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College football recruitment takes on new look during pandemic
LOCAL FOOTBALL

College football recruitment takes on new look during pandemic

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With face-to-face visits, skill camps and 7-on-7s all nixed due to the ongoing safety concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, college football recruiting has a different feel to it for both Northern Arizona and some local recruits.

The NCAA changed some of its rules and extended the recruiting dead period to the end of July, but passed a blanket waiver that allows unlimited phone calls between coaches and recruits to mitigate the inability to meet in person.

Because of that, Brennan Ball, Lumberjacks director of player personnel and recruiting, said some of the top recruits in the nation are getting upward of 100 calls a single day.

From a national scale, he said, the effects are easily seen in the sheer number of offers being thrown out.

"What's happening with this class, too, it is the most offered class ever," Ball said. "Because no one is able to see these kids, everybody is trying to get in the game and a lot of teams are offering more than they do."

The new recruiting landscape has forced Ball and the rest of the Lumberjacks coaching staff to adjust their game plan.

The type of player the Lumberjacks look for hasn't changed, but the way they go about it certainly has. Some ideas that sound good can't be done like Zoom calls with multiple recruits at once as that is an NCAA violation because recruits are not allowed to know who is else is being recruited in a video call, according to Ball.

"We can't have the kids know who the other recruits are in a video call, so that made it kinda hard," Ball said. "But overall our coaching staff, we are a ton of vets, so it makes my job really easy with the coaches we got on staff."

The Lumberjacks coaching staff has managed to work through the new recruiting landscape, but the lack of a skill camp has hindered much of the recruiting. 

Each summer Northern Arizona hosts skill camps and 7-on-7 passing leagues that give high school athletes an early chance to make an impression on college coaches.

It also benefits the Lumberjacks. It gives the coaches a chance to show off the facilities, bring large numbers of recruits into the Walkup Skydome and the practice fields, and the coaches see athletes up close and actually judge their size without having to do an official in-person visit.

Without the camps, it is also harder for the staff to really show athletes Flagstaff and the NAU campus -- two things that have always been strong selling points for the program.

The personal connection from seeing athletes and character evaluation, Ball said, are some of the biggest challenges due to COVID-19.

"You can't have them to pay to be up here for a camp and then run them through drills that you wanna see them run and seeing how they respond," Ball said. " ... What our recruiting is about is building relationships with these players. With in-state, we don't care who is recruiting you, we want to have a relationship with you -- especially if you're a big-time recruit who knows you may want to come back home."

Now, with the lack of in-person visits and the chance to see athletes up close, Ball said the visits during the season will be even more important for convincing recruits to commit to the program.

Even with the struggles, that hasn't stopped the Lumberjacks from getting strong commits for the 2021 class.

Northern Arizona has two players committed who are ranked in 247Sports.com's rankings in defensive back Ja'Kobe Walton, a three-star recruit out of Texas, and three-star wide out Jonah Carnell out of California.

High school perspective

From the other side of things, getting seen as a high school football player is a challenge itself.

Two of the best football players in Flagstaff, Coconino Panthers running back Zach Bennett and Flagstaff Eagles running back Luis Jaramillo, are each entering their senior seasons and have started to have some offers come their way -- along with Eagles wide out Jace Wetzel.

Neither have a Division I offer yet and are doing about as much as they can to send tape and get their names out to college coaches.

"There are moments where it is really heating up. There are a couple weeks where all the coaches are contacting me but there is one week where there isn't much activity going on," Jaramillo said of his recruitment so far.

Each have used social media to contact coaches and put their highlight tapes online-- which has been a trend the past few years.

Instead of getting work done at camps, the two have done about as much as possible within the Phase 1 of the return to competition guidelines.

"It definitely kinda sucks not being able to do that," Jaramillo said. "That's where a lot of college coaches show up. But, really, I'm not too worried about it because I think I will have a huge senior year with all the work I am putting in."

Unknowns

There is still plenty up in the air of what recruiting will look like as the pandemic progresses.

Uncertainty still overshadows whether high school sports will happen in the fall. Already Ganado Unified School District on the Navajo Nation has canceled the fall sports season as of earlier this week.

The affects of losing a year to showcase talents could be dire for athletes, as well as the uncertainty college teams could face in signing players they have not seen much of at all.

Lance Hartzler can be reached at 556-2251 or at lhartzler@azdailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @lance_hartz.

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