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Offers to 8th-graders not seen as ‘wild and crazy’ recruiting

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jim Harbaugh

It was novelty, once, when junior high football players were offered scholarships.

While those offers still are not prevalent in football – there’s evidence that shows it is a more common practice for women’s college soccer and men’s and women’s lacrosse – they are no longer unusual.

Michigan’s offer this week to 2020 quarterback prospect Sol-Jay Maiava while the U-M staff was in Hawaii for satellite camps certainly garnered headlines but hasn’t caused much of a recruiting ripple. It is the first college offer for Maiava, a dual-threat quarterback about to enter ninth grade.

Michigan State and Alabama, among many others, earlier this year offered eighth-grade Florida linebacker Jesus Machado, and Dylan Moses, a five-star linebacker from IMG Academy, received an offer from LSU when he was an eighth-grader in 2013.

Verbal offers are non-binding, and recruits are not allowed to receive a written offer until Aug. 1 before a prospect’s senior season.

So what does Michigan, for instance, gain from offering Maiava at this point?

“To me it’s sort of like buying a penny stock,” said Steve Lorenz, a Michigan.247sports.com analyst. “They’re getting in really early. It’s a low-risk, high-reward move from the university. If this guy turns into a stud in a couple years, Michigan can contact him and send him mail and say, ‘Don’t forget, we were the first school who saw it in you before any of these other programs,’ and if the kid doesn’t develop, they’re not bound to communicate with him.

“The penny stock analogy is a good way to look at it, because there’s potentially a good return. For the school, since it’s not being policed, there’s no downside to throw a few of them out there.”

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Former Michigan coach Brady Hoke offered five-star tight end Isaac Nauta when he was a freshman. Nauta graduated from IMG and will join Georgia’s roster this fall. And Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh offered eighth graders Blake Hinson and Owen Pappoe last year.

Allen Trieu, Midwest recruiting manager for Scout.com, said less than two dozen eighth graders around the country have been offered this year.

“It’s not this wild and crazy thing everyone says it is,” Trieu said. “On one hand you can say, ‘What’s the point?’ but on the other hand you could say, ‘What’s the harm?’”

So what is the harm?

Perhaps the eighth grader, armed with an offer or two, stops taking seriously his conditioning and development. On the other side, it might make him more devoted to improving as a player.

“Does it potentially hurt the kid?” Trieu said. “It ultimately comes down to the kid, his parents and coaches to make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s not Michigan’s job.”

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Both recruiting analysts said it’s clear Michigan saw something in Maiava they liked, and it potentially gives the Wolverines an advantage in his recruitment by getting in early.

“If you’re that sure you want him and he’s that far away (in Hawaii) it can certainly be helpful,” Trieu said. “If you wait until he’s a junior or senior and schools closer to him have offers in, you have a harder time. I think that’s the philosophy.”

A New York Times story two years ago focused on the number of young girls who are getting offers from soccer and lacrosse and even volleyball. Analysis provided for the Times by the National Collegiate Scouting Associating, which consults families on the recruiting process, showed that only 5 percent of men’s basketball players and 4 percent of football players received and accepted a scholarship before the official recruiting process. But 36 percent in women’s lacrosse and 24 percent in women’s soccer had accepted.

As Lorenz indicated, now the ball is in Maiava’s court. If he wants to play for a school like Michigan, he knows there is interest, but it is now about his motivation to continue to develop and improve.

“This kid has a verbal offer from Michigan, and he won’t get a written offer for three years or so, and he may never get one,” Lorenz said. “To me, this is not going to stop or slow down until the NCAA – which we never know what their priorities are – forces the schools to change the policy. Until then, you’re going to see this kind of stuff.”