High school coaches on board with early signing period

Ralph D. Russo
Associated Press

All the top 2018 football prospects at St. Peter’s Prep in New Jersey took advantage of the new NCAA signing period and wrapped up their recruits in December.

Still, St. Peter’s coach Rich Hansen has been kept busy lately by college recruiters.

“Duke just left. Syracuse was in this morning. Northwestern’s in tomorrow. Virginia,” Hansen said recently.

The day before, Rutgers coach Chris Ash and coaches from Penn State swung by the Jersey City school that has produced Alabama All-American Minkah Fitzpatrick and Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush in recent years. The previous week, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer dropped by.

“It’s the same traffic. It’s the same schedule,” Hansen said. “The agenda just changed a little bit. But they’re not going to give up an open (recruiting) period.”

The first two-legged signing period in major college football began Dec. 20 and will largely wrap up on Feb. 7, the traditional first Wednesday of February. The modified agenda for schools this January has been to fill a handful of open spots in the 2018 class and get a running start on 2019 and beyond.

Several longtime, successful high school coaches gave the new recruiting calendar generally positive reviews. They were hopeful early signing would create more clarity and opportunities for their players. They said they have seen an increase in the recruitment of their remaining prospects. And while adding signing-day planning to the to-do list during playoff time was not ideal, none of the four thought it distracted players to the detriment of the team.

According to recruiting and scouting analyst Tom Luginbill of ESPN, about 2,800 prospects sign in a typical year. During the Dec. 20-22 signing period, 2,003 high school players signed with FBS schools. Another 360 prospects are unsigned but committed heading into next week’s traditional signing day, Luginbill said.

Hansen had six players sign in December, including three of the top 20 prospects in New Jersey, according to 247 Sports’ composite rankings.

“It’s over and done and I can start getting the kids going to D-IIs and D-IIIs, and the juniors and sophomores and freshmen,” Hansen said. “But if I’m on the other side of the table and I’m waiting for that offer and it hasn’t come, I don’t know how I’m going to feel about it.”

Hansen said having most of the top prospects signed should help clear the “logjam” of prospects farther down the board that in past years would be holding out for better offers. With just over a week left before signing day, only 18 of 247Sports’ top 100 prospects were uncommitted. Another 13 were verbally committed, but unsigned.

Steve Mask, head coach at St. Paul’s Episcopal in Mobile, Alabama, had his best player, cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis, sign with the Crimson Tide in December. Mask’s quarterback, Swift Lyle, held out, hoping that a Power Five offer might come. That’s happened, Mask said. It’s impossible to know if that would have happened without the early signing period, but it seems like a positive sign to Mask.

“It may benefit those kids to some degree,” Mask said. “The other side of that coin is it could also backfire. If Timbuktu College is a Group of Five and they’re recruiting three quarterbacks and they say, ‘You know what? We’re going to take the first one that signs in December.’ All of sudden that kid that gambled a little bit may not have the opportunity to come back.”

With college recruiters no longer having to focus on verbally committed recruits through January, guarding against last-minute flips, they have more time to take a swing at a top uncommitted recruit such as linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu from Southern California powerhouse Mater Dei.

“That many more phone calls started to happen. That many more tweets. I guarantee these guys are coming in and (asking), ‘What do you know about Solomon?’” Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson said.

Rollinson’s team won the state championship in 2017 in a game played four days before the early signing period opened. He said he never felt as if the looming decision-day affected his players.

Kevin Wright, head coach at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, a school that draws elite athletes of all kinds from all over the world, had 19 players sign with FBS schools in December. It didn’t necessarily hurt his team, he said, but he could tell recruiters were anxious to have players signed in December.

“It definitely weighs on those kids,” Wright said. “They’re getting pushed hard right in the middle of the season to commit.”

Rollinson said the only nuisance caused by the early signing period was trying to prepare a signing day celebration for players inking a national letter of intent in December. He said the event lost some of its luster.

“Whereas in February, we as a school try to make it as special, as we have done in the past,” he said.

Mask said less attention on signing day was fine by him.

“Most people were out for the holidays. You didn’t have all that fanfare,” Mask said. “You didn’t have ESPN using 19 channels to try to cover everybody from all over the country. And from that standpoint I thought that was a major benefit.”