Recruiting: when early is too early

Two Arrowhead freshmen already have colleges thinking scholarship, but prep coach prefers patience

In recruiting, getting a jump on the competition can be a key to success. So it is for the colleges already courting Kevin Solwold and Adam Melka, a pair of freshmen football players at Arrowhead High School in Hartland, Wis., who are already drawing attention from a who's who of Midwest recruiting, with some big national names on the side.

They did not play on the Warhawks' varsity last fall but they competed on a top-notch freshman team at an elite program. Both Solwold, a 6-foot-5, 255-pound defensive end, and Melka, a 6-1, 215-pound linebacker, have impressive measurables and lineages.

And according to Arrowhead coach Tom Taraska, "a couple schools" have discussed offering a scholarship to Solwold as early as this spring. In a telephone interview in March and a follow-up last month, Taraska intimated that he expects Solwold to be a national recruit and that Melka could rise to that level as well.

However, Taraska wants to insulate the class of 2008 prospects, as he has other highly recruited players, from the attention that a scholarship offer would bring the summer before their sophomore years, which will be their first on the Arrowhead varsity.

Arrowhead has produced Division I prospects in bunches, but no one has been offered as a freshman during his tenure, Taraska said.

"Because we stopped it from happening with Nick Hayden too," he said, referring to the University of Wisconsin redshirt freshman defensive tackle, who was a U.S. Army All-American two seasons ago. "Michigan and Wisconsin and those schools were interested in Nick as a freshman but that's a bit early. Truthfully, none of those things really mean a lot until you get there (to the college) but everybody gets excited (about scholarship offers)."

Taraska's top senior-to-be, Jason Jankowski, said in a telephone interview Tuesday night that he has scholarship offers, but again at Taraska's behest he is keeping mum on the particulars of those offers and his list of favorites until he has a clearer picture of the direction in which his recruitment is headed.

As freshmen, Solwold and Melka have quite a bit of time before they need to focus on their college options.

"What it does indicate is Kevin for sure should be a national recruit and Adam as he continues to get better will certainly be a high-level recruit," Taraska said. "They are on everybody's radar screen right now as people they already know. They probably are not ready for that either. One of the schools remarked that would be the second freshman they offered in the country if they could. So we kind of discourage that until it gets realistic."

Solwold and Melka each have a prestigious family connection to the University of Wisconsin. Solwold's brother, Mike, was a star at Arrowhead who went on to win a Rose Bowl with the Badgers in 1999. A tight end and long snapper at UW, he went on to play in the NFL as a long snapper.

"But Mike for me left here at 6-3, 224 pounds," Taraska said. "He played for me as a sophomore at 6-3, 200. So Kevin's quite a bit larger than Mike was."

Melka's father, Jim Melka, was an All-Big Ten linebacker in 1983.

It is rare for freshmen football players to receive serious attention, but Arrowhead draws a regular flow of college recruiters.

"People find out around the country that these kids are out there," Taraska said.

This spring, recruiters visited Arrowhead to discuss several prospects with Taraska. In addition to Jankowski from the class of 2006, and Melka and Solwold in the 2008 class, juniors-to-be Tyler Thompson, a quarterback who is transferring from a high school in Michigan, and Quinn Markgraf, a 6-4, 292-pound offensive lineman, are drawing inquiries from major programs.

"It's always an extensive list as you go through (the spring evaluation period)," Taraska said. "You've obviously got almost all your Big Ten schools, which come through and then you've got your MAC conference schools. Then you've got ArkansasColoradoIowa StateNebraska

"Other schools that are interested in Kevin right now I know are Oklahoma, Southern Cal, Tennessee, Florida… In addition to all the Midwest schools."

During Taraska's 23 years at the helm at Arrowhead, only one athlete has played varsity as a freshman: offensive lineman Jason Fiacco, who is headed to Iowa State this fall.

"I don't play freshman up (on varsity)," Taraska said in May. "Fiacco was the only freshman that I brought up as a lineman. That was because he was just so big and strong that I was scared he might hurt freshmen. Jason was already a national champion power lifting kid as a true freshman and I just didn't want him to possibly hurt the freshmen kids. So he came up, he lettered for me…

"We could have put Kevin, to be honest, up with us (on varsity) and probably could have brought Adam. But the freshman team was undefeated and pretty special at that point. To bring those kids up here didn't make any real sense. They wouldn't have been starters for us…I think we lettered 91 kids a year ago. We didn't have any need to bring any kids (up) and take stuff away from the older kids."

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