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COVID-19 levels the playing field in college football recruiting

Bob Putnam

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Boca Ciega's Chris Phillips

Bowling Green was the first school to offer Chris Phillips nearly a year ago. The courtship continued through text messages, hand-written letters and phone calls.

The Falcons even added a technological twist in the wooing process by setting up at least three video chats during the current dead period. Their conversations were not just related to football. Bowling Green’s staff continuously checked up on the Boca Ciega running back and his family, including his two-month old daughter, Chrisiah.

“They really did the best job recruiting me,” Phillips said of the Falcons. “They were always in contact. They talked to my mom, too. It showed they cared.”

The offers kept coming from other Division I-A schools: Iowa State, Toledo, USF. Phillips had 13 in all. Last week, the rising senior decided to end his recruitment by picking Bowling Green. 

https://twitter.com/ViralGolden/status/1247714691775967235

The commitment came three days after Jacksonville Trinity Christian Academy’s Jacory Jordan pledged his allegiance to the Falcons. A dual-threat quarterback, Jordan chose Bowling Green over offers from five other schools, including FIU and USF. 

By landing two dynamic playmakers from the state, the Falcons showed they can compete not only with other programs in the Mid-American Conference but also with some of the Power Five teams. 

“Communication is all we can control,” said former Bloomingdale coach Max Warner, now the quarterbacks coach at Bowling Green and the school’s main recruiter for the area. “We are trying to stay in touch with all of our recruits and their families everyday. We put an emphasis on recruiting the family and not just speaking with the kids but also the parents.”

More than customizing their recruiting pitches, the Falcons, along with other schools in the Group of Five conferences, are standing toe-to-toe with some major programs for top-level talent by taking advantage of the current recruiting environment in college football. 

Earlier this month, the NCAA extended the dead period until May 31 due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. That means college coaches cannot have physical interactions with any recruit. Campus visits, junior days, invitations to spring practice — all staples of the latest evaluation period — have been eliminated. 

Typically, big-time programs would blanket the state — and the country —to check out prospects during this time. Once a visit was scheduled, teams could show off their state-of-the-art weight rooms and athletic centers. 

That all changed, at least for this spring, possibly even the summer.  

Bowling Green's Max Warner
Bowling Green’s Max Warner

“We are all on the same playing field now,” Warner said. “In the facilities arms race we can’t compete. We don’t have the recruiting staffs, or the media and graphic staffs as the Power Fives do but being in this situation we can try to out work them with a personal touch.”

The Falcons stay in contact with texts, tweets, Instagram posts, calls and video messages. Since players are unable to be on campus for tours, Bowling Green can take them on one virtually with web presentations.

Other Group of Five programs, particularly ones in the MAC and in the American Athletic Conference, have taken a similar approach. 

“We absolutely are trying to have a big virtual presence,” said former Plant coach Robert Weiner, now the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator at Toledo. “I’m not quite sure it levels (the playing field), but it certainly gives us some leverage to put our best foot forward.”

The technological edge is limited with some of the Group of Five schools in the state. Take FIU. The Panthers have done well recruiting the Tampa Bay area the past few years. Their success is due partly to having recruits on campus to experience Miami for themselves.   

“The virtual presence has most definitely been emphasized heavily over the last few weeks,” said FIU tight ends coach Drew Davis, son of Panthers coach Butch Davis. “Some schools, depending on resources, have more than others to show virtually. You know, for some, I can see this working to their advantage, and I’m pretty sure everyone is doing the same thing, sending as much virtual campus, facility, dorm, staff and city footage they can get a hold of.

“You know that’s one of our biggest things we think we have for us at FIU. If we can get a kid down to Miami, on campus, around the staff, school, city and facilities, that we can compete with anyone. But right now virtual is the best we all can do. Fortunately for us, and everyone in this state, we all have good weather to sell.”

Tampa Bay Tech safety Stephen Parker knows all about the push from Group of Five and Division I-AA schools. The rising senior gets daily phone calls from North Dakota State and occasional text messages from Georgia State and Western Kentucky. 

Tampa Bay Tech's Stephen Parker
Tampa Bay Tech’s Stephen Parker

Bowling Green took it up a notch, setting up a virtual campus tour before extending an offer to Parker last week. 

“With everything that’s going on, it’s not good enough for schools to just think they can recruit off their name alone,” Titans coach Jayson Roberts. “Now, it’s more about the work you put in to land someone.”

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College Football

Seminole’s Chris Miller selected to coach in Tropical Bowl

Bob Putnam

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Seminole’s Chris Miller was named one of the head coaches for the Tropical Bowl, an all-star college football game featuring mostly FBS players who are potential NFL draft picks. 

Miller will coach the American team. He left Thursday to start practices for Sunday’s game, which kicks off at 11 a.m. at Kissimmee’s Celebration High. 

The staff Miller assembled includes Warhawks assistants Rob Ewing and Chris Parker and former Admiral Farragut standout Kreg Brown. 

After spending more than a decade as a player and a coach at Admiral Farragut, Miller left to become coach at Seminole in 2013. 

This is his third year coaching in a college all-star game. He was the receivers coach for the National Bowl in 2018 and was offensive coordinator for the game in 2019. 

Two locals are playing in this year’s Tropical Bowl — USF defensive back Mike Hampton (Hillsborough) and Florida International offensive lineman Shane McGough (Gaither).  

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College Football

National Signing Day: Local list of signees

Bob Putnam

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Armwood

DB Noah Biglow

College: Pittsburgh

DL Chris Davis Jr.

College: Georgia State

QB Cam’Ron Ransom

College: Georgia Southern

DL Desmond Watson

College: Florida

Berkeley Prep

DL/LB Austin Dean

College: Rutgers

WR RJ Garcia 

College: Kansas State

Boca Ciega

LB Evan Graham

College: Georgia State

Bloomingdale

DL Jordan Guerad

College: Florida International

WR Agiye Hall

College: Alabama

DB Briton Pascoe

College: North Dakota State

DB Philip Riley

College: Notre Dame

DB Jayden Williams

College: Florida Atlantic

Calvary Christian

WR Richie Ilarraza

College: Howard

S Makkah Jordan

College: Georgia State

WR Kellyn West

College: Davidson

Carrollwood Day

DL Desmond Mamudi

College: Virginia Tech

TE Michael Trigg

College: Southern California

Clearwater

WR Cardrece Mobley

College: USF

Clearwater Academy

RB Brendon Barrow

College: Stanford

DL/LB Nathan Carabatsakis

College: Robert Morris

DL Ebenezer Dibula

College: Bethune Cookman

DB Shakespeare Louis

College: Robert Morris

DL Yonatan Marmour

College: Youngstown State

DL Tristan Marois

College: Robert Morris

DB Cyrus McGarrell

College: Northern Illinois

LB Darius McKenzie

College: Maine

OL Albert Reese

College: Mississippi State

WR Nickolas Tshivuadi

College: USF

Durant

OL Wyatt Lawson

College: Florida International

East Lake

LB Dylan Rosiek

College: Illinois

Gaither

QB Kiael Kelly

College: Ball State

RB Ricky Parks

College: Utah

LB Hayden Reed

College: Army

DB Jordan Young

College: Florida

Jefferson

TE Gage Wilcox

College: Florida

Jesuit

QB Joe Pesansky

College: Holy Cross

Lakewood

WR Artez Hooker Jr.

College: Florida International

Lennard

DL Jhalin Hobbs

College: USF

Plant City

WR Mario Williams

College: Oklahoma

Tampa Bay Tech

DL Henry Hughes

College: Rutgers

DB Steven Parker

College: UNC Charlotte

Steinbrenner

DB Matthew Durrance

College: South Dakota State

RB Deon Silas

College: Iowa State

Tampa Catholic

DL/TE Cole Essek

College: Appalachian State

OL Jaden Sandlin

College: Florida Atlantic

OL Jordan Sandlin

College: Florida Atlantic

Wiregrass Ranch

TE Gabriel Thompson

College: Army

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College Football

Football: Live early signing day updates

Bob Putnam

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This football signing cycle has been unlike any other. A dead period that has lasted for more than eight months. No live evaluations from coaches. No personal visits to check out campuses. Just about everything was done in a virtual setting because of the coronavirus pandemic. Which all leads to today, the start of the early signing period. Most of the ceremonies will not have as much fanfare as year’s past, due largely to social distancing requirements. But for the players, after months of Zoom meetings and virtual tours, will finally get some relief knowing where they will go to college. Better still, they will soon get to see their new campus — in person as a member of the team.

Check here for updates throughout the day.

A local flip

USF lost one of its commitments when Carrollwood Day’s Desmond Mamudi, a three-star recruit, decided to attend Virginia Tech. Mamaudi had pledged his allegiance to the Bulls this summer and stuck with that commitment throughout most of the season. The Hokies became the first Power 5 school to offer in mid-November.

Two locals stay loyal to Illinois

East Lake’s Dylan Rosiek and Tampa Catholic’s DD Snyder both committed to Illinois this summer, in part because of their connection with head coach Lovie Smith.

Their devotion to the program was tested this week when Smith was relieved as coach. Still, it did not take long for the two to decide to stick with the Illini.

Rosiek made it official Wednesday morning.

Snyder, ranked among the nation’s top safeties, was not too far behind, making it official by late morning.

Nation’s top receiver is officially a Sooner

Plant City’s Mario Williams, the nation’s top-rated receiver according to ESPN, has officially signed with Oklahoma. Williams committed to the Sooners this summer. The two-sport star also plans to play baseball in college.

Florida’s class features plenty of area stars

Four local standouts — Armwood defensive lineman Desmond Watson, Armwood athlete Charles Montgomery, Jefferson tight end Gage Wilcox and Gaither defensive back Jordan Young — all made their commitments to Florida this summer and are expected to sign today.

Watson and Wilcox have already made it official.

Andrew Kilfoyl is the first local in USF’s class

Despite losing Carrollwood Day’s Desmond Mamudi, USF is expected to have plenty of area players in its early class. Gaither lineman Andrew Kilfoyl became the first, signing with the Bulls this morning. Kilfoyl’s older sister is former Academy at the Lakes softball star Lexi Kilfoyl, now at Alabama.

USF was not finished. Joining Kilfoyl as part of a strong contingent of locals was Clearwater receiver Cardrece Mobley and Clearwater Academy receiver Nickolas Tshivuadi. Both committed to the Bulls this summer and made it official on Wednesday.

Berkeley Prep’s RJ Garcia signs with Kansas State

RJ Garcia, a dynamic receiver for Berkeley Prep the past two seasons, made his college plans official by signing with Kansas State. He is the second Buccaneers player to join the Wildcats in the past two seasons. The other, Joshua Youngblood, had a stellar college debut as a kick returner last season before entering the transfer portal. Youngblood signed with Rutgers this morning.

Berkeley Prep ties pay off for Rutgers’ Greg Schiano

Rutgers coach Greg Schiano has plenty of connections to Berkeley Prep. After all, his son played at the private school . And Schiano spent two years volunteering with the football program following his departure with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Those ties have paid off in recruiting. Two years ago, Schiano, then an assistant head coach at Ohio State, was instrumental in getting five-star Berkeley Prep offensive lineman Nicholas Petit-Frere to commit to the Buckeyes. When Schiano began his second stint taking over the Scarlet Knights this offseason, he landed another former Berkeley Prep standout in Mayan Ahanotu, who transferred from Minnesota. 

Now, add Austin Dean and Joshua Youngblood to the list. 

Dean, a linebacker/defensive lineman who helped the Buccaneers reach the Class 3A state semifinals, made it official by signing with Rutgers. He picked the Scarlet Knights over offers from Florida Atlantic, Harvard and Yale. 

Youngblood, who transferred from Kansas State, led the nation with three kickoff returns for touchdowns as a freshman last season and was named an All-American by several publications. He signed Wednesday morning, too.

Rutgers’ early class is expected to add another local, Tampa Bay Tech defensive lineman Henry Hughes. But there were some misses. The Scarlet Knights lost out on Clearwater Academy offensive lineman Albert Reese, who committed to Rutgers this summer before signing with Mississippi State.

Isaiah Bolden becomes first local recruit for Deion Sanders at Jackson State

Former FSU star and NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders is filling out his first signing class at Jackson State by leaning heavily on transfers.

On Tuesday, Sanders’ son, Shilo, announced would be leaving South Carolina to play for his father.

Sanders added another prized prospect with former Wesley Chapel standout Isaiah Bolden signing with Jackson State on Wednesday. Bolden spent the past three years at FSU before entering the transfer portal in September. He announced his commitment to Jackson State in November.

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