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Plant City Observer Friday, May. 19, 2017 6 months ago

What's on Kline's Mind? The thrill of college recruiting

Sports Editor Justin Kline says there’s nothing in sports quite like the college recruiting scene.
by: Justin Kline Sports/Associate Editor

In my opinion, the college recruiting process — especially for football — is the wildest thing in all of amateur sports.

You can’t get that kind of drama anywhere else. Even professional athletes, many of whom get a “diva” label for their over-the-top antics, don’t treat their own contract signings with the same levels of mystery, spectacle and heart as today’s high schoolers do. A pro’s Twitter post is not nearly as exciting as, say, Tahj Rice’s superhero-themed commitment video from this past March, in which he announced his intention to play at Duke.

I’ve seen letters from recruiters that range from traditional, low-key styles to current Florida director of player personnel Drew Hughes (in)famously beginning notes with phrases such as, “WHAT UP, Big Time?!!” His style has been described as both “cool” and “embarrassing” online but, as cheesy as it is for a grown man to write that in a note, I’m leaning toward “cool.”

I’ve been captivated by the aura of a player getting big-time attention. I went to high school with a guy named Marvin Robinson, who had seemingly been recruited by Michigan for forever, and it seemed that everywhere he went — besides school, of course — he had at least one or two guys wearing Michigan gear with him. This was a common sight at the local Gold’s Gym. Marvin carried himself with the confidence of a kid who knows he’s big time, played well for the Lake Region Thunder and eventually did end up in the maize and blue, just as the entire school knew he would.

There’s a sketchier side to the process as well, but that’s not on the kids. Every college football fan has heard the tales of improper benefits used as recruiting tools, whether it was in the form of money, cars or whatever a player needed. You don’t have to look very hard to find someone online grousing about how Alabama and Nick Saban essentially run a car dealership for top recruits, or to learn about the “bag men” who make anonymous payments to athletes. For the latter, there’s a piece by SB Nation writer Steven Godfrey from April 10, 2014, called “Meet the Bag Man” that offers a fascinating look.

And, before anyone asks, I do not know of any Plant City athletes currently receiving any kind of benefits from college programs. I am also not here to speculate on whether anyone’s going to show up to school in a tricked-out Chevrolet Camaro while wearing a program’s gear next week.

Of course, not all athletes accept such benefits, if they’re even offered anything at all. Not all programs will go to those extents and start a bidding war for one kid.

As we enter the summer months, many local football players are going to be featured in camps and showcases around the state, if not the country. Though it’s not giving anyone legitimate game film, it is an opportunity to show college scouts, what they’re capable of. I’m hoping that our Durant, Plant City and Strawberry Crest athletes that make these rounds will find success in the near future, and that they’ll enjoy the ride the whole way through. After all, you only get this kind of chance once in your life.

Justin Kline is the Sports/Associate Editor at the Plant City Times & Observer. He has been covering all things sports-related in the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World since 2013, and hosts the weekly Gridiron Report podcast during high school football season.

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