Monday-Tuesday fair at Lake Wales gives many of the area's unsigned seniors another shot at landing an opportunity.
By FRANK PASTOR
Published February 15, 2004
Like a traveling salesman peddling his wares, Central coach John Wilkinson will leave for Lake Wales High on Monday armed with videotapes, transcripts and financial aid forms.
By the time he returns home Tuesday, he will be carrying business cards, brochures and, he hopes, opportunities for his seniors.
Wilkinson will join many area coaches at the small school recruiting fair Monday and Tuesday at Lake Wales. He will have the chance to meet with representatives from 50-80 Division I-AA, II and III, NAIA and junior colleges and try to match his players' wants with the colleges' needs.
Since most small schools don't have the money or the people to travel the country looking for prospective players, the fair allows them to talk with coaches and athletes and view tape from more than 20 high schools all in one place.
It also helps players in lightly recruited counties such as Citrus and Hernando gain exposure.
"We're not the prospect hotbed," Wilkinson said, "so if somebody is going to go looking and going to knock out a bunch of schools, they'll probably go to Miami or Jacksonville."
Most blue-chip prospects signed with Division I colleges on national signing day, which was Feb. 3 this year. The fair is not meant for them.
"This type of fair is great for that guy who hasn't hit that growth spurt yet, who is maybe a step slower than the guys at his position or, depending on the type of school, it may be a grade issue or maybe he's looking for something specific in an academic program," Springstead coach Bill Vonada said.
"He's still a good football player who still has a strong desire to play and can help somebody out but may be one category short."
Central linebacker Darnell Craig lacks the test score.
A Class 4A all-state honorable-mention pick and the Times All-Citrus/Hernando Defensive Player of the Year, Craig has the size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) and play-making ability to compete at the Division I level. But he won't be eligible until he receives a qualifying score on the SAT or ACT.
Teammate Mike Hibbert's case is more puzzling.
A Class 4A first-team all-state kicker, Hibbert would seem a shoo-in for a Division I scholarship. But he plays a position where there are few opportunities.
While Florida State alone signed six defensive backs this year, Wilkinson said the 21 teams that make up the ACC and SEC signed a total of five kickers.
"It's really upsetting me, because nobody's signing kickers this year," Wilkinson said. "They want him to walk on, but I think he's better than that."
South Florida is among the schools suggesting that Hibbert walk on, but he and Craig could wind up playing for a Division II school such as West Alabama or Tusculum College in Greeneville, Tenn.
Wilkinson knows West Alabama offensive line coach Don Dover from their time together at New Smyrna Beach, and Dover put Wilkinson in touch with Tusculum receivers coach Bobby Rhoades.
Two-way lineman Charles Gonyea and linebacker/tight end Kurt Carriveau of Springstead, running backs/defensive backs Rod Roberts and Jagren Castillo of Hernando and Citrus quarterback Casey Snyder are others who could benefit from the fair.
Crystal River coach Jere DeFoor said he does not plan to go. His top seniors, Times All-Citrus/Hernando Offensive Player of the Year Chris Bunch and linebacker/running back Chianta Smith, lack the test scores needed to qualify.
The fair is divided into two days, the first for coaches only.
Typically, a college coach will start a conversation by saying he has a need at a particular position. If a high school coach doesn't have a player at that spot, he might suggest the coach look at a player at another position.
If a college coach likes what he sees after seeing the tape, he might invite the player to meet with him the next day. An offer could come as soon as a few weeks later, after the player's academic and financial background has been reviewed.
Former Springstead linebacker Dan Raddish met Hiram College coach Mike Meyer at the 2002 fair. It turned out to be a perfect match, as Raddish quickly earned a starting job and ranked third on the team with 59 tackles, including 31/2 for loss, last season as a sophomore.
Springstead's Josh Hopkins (Methodist); Central's Nick Marty (Mesabi Range), Ed LaRose (Chowan), Michael Lastra (Dana), Jason Baker (Chowan), Jimmy Sterling (Chowan), Kenny Van Houten (Wingate) and John Willis (Chowan); and Hernando's Donnie Snyder (Elmhurst) and Ryan Bunch (Chowan) also found opportunities at recent fairs.
"If somebody is good enough and they have the grades and the test scores," Wilkinson said, "there's a place for them to play."
- Frank Pastor can be reached at 800 333-7505, ext. 1430. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org