Globe West Sports

Hot Prospects

Top high school football players face increasing pressure from recruiters to make their college decisions early

By Brendan Hall
Globe Correspondent / August 13, 2009

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Wellesley 17-year-old Blake Barker is perhaps the top football prospect in New England, an impressive 6-foot-6, 235-pound physical specimen who is preparing for his senior year at Buckingham Browne & Nichols in Cambridge.

Ranked as the nation’s number two prospect at tight end by a number of scouting services, Barker was courted by dozens of the country’s premier college football programs for nearly a year.

They were impressed as much with his athleticism - he also is a midfielder on the school’s lacrosse team and played ice hockey until last season - as his ability to master the fundamentals as a sure-handed receiver, a devastating blocker, and an impact player on defense.

After Boston College faxed a scholarship offer in October, Barker felt “things had taken him by storm.’’ Florida, Notre Dame, and Tennessee were among the dozen-plus Division 1 programs also making offers. He ended the suspense in June, verbally committing to Stanford University for the fall of 2010.

“A lot of schools pretty much offered me after they saw me on film,’’ said Barker.

For others, it is not so simple. The summer months have become crucial for prospective college athletes, who travel to camps across the country, showcasing their skills in hopes of snagging a scholarship.

Irvin Scott, a senior this fall at Brookline High, is one of them, feeling that he has to dazzle on the camp scene to make a name for himself. He has played six positions on the Warrior varsity, including quarterback, but many college programs view him as playing safety.

One day early last month, Scott awoke at 2:30 a.m., picked up his coach, Laz Mitjans, an hour later, and arrived in Brunswick, N.J., by 7:30 a.m. There, he hopped out of the car, ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash and held his own in one-on-one drills against competition from as far away as Florida.

Mitjans came away convinced that Rutgers lists Scott among its top three candidates. But with New Jersey’s annual mass exodus of premier talent to college football’s six power conferences, locking up commitments from in-state players is the first priority for the Scarlet Knights.

For Scott, this means that after impressing coaches at seven camps and two scouting combines, he enters the season with high interest from Big East Conference schools like Rutgers, Connecticut, and Pittsburgh, but sitting on just one offer - from Northeastern, after his performance at the Boston school’s football camp last month.

For many players like Scott, the decision is not easy: commit now, or wait it out and risk losing out.

The increasing number of Internet recruiting services and collegiate scouting combines has ratcheted up the focus on the high school game.

But with the positive attention comes negative consequences, too.

“The early stages of all the negative things in high school recruiting for basketball - AAU, outside interests - you’re starting to see that emerge in football,’’ said Reading High School’s head football coach, John Fiore. “You’re starting to see people more interesting in promoting themselves as opposed to promoting the best interest of the kids.’’

NCAA rules prohibit official visits and contact from college coaches until a high school player has reached his senior year.

Natick High quarterback Scott McCummings received an offer from Connecticut in January, and he received another from Syracuse this spring.

An A student, McCummings was also waiting to hear back from the admissions departments at Harvard and Stanford. His family, he said, was insistent on making a campus visit to each school before making a decision. When Syracuse received commitments from two other quarterbacks, one from New York and another from Colorado, according to McCummings, the Orange reneged on its offer.

With the NCAA rules in place - players may reach out to coaches, but not vice versa until they are seniors - high school coaches often find themselves in the dual role of instructor and messenger.

Natick High head coach Tom Lamb suggests a tweak of the NCAA rules is in order.

Lamb would like to see official visits and calls from coaches be permitted, starting in the spring of a player’s junior year. The prospect of having an early signing period, similar to basketball, has also been discussed.

“We’ve got kids being offered, and being squeezed to commit, and yet the coaches can’t really even talk to them,’’ said Lamb, who also serves as Natick’s athletic director, and is a former assistant coach at Northeastern. “I think we need to make some adjustments. The recruiting calendar has changed so much. From a high school kid’s point of view, we need some help from the NCAA, change the calendar a little bit.’’

Others, like Xaverian Brothers coach and athletic director Charlie Stevenson, said they feel that the recruiting period should be pushed back.

One of Stevenson’s starting defensive tackles, Medfield resident Cam Colwell, has an offer from Tulane.

“In my opinion, they’ve advanced it too much already,’’ Stevenson said. “If you’re trying to guess by a kid’s sophomore year whether they’ll be good as a freshman in college . . . granted, it’s always been a guess. But for those kids who don’t develop until their senior year, some of those guys in my opinion are overlooking some very good football players because they’re in a rush to get things done before senior year.’’

For those waiting for an offer, the first two weeks of the season are more critical. College coaches want to see fresh film.

Any pressure?

“A little bit,’’ said Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High offensive lineman Patrick Crosby, who has received interest from a number of Division 1 programs, including schools in the Colonial Athletic Association. “I know I’ve got to go out and have a big season. I’m just trying to get ready to have the best season I can.’’

Brookline’s Scott calls his experiences “up and down’’ but overall exciting. He’s content with his dual responsibility of performing and leading.

“I know what our guys are capable of,’’ he said. “I’m confident in what they can do.’’

Because of his early commitment to Stanford, Barker attended just one camp, run by his coach at BB&N, John Papas. He has spent most of his free time working out at a training facility in Woburn under the direction of a former Syracuse lineman, Eric Kaloyanides.

In preparation for his senior year at BB&N, and beyond, Barker has been working to build up his body, using rows of free weight machines, and has received assistance from personal trainers. There is even a 10-by-53-yard area of synthetic turf lifted from Syracuse’s Carrier Dome - literally, what used to be one of the Orange’s end zones.

After shedding weight playing lacrosse, Barker said he’s back up to 235 pounds and ready to dominate BB&N’s rivals in the Independent School League.

“I know a lot of kids who haven’t been as fortunate as me in the recruiting process. I’m blessed to have gone through what I’ve gone through,’’ said Barker.

Brendan Hall can be reached at

Checking in on the area's top senior football recruits:

The 6-foot-6, 235-pound two-way end from Wellesley committed to Stanford in early June, ending the suspense of the region's top player

The stock of the 6-5, 215-pound tight end is rising quickly; Holy Cross is among those interested.

Boston College, Northeastern, and UMass are among those that like this rugged 6-3, 280-pound offensive lineman.

Reigning Hockomock League MVP has great size (6-4, 225 pounds) and a strong arm in the pocket.

University of Connecticut made an offer to the athletic 6-2 quarterback, and a host of others, including Harvard and Stanford, are interested.

An offer from Northeastern is on the table for the 6-3 quarterback/safety; but UConn, UMass, Pittsburgh , and Rutgers are calling too.