Every February, the eyes of football fans everywhere are tuned into college programs to see which top high school players will be a part of their teams’ future successes.
Every April and May, however, the eyes of college football coaches are on high school practice fields across the country, trying to make those signing days a reality.
Such was the case in Newton County the last couple of weeks during Newton, Alcovy and Eastside high schools’ spring practices.
Dozens of coaches traveled to Newton County, meeting with Rams coach Terrance Banks, Eagles coach Rick Hurst and the Tigers’ Kirk Hoffman to discuss potential players and see their recruiting targets in person.
"They can come meet a kid who’s a rising senior, shake his hand and talk to him and meet him," Banks said. "They see him in person, give him their business card and say here’s my phone number, Twitter and Facebook; call me because I can’t call you."
Banks encourages his athletes to call back each and every coach, in order to keep the recruiting process going and chase down a scholarship.
"If you have time to text Suzy and see how she’s doing, you need to make sure you text Coach Jones; he’s more important, he can get you a $40,000 scholarship," Banks said.
Coaches from all levels of college football have been coming through the area getting first-hand looks at players such as Anthony Henderson, Jamal Hardge, Okon Godwin, Desmond Billingslea and Corey Thomas.
Hoffman estimates that between 30 and 45 college coaches have come through Alcovy this year, besting the 43 coaches who visited the Tigers’ spring practices in 2011 to see, among others, future Duke player Devon Edwards.
Coaches both call ahead of time to schedule meetings, and make sure the players they want to see will be practicing, and just stop through. Typically, major Division I coaches will call ahead of time to see specific players, while DII and smaller DI schools will just come by as part of their coverage areas.
However, Newton County schools aren’t typically in the rotation of visits, with higher profile schools such as Gwinnett and DeKalb counties programs getting more attention. That still hasn’t stopped coaches and evaluators from crossing into Newton, though.
"It’s not that they don’t know that we have great talent, it’s I guess that you see one or two DI kids every year, and at schools in Gwinnett and DeKalb, they expect to have a lot," Banks said.
Newton’s first-year coach said he experienced the same thing at Duluth last year, but still welcomes college coaches with open arms. Those coaches have been through to see several of his players, including Thomas and Billingslea getting approached from schools such as Western Kentucky, Duke, Troy and Cincinnati. Other upcoming Newton seniors such as Robbie Wallace and Daniel Durden are also drawing the attention of smaller schools.
At Alcovy, major attention is being paid to Godwin, who has SEC schools such as Georgia, Mississippi State and others meeting with Hoffman.
"What they do is usually come in during the day, sit down and try to get information on the kids, and if they haven’t seen film, they ask to see more film," Hoffman said.
"They make sure they see as many (schools) as possible, and if they have time in the afternoon, they’ll come in and see practice, sometimes staying 15 minutes, sometimes 30."
Coaches try to see as many players as they can during the spring period, using one of the recruiting period’s open windows.
The window is open from April 15 through June 30, and according to NCAA rules, "A college coach can use two evaluations per athlete during this period, one for athletics and the other has to be for academic evaluation. If the college coach does both evaluations on the same day, then the coach is granted another athletics evaluation of the athlete."
Following the spring period, college coaches try to bring a player for further evolution during the school’s one-day summer camp.
"Colleges want to see kids in action — ‘Are they really that fast, really that smart?’ This is the way they make their early connections," Hoffman said. "I think what’s beneficial is the kid wants to play at the next level, to go to a one-day camp during summer.
"It’s where they get their best evaluations in college."
While the camps help college coaches get up-close evaluations, the spring allows the lines of communication to be open and "college coaches to size you up: if a kid is 6-foot-3, 305 pounds, if he is a sloppy 305 or a muscular 305, and how he looks, is he well-groomed, can he hold a conversation, does he make eye contact?" according to Banks.