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College football

Parents can make recruiting process smoother

High school athletes benefit from having someone guide them.

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 4, 2003

It gets hectic at the Sims house.

The ringing is constant.

Coaches call. Reporters call. Recruitniks, too.

Ernie Sims III, a linebacker/running back for Tallahassee North Florida Christian and the Times' Blue Chip Prospect of the Year, is one of the country's top recruits.

His father, Ernie Sims II, is the gatekeeper.

"What I've done is taken a break the last few months from my ministry to kind of organize and keep him organized," Sims II said. "It's overwhelming in terms of phone calls and requests for interviews. He definitely wouldn't be able to do that by himself. No way. I don't see how kids can do this without the help of their parents."

The younger Sims is fortunate to have a father well-versed in the subject. Sims II, a 1977 Jefferson graduate, played at Florida State. With recruiting more hectic than ever, it helps to have somebody on your side, especially somebody who traveled a similar path.

"My parents set an example, so when it comes on me I'll know what to do," Sims III said.

Every recruit should be so fortunate.

"It's vital that the parents understand the process," said Jay Walls, coach at tradition-rich Live Oak Suwannee, which in recent years has sent players to Florida, Florida State and Miami. "Unfortunately, there are a lot of parents and kids that don't."

Most parents are first-timers and thus don't know what to expect. For them, the process can be as overwhelming as it is for their child. In some cases, more so.

"It's been very tough," said Mary Grant, mother of Wharton standout Larry Edwards. "I didn't know this process was so long."

Edwards is one of four children. Grant, a single mother, works two jobs to support the family. When she gets home from her busy day, she says, the phone rings "every 15 minutes."

Grant didn't know what to expect when college recruiters began calling her son. She sought advice from a friend, who told her, "Make sure they pay for sickness and injuries, and have (Larry) talk to other kids that have been recruited there."

When coaches visit Edwards at home, Grant asks about health coverage first, then focuses on education. Edwards, who will choose between LSU and North Carolina, says his mother has aided him greatly in recent months, and credits her for asking questions of coaches he hadn't thought of.

"She's a very big help," Edwards said. "She knows what to say to them."

Lakewood defensive end Julian Riley, a Florida commitment, considers himself lucky. Both of his parents are college graduates. What they don't know about football, they do know about college life.

"They've played a very important role," Riley said. "When we met with coaches, my mom would always ask about academic support and medical coverage. And she'd ask about how much the scholarship covered. All I knew were the basics, but she asks every little thing you can think of.

"If my parents weren't involved, the (college coaches) would have taken me and filled my head with football stuff."

Not all parents are helpful, of course.

Veteran high school coach Robby Pruitt of Fitzgerald, Ga., and formerly of Florida schools Union County and Jacksonville University Christian, has sent players to most major programs in the South. Because Pruitt has aspirations of coaching in college, he frequently sits in on in-home visits involving college coaches and players from his program.

"Some parents are like, "What are you going to do for my kid?' " Pruitt said. "Sometimes they think they're going to give them something or treat them special. ... The kids need good parents, or at least need help from somebody."

Coaches interviewed by the Times agreed parents should be proactive in their child's recruitment, but Lakewood coach Brian Bruch warned, "The worst thing a parent can do is not care at all or care too much."

"It's important for parents to help young people know they are in control of the decision and the situation," South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said.

Coaches said parents should look beyond football and focus more energy on academic issues. Several top prospects fail to qualify each year, sometimes because the child waited too long to take school seriously.

"You've got to keep up with the grades," Walls said. "A lot of kids and parents will do whatever it takes to do well in athletics. But then they don't go the extra step as far as making sure the kid takes the ACT or SAT."

When choosing a college, coaches suggest parents find out all they can about academic support programs and graduation rates. "The graduation rate, right off the bat, tells you what's going on," Bruch said.

At the Sims house Wednesday, the phone likely will ring less often and the madness will end when the younger Sims announces his college intentions. The standout, who will choose between Georgia, Florida and Florida State, cruised through the recruiting process.

He has his parents to thank.

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