Gavin Rodriguez never thought he’d wind up in Nebraska. But he’s there now, kicking and punting on a scholarship at Hastings College, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics school 160 miles southwest of Omaha.
A broken leg against Chandler Basha late last season derailed Rodriguez’s hopes of becoming a Division I kicker, but the former Tempe Corona del Sol standout found another way, thanks to a recruiting-assistance company and a former Cardinal.
Student-Athlete Showcase, founded by former Cardinals linebacker Zack Walz, helps its clients earn an average of $12,000 in scholarships. More than $1.7 million in scholarship money has been awarded since 2003.
What does SAS do?
Spread the word about its clients.
Walz not only offers players a Web page on which they can upload videos for recruiters to peruse, he also has a book of college contacts.
In addition he gives his clients — Scottsdale Saguaro baseball player Aaron Borenstein and former Phoenix Brophy lineman Shane Peterlin are among the 250 or so players in the SAS client base — a 200-page manual on recruiting issues, NCAA rules, what to ask, important dates and how to handle the pressures of choosing a school.
“There’s so many opportunities for these athletes across the country if they’re open-minded and don’t have unrealistic expectations about being at the absolute top-notch schools,” Walz said.
SAS isn’t the only company trying to help high school athletes.
There’s iplayers.net, an Internet company founded by former NFL kickers Michael Husted and Doug O’Brien, which provides an outlet for athletes to upload highlight films and a biography. A simple Web link can be sent quickly to a mass of college football coaches at all levels.
Nick Lowery, an NFL kicker for nearly two decades, started Protege Sports out of Paradise Valley. With Protege, high school athletes in all sports can send video of themselves to a group of professional athletes and coaches for critique.
“This has the capacity to raise standards and accelerate the athlete’s growth,” Lowery said.
A SECOND CHANCE
Rodriguez was a late bloomer. The Aztecs wanted him to play quarterback as a senior, so he spent his junior year playing junior varsity.
Kicking was going to be his chance to play college football, until the broken leg he suffered in late October ended his senior season and any chance to play Division I.
Because he didn’t play varsity until his senior season, college letters were scarce last summer and fall, but there were still plenty of small-college opportunities out there, if he could find them.
Nervous about missing out on a chance for a scholarship and wary of recruiting services that he heard sold empty promises, Rodriguez enrolled at Mesa Community College as a backup.
Rodriguez’s father, Dan, discovered SAS through a work contact, then put down $1,000 with Walz’s company.
With help from SAS, Rodriguez put together a video clip and biography and tried to narrow his schools of choice.
Then the mass e-mails flew, and between 20 and 30 schools replied.
“For kids like me who are decent, it got me somewhere that I’m hooked on,” said Rodriguez, who landed 90 percent of a full scholarship. “If I was on my own I wouldn’t know how to approach a school. It was a big help because they knew how to get started.”
Walz knows the feeling. A 5-foot-11, 170-pound defensive end from a private high school in California, Walz had 17 sacks as a senior, but colleges didn’t care.
Fortunately, his father, Wayne Walz, was able to take a couple months off to send tapes and write letters to every school he could find.
Zack had the grades for Ivy League schools and played junior varsity-level football at Dartmouth as a freshman before completing three years as an all-Ivy League linebacker. The Cardinals drafted him in 1998.
“I went from being passed over to a great football experience,” he said.
Now Walz wants the same for others.
SAS has offices in Scottsdale, Colorado and Hawaii, and has served more than 500 athletes in all sports.
The cost is between $1,000-$3,000, depending on how involved families want SAS to get. Walz said he keeps track of kids and continues to help them find schools should they decide to transfer or begin at a junior college.
BANG FOR THE BUCK
Pick a position, and Drew Maggi has played it.
He’s a free safety, a wide receiver, a kicker and was (briefly) the backup quarterback at Brophy.
A jack of all trades, but master of none, one thing Maggi didn’t have until now was his pick of universities.
Then his dad signed up with iplayers.net at $200 a year.
Now, Maggi is drawing interest from Boise State, Colorado State, San Diego State, Wyoming and more.
“It’s hard to get looked at,” Maggi said. “With the site you can put yourself out there and choose what you want.”
Teammates Michael Tree and Billy Sanders also use the Web site, and thanks to the volunteer work of Michael’s father, Laurence, colleges can access the videos and biographies through links on Brophy’s football site.
Husted started the site in 2002 as a way to market himself for NFL teams. He’d been kicking in the pros for nearly a decade but was tired of sending out videotapes that got lost in the shuffle.
Similar to SAS, iplayers.net allows game film to be viewed online, frame-by-frame.
Players update them. Coaches watch.
The site charges between $20 and $35 per month, depending on the length of “contract” you sign and the number of included video uploads.
Based out of Solana, Calif., Husted and O’Brien also are part of kicking.com, which travels the country during late spring to put on kicking clinics, while filming each participant for use on their highlight reels.
“The bottom line is how they look on film,” ASU recruiting coordinator Matt Lubick said. “We’re not going to listen to someone else evaluate guys. We’re going to make our own decisions.”
Lowery joined Ron Schaffer, Andy Lombard and a network of professional athletes in every sport to create Protege in 2006.
After signing up, kids pay $3 to download audio and video clips of instruction from professional coaches and players including Bill Parcells, Dick Vermeil, Len Dawson, Magic Johnson, Bob Lanier, Steve Nash and Gary McCord.
Lowery, who attended Dartmouth and earned a Master’s degree in Business from Harvard, hopes to expand this branch of his business with more sports and instructors on a global scale.
Someday soon, clients will be able to send photos and video from their phone to their “teacher,” putting professional feedback from across the city, state or country within a finger’s reach.
Still, Lubick said, live action can’t be replaced.
“The best way to help yourself is to go out and play your butt off on Friday nights, get the grades and make sure coach has the film,” Lubick said. “Everything else will be taken care of.”
• Offers athletes in all sports a Web site
to create their own biography and upload
personal video highlights to send to coaches.
Michael Husted | www.iplayers.net | (888) 702-0682
• Uses technology to critique athletes’ performance in all sports and provides downloadable instruction and guidance from professional athletes and coaches.
Nick Lowery | (888) 577-6847 | www.protegesportsinc.com
• Provides assistance and education for kids and families on the recruiting process and ways to get yourself noticed by schools.
Zack Walz | www.student-athleteshowcase.com | (480) 219-1820