ROANOKE, Va. – In July, the Virginia High School League announced it would be suspending its fall sports season to the spring. That put Virginia prep football players trying to get recruited by colleges in a tough position.
“It’s very frustrating because I was very excited for this season,” Radford quarterback Zane Rupe said.
“I sit out home Friday nights thinking how I could be out there playing football right now,” Salem fullback Caleb Leftwich said.
No fall season has left local high school athletes like Radford senior Pj Prioleau wondering what’s next.
“We just keep working out in the summer, keeping in contact with coaches on twitter because we can’t visit campuses,” Prioleau, a running back, said.
Prioleau only played handful of games before he was injured last season, right at the beginning of his junior year, which is a critical time for recruiting.
“Junior season was kind of important but I didn’t have it because of the injury,” Prioleau said. “So senior season was going to be a big one.”
He’s not alone. William Byrd senior Bryson Lutz was depending on his senior season to seal a chance at the next level.
“It was upsetting at first, but everything happens for a reason,” the offensive lineman said. “I have more time, get in shape, get ready for this upcoming season.”
But the situation only gets worse. The NCAA Division I council extended the recruiting dead period through January 1. That means coaches cannot interact with players in person, making way for the next best recruiting tool: Twitter.
Lord Botetourt head coach Jamie Harless swore he would never get into the twitter world, but now he’s utilizing the social platform to help his athletes get noticed.
“As stuck in my ways with a lot of concepts like I am, I realize there’s only one way I can help these guys,” Harless said. “It’s a mouthpiece that makes for more efficiency for the kids, and me as well.”
And as Leftwich says, the Twitter recruiting is an all-day, every day deal.
“Wake up, open twitter, you look at what coaches have their DM’s open for the day, send your film to them, and hopefully they respond back,” the junior said.
In 2020, one click may be worth more than any statistic.
“We have about 33 states or so that are actively playing, there’s about 17 or 25 or so states that aren’t underway,” Liberty Director of Player Personnel Ethan Johnson said.
According to Johnson, the average percentage of players the Flames are recruiting in states without fall football is 36%, and 19% of those are in the state of Virginia.
“Where it sticks us, we will prioritize over states that are playing football,” Johnson said. “Essentially, in recruiting the junior class, the new class that started in September, all those kids have sophomore tape, so it’s the thirst in the evaluation process to gain more information and watch more tape, and I think a lot of that centers around their junior year.”
At Ferrum college, in-state recruiting has made up 60% of their roster since 2012, according to head coach Clieve Adams.
“The big challenge for us moving forward is the actual 2021 class, their senior film,” Adams said. “There’s a lot of guys out there that we may have not rated at the top of our rating, and we give them a middle of the road waiting and say okay we want to see senior film to justify recruitment.”
“That outside of anything poses the biggest challenge for us moving forward,” Adams said.
That leaves high school football coaches as the liaison between their players and the next level.
“I believe that when we pick up the phone, and we do an evaluation, and we want to get a little more information about a kid, we feel comfortable as a staff that we can pick up the phone and trust that high school coach because we have relationships that go back 20 years plus,” Adams said.
Floyd County’s Winfred Beale is entering his 40th year as head coach of the Buffaloes. a man who has surely seen a lot, but never anything like this. “There’s certain things you can’t control. you just have to respond to the circumstances that you’re in,” he said.
“I give every one of our kids an A+ on that. They responded. They haven’t complained, made up excuses about things, they say hey this is what is is, we have to adjust adapt to the situation we’re in,” Beale added.
But the biggest message, it seems, is to never lose hope. “It’s just delayed guys, this is not over, there’s still a lot of time left in this process, we’re going to wait on those guys and the types of information we’re going to receive, it’s just a delayed process more than anything else,” Liberty’s Johnson said.
How do you not get in your head about that? That when the spring comes around and you can play, hopefully it all pays off?
“That is sort of the motivation, that’s the motivation for us being out here, getting in the gym, doing what you can to better yourself,” Radford’s Zane Rupe said. “I look at it as this pause, more time to get better, more preparation, that’s what I look at it as to get better in the spring.”