida coach Urban Meyer said his team is starting to think about inviting more players to its on-campus camps the summer before their junior year.

"We have to," he said. "There are some teams with 20 commitments out there, and there are some good players committed."

It's all about staying ahead of the curve, Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

"You're trying to get the jump on the other guy, but in doing that, you make some mistakes," Saban said. "We try to through our process."

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