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Looking behind the Signature
With National Signing Day on Wednesday, many hours and new techniques went into the final product
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Evaluation: John Starr looks over his Salem football players during a 2011 practice. The players are not only working for the next game, but also for a shot at a college scholarship. Around the country, players hope of another four years of football comes to fruition on National Signing Day on Wednesday. - photo by Bryan Fazio

Every year, in the first week of February, young athletes commit to the next four years of their lives as coaches, teachers, principals friends and parent stand near by taking pictures of the culmination of their high school careers during national signing day.

As they scribble their names on a piece of paper, the experience lasting less than a minute, a football player's career, reaches its high point. That's the day parents have been waiting for, to see their son's future take shape.

However, for as gratifying and simple as the moment is, there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes.
Before National Letter of Intent day, such as this year's version coming on Wednesday, coaches and players work throughout almost two years for the chance to get that piece of paper to sign.

Typically when one thinks of a football scholarship the first teams that come to mind are those like Georgia, Florida, Ohio State, Southern California and other top-tier Football Bowl Series programs. However, there are 119 football teams, just in what is formerly Division 1-A, then there are also teams in Division II, Division III, NAIA and junior college programs that seek high school players for athletic scholarships. Those are the teams that need to work for their players, and in turn the players need to work to get noticed from those schools with smaller budgets. Coaches work more than a year in advance to get their players noticed by schools not competing for a national title.

"Situations like that, the Division I kids are usually found about the same time you're sending stuff out for other kids," Heritage coach Chad Frazier said. "Those guys, everybody knows about them for the most part."

The effort to become a sought-after player starts as early as pee-wee football, but the effort to become noticed begins during the junior season.

Coaches and players start during the 11th grade compiling highlight tapes and keeping track of stats and grades.

Heritage coach Chad Frazier said his staff has just started putting together film on current juniors, who will be in their final year as Patriots starting in August.Also during the athletes' junior year, many coaches start to find out where their players will best be suited in their future institutions. Factors such as talent level, academic qualifications, future career desires, region desires, size and speed go into the decision. Once that happens, they will use one of many ways, both new and old, to get him noticed.

In the past, there have been several ways to get a player's name out there. Options included high school coaches calling college coaches they know, sending out letters and highlight tapes or just players themselves going up to college coaches.

In the last few years, communication technologies have made things easier for recruits. YouTube has allowed people everywhere from Seattle to Boston to Florida in a position to see a player perform in even the smallest towns of Georgia. If the highlight is good enough, it even can go viral spreading around the world. Cell phones have enabled coaches to reach out to players at all times, either by voice or text.

Computer programs have also been a huge help, such as Hudl, which is used by several teams throughout the area. The company's website allows teams to post videos and statistics and its programs allow highlight films to be made almost instantly by both coaches and players for roughly $800 per high school program.

"I put all my tapes up there and my kids can go in and make their own highlights at the end of the season or anytime during the season," said Salem coach John Starr who has used the program for a year. "They then can email that link to anyone who wants it."

Starr said he has sent out around 300 links through Hudl, and Frazier has done since the Patriots got the program.
"It's the first year we've used it and it's going to change the recruiting process," Frazier said. "It speeds it up and allows us to get it out there. We've probably sent films out to 500 schools."

From those 500 schools some will email or call Frazier back and inquire about the player, hoping to bring them to their schools.

If that doesn't work, high school coaches take a more personal step, participating in something relatively new to the recruiting scene: recruiting fairs.

There are several in the Atlanta area, including one at the Gwinnett arena every December, where hundreds of college coaches come to receive highlight tapes, statistics and information on prep athletes.

"A lot of smaller colleges take advantage of that," Starr said. "They can evaluate a lot of kids in a short period of time in one place."

"It's a really neat trend. You'll get coaches from schools up to Wisconsin all the way to Boston, and anywhere."

Coaches have started to rely on things such as recruiting fairs and hudl, spurning the old ways of cold-calling coaches and using recruiting services.

"We don't use any recruiting services," Frazier said. "I feel like we have a good enough rapport with coaches, and they do enough coming out to schools."

Reaching out to college coaches is the key to getting a player at the signing table on Wednesday. High school coaches can't afford to wait for their players to be contacted, and instead use the variety of options available to make contact with them.

"Probably about 95 percent of the contacts are initiated by our staff," Frazier said. "You can get their name and film out to a lot more coaches than we used to at a lot faster rate."