Recruiting is no longer an intimate dance between college coaches and high school prospects.
Even convicts have gotten involved.
Devon Kennard, a defensive end at Phoenix Desert Vista, and Corey Adams, a defensive tackle at Scottsdale Saguaro, are the two most sought after football recruits in Arizona. They receive hundreds of letters, phone calls and text messages from schools pleading for their commitment.
Several of those letters came from an inmate in the California State Penitentiary system.
“He writes me two or three pages of letters saying that Notre Dame can offer me so much more than everyone else,” Adams said. “Somewhere in one of the prisons in California I’ve got a fan.”
Kennard has even been warned about the repercussions of passing up the Fighting Irish.
“Oh, yeah, that’s the craziest one,” Kennard said, laughing. “(The inmate) said he made the mistake of not going (to Notre Dame) and that I shouldn’t make that mistake. It was kind of creepy.”
Kennard, Adams and Scottsdale Chaparral defensive end Craig Roh are this year’s trio of mega-recruits. All three could play for almost any program in the country, and all three have been contacted by the marquee schools.
But the barrage of correspondence, including letters from prisoners, is just one of the myriad pressures today’s elite prospects face.
Nothing validates hard work like that first scholarship offer.
But after a while, all the attention becomes annoying.
The phone calls from college coaches and the media, the “advice” from teammates or alumni.
And, of course, the mail.
“I would get, literally, five pieces of mail a day,” Saguaro coach John Sanders said. “I could tell he became disenchanted when I would hand Corey his mail and he would start leaving it in my office.”
All three players still enjoy talking to the coaches, but the same cannot be said of the media.
While Adams stressed that it’s a small price to pay for the enjoyment he gets out of the process, he doesn’t hide his disdain.
“There are just a bunch of the Scout and Rival guys calling me,” Adams said. “Half of them have probably never played football in their lives, and they’re asking me questions for 15 minutes. Most of the time, it’s just the same stuff, so that gets annoying.”
Kennard’s brother, Derek, tries to control the reporters who contact Devon.
He said he makes sure they have a legitimate affiliation before giving out Devon’s cell phone number.
“The coaches have free rein,” Derek Kennard said. “It’s not about the coaches. Reporters, newspapers, the (recruiting) sites, that’s what most of the concern was about.”
There are other concerns, however.
A woman who works at a Bashas near Saguaro recently asked Corey Adams for an autograph.
Kennard has a Wikipedia.org page chronicling his career.
When Roh went on an unofficial visit to see Notre Dame, he signed 20 autographs and had a woman he never met tell him he looks different than in his picture.
“It can really make high school kids get a big head about themselves,” said Roh, who recently committed to Michigan. “That’s just something a high school kid shouldn’t be experiencing yet.”
Kennard is the most polished of the three, leaning on a dad and brother with high-level football experience.
Drawing on their wisdom, he calls this process “a piece of cake.” Already, he knows how to work a crowd.
“You’ve got to be nice to everybody,” he said. “They say, 'Hey Devon,’ and you have to be friendly even though you don’t know who it is. I make sure to ask, 'What’s your name again?’ and be friendly.”
Roh learned early on the value of political correctness, after his straight-shooting caused a fervor on message board forums.
“You definitely have to be diplomatic,” he said. “This has actually been a great learning experience for me to not say exactly what’s on my mind, to say what people want to hear. That sounds bad, but you get less controversy that way.”
THE TWO-WAY DEBATE
And then there are the on-field pressures.
The pressure to perform like a star every night because recruiters are always watching and your team is depending on you.
The pressure to stay healthy and not ruin those scholarship opportunities.
Kennard tore an anterior cruciate ligament two weeks ago, ending his season, and a mini-firestorm erupted because he was playing offense when it happened.
Some questioned whether playing him both ways made Kennard more vulnerable to injury.
“It’s football,” Chaparral coach Charlie Ragle said. “Guys get hurt. A guy can trip on the curb and break their ankle. You can’t think like that. You go out and play hard and let the chips fall where they may.”
Fortunately, for Kennard, all five schools he’s interested in are still offering scholarships.
Adams plays both offense and defense, too, but it doesn’t mean he has to like it.
“Personally, I cannot stand offense,” Adams said. “If offense was a person, I think I’d punch it in the face. I love defense. But the team needs me to play offense, so I do it. No questions asked.”
THE WRONG CHOICE
Adams and Kennard can literally play at the college of their choice next season.
Both are down to finalists — Adams has a top three schools and Kennard a top five — but the decision wears on them.
“I do (worry about it),” Adams said. “I think everyone does. I try to (block it out), but it’s just always there. It’s a big part of my future. As much as I try to separate it from what I’ve got going on right now, it finds a way to always creep itself back in.”
Kennard will talk the decision over with his family but knows the final choice will be his.
“It’s more than my family,” Kennard said. “I must find peace with myself in the school I choose. It’s not my brother, dad or mom that has to live there for four years, has to play on the football team. At the end of the day, it’s about which one is perfect for me.”
THE FINISH LINE
In a few months, this will all be over.
Kennard and Adams will likely make decisions by January, at the latest.
Despite some moments of mayhem, Roh, Adams and Kennard said the overall experience has been a positive one.
“It’s an awesome problem to have, if you want to call it a problem,” Adams said. “I’m grateful.”
Kennard had to deal with the most of the three.
Colorado tried getting his attention by sending him an envelope full of fake money, the equivalent of a full scholarship.
“Just tons of it,” Kennard said. “That was ridiculous.”
But he said it with a laugh.
“Surprisingly, this hasn’t stressed me out,” he said. “The whole thing has been a fun deal.”