Recruiting is always a thoroughly discussed topic at Pac-12 Football Media Day and at this year’s event in Hollywood on July 24, there was one question that stood out above the rest: How young is too young to offer?
Preteen football phenoms have been making headlines as well as waves on social media, one of the most famous being 12-year-old Maxwell “Bunchie” Young, the 2017 Sports Illustrated Kids Sports Kid of the Year.
When Young was named Sports Kid of the Year at age 10, he had two college offers, according to his coach at Laced Facts Academy. Every now and then a new young star will appear, but high school tape still reigns king when it comes to recruiting, according to University of California coach Justin Wilcox.
“We want to see guys perform in high school in a game,” he said. “I think it’s become so specialized at such an early age and guys can learn how to throw the football and they go to 7-on-7, and all that’s great, but you still have to go play 11-on-11. Somebody might hit you. What’s that going to look like when you get out of trouble? What are their instincts like? Are they accurate?”
Seven-on-7, a variation of football that features seven players on each side of the ball with no offensive or defensive lines, is gaining popularity and also some slight ire from current Pac-12 football players.
University of Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate and University of California receiver Michael Pittman, Jr. both were critical of 7-on-7.
“I think it’s good to do it,” Pittman said, “but not put so much weight on it. Like, people think that because you’re a superstar 7-on-7 player that it translates and sometimes it doesn’t and sometimes it does.”
NCAA rules forbid coaches and scouts to attend 7-on-7 events, but film from the games can still make their way into college football offices.
In January, University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh offered seventh-grader Isaiah Marshall. Later in the month, Arizona State University offered eighth-grader Mikey Matthews.
“The recruiting machine in college football right now I think is very misleading,” said Stanford coach David Shaw. “That’s the reason why we have so many guys that transfer.
“They don’t know who they are, and they’re picking colleges for the wrong reasons, and they get to the college and they get to their first bump in the road, they’re third string as a freshman and say ‘I shouldn’t be third string, I’m going someplace else,’ instead of saying, ‘Hey, I chose this college. This is where I want to go to school and play football. So if I’m not starting, that’s on me to work my way up on the ladder as I’m going to the school I wanted to go to.’”
For Stanford, offering early is an especially tough decision because of the academic requirements to attend the school. But Shaw also worries about how recruiting without factoring in high school academics could affect prep and college football overall.
“We’ve taken the academics out of recruiting, which I think is wrong,” he said. “And obviously easy for the Stanford football coach to say that, but the guys that don’t transfer don’t transfer when they get their bump in the road because of where they want to be because they’ve gone through a recruiting process that involves school and community as well as football to choose the right place to go to school.”
The recruiting process isn’t perfect — it’s simultaneously meandering, misleading and rewarding — and only time will tell how early offers will affect the overall college football landscape.