COVID-19 changed many aspects of American life, so it is no surprise college football recruiting is not an exception.
The initial wave of the virus hitting in mid-March was particularly …
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[Ralph Freso/For West Valley Preps]
Ironwood junior quarterback William Haskell throws a pass against Sunrise Mountain during the second half of their 5A football game on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. Haskell verbally committed to play for San Diego State University in May.
Centennial sophomore offensive tackle Caiden Miles (#74) prepares to block Apollo senior linebacker Jorge Lucero during an Sept. 28 game at Centennial High School in Peoria. Miles made a verbal commitment to UNLV football in May after only an impromptu trip to walk through campus.
[Courtesy Ed Russell Photography/For West Valley Preps]
Cactus junior defensive tackle Ethan Price, right, locks up with Desert Edge senior center Braxton Matteson during an Oct. 11 game at Cactus High School in Glendale. Price is in the midst of a COVID-19 altered recruiting process.
COVID-19 changed many aspects of American life, so it is no surprise college football recruiting is not an exception.
The initial wave of the virus hitting in mid-March was particularly difficult for the class of 2021, playing havoc with NCAA recruiting staples like team camps, official visits, college coaches visiting high school spring drills and standardized tests.
Despite the added difficulties, three of the West Valley seniors that received significant college interest said the pandemic has not significantly altered their plans or hindered their efforts to connect with universities.
Two of these seniors committed to Division I schools in the Mountain West conference in May. The third is comfortable with waiting. Here are their recruiting stories:
Though three-star rated Ironwood quarterback Will Haskell received offers from Duke and Iowa State, among others, late in his sophomore year, he did not take any official on-campus visits before COVID-19 shut those down. But the virus did not speed up or stretch out his timeline for committing.
He relied on virtual university tours and other information sent by the six Division I schools that offered him. The new San Diego State staff was the most recent of those six and Haskell said they began to recruit him heavily in early- to mid-March, as things were breaking down.
“My biggest thing in the recruiting process was building a relationship with every coach, not only as an athlete but helping me to grow as a man,” Haskell said.
His father, Will Haskell Sr., grew up in Staten Island, was recruited by Washington State and played for the Cougars in the mid-1990s. Will Jr. said his dad gave him an idea of what to look for, and served as a sounding board for what Will heard from programs, but did not try to directly influence his decision.
Looking back on how schools communicated when the typical recruiting process was no longer possible, Mr. Haskell stated he believes it became easier for Will to weed out schools that were on the fence compared to a school like San Diego State that took a genuine interest in him. He said he trusts his son’s judgment on people and just wanted to be available as a consultant throughout the process.
“Given the trend that more and more kids commit early, Will had in his mind that he wanted to commit prior to his senior season so I don’t believe that part of the process was something that concerned him much. I always felt that he needed to get on some of these campuses, feel the energy, understand the environment, and believe this is a place I want to be for the next four or five years minimum,” Mr. Haskell said. “In my opinion, Will thought San Diego was just different. He has been there before. The city, the culture fit him. Then they showed us the planned stadium that should be completed for the 2022 season. On campus, it looks incredible.”
Haskell’s athletic ability, showcased in a Twitter video that went viral on Bleacher Report of behind the back passes and a throw while leaping over another player, caused some universities to show interest as a receiver or defensive back. But the six schools to extend offers were for quarterback and Haskell said he felt confident with the plan new Aztecs offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski laid out.
New SDSU coach Brady Hoke and his staff did their homework on the Ironwood dual threat, impressing Eagles coach Christopher Rizzo.
“They knew a lot about me. Coach Rizzo came up to me and said, ‘I want you to make your decision,’ but he said he was impressed by how many background checks went into it,” Haskell said.
At first, San Diego State was not on his map because of the run-heavy power scheme favored by former coach Rocky Long. But Long retired as a head coach in January, then decided to join New Mexico coach Danny Gonzales’ staff as defensive coordinator.
The Aztecs responded by promoting Hoke to head coach and he hired Hecklinski to install a spread scheme full of run-pass option plays.
”I felt that the offense they are building was more than I could have asked for,” Will Haskell Jr. said.
It is not that far removed from the training he has done at Elev8QBacademy with coach Mike Giovando and current University of Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler.
Coaches from different universities who expressed interest in Will were no longer coming to Ironwood with the virus spreading and spring practice canceled. That caused the only regret of this recruiting process, that interest in Haskell is harder to trickle down to his Ironwood teammates.
“Coach Rizzo did a fantastic job creating a plan around Will’s upcoming volleyball season, so he could throw and be available to the school while also not interfering with the season,” Mr. Haskell stated. “Unfortunately I think it hurt more than Will, we always wanted a chance to get his teammates in front of more eyes and so that really hurt.”
Ironwood junior quarterback Will Haskell delivers a pass during a Sept. 6, 2019 home game against Cactus as Cobras defensive tackle Ethan Price begins to ease up his rush.
Price is fairly new to the recruiting process, and unlike Haskell, he said he was not planning to commit before his senior season
Price transferred from Liberty to Cactus weeks before his junior season.
After recording 26 tackles and plugging the interior for the Cobras, teams began to inquire about the 255-pound defensive tackle.
Three of those schools are in the Ivy League.
“I’ve been in really close contact with Columbia, Yale and Penn and had flights booked for a trip east. Obviously, those got canceled,” Price said. “Schools have told me they are not 100 percent clear on when they can open classes. Some could open in about a month.”
For Price, the visit is one of the most important parts of the experience. He was hoping to visit the big man camp at Northern State University in South Dakota, but by the time camp began in late July, Cactus had resumed workouts.
In addition to interest from those schools, Price has official offers from Benedictine (Kans.), Hamline, Oberlin, Simpson and Valparaiso --- a Division I school in Northwest Indiana.
“I definitely want to take a visit. I’m kind of leading toward one school and I want to make sure I visit that campus first,” Price said.
He, and a lot of his peers also are waiting on an opportunity to take standardized tests and better their scores, particularly for academically-focused universities.
“From a parent standpoint the struggles we have had are with the cancellations of the ACT and SAT. There are several schools waiting on the retake of these tests to get scores to offer him,” said Ethan’s father, Aricke Price stated in a Twitter interview. “A lot of the bigger name programs want to see senior film and said they would offer. They want to see his growth. So its a mix.”
Virtual junior days have showcased everything from football facilities to academic coursework and residence halls.
Price said he often asks his trainers from Inferno Performance, Dontay Moch — a former NFL linebacker — and Chidi Enyia, for advice on the recruiting process.
Both he and former Liberty teammate Kyle Sfarcioc, an offensive lineman, compare notes on recruiting regularly.
“Me and him talk a lot about Yale. We also talk about being patient and waiting for our time,” Price said.
The 6-4, 290-pound offensive tackle started throughout his sophomore year on Centennial’s 5A state champions to leap onto the radar screen of several Division I programs.
Miles visited Power 5 conference universities like Baylor, TCU and Washington for camps in 2019 but had not made any official visits when COVID-19 hit.
While quarterbacks and some five- and four-star prospects see their recruiting heat up in their sophomore year or early in their junior season, the bulk of Division I rosters are filled with players signed during the months before their senior year of high school starts.
“A lot of recruiting usually happens going into spring ball and the summer before your senior year,” Caiden Miles said.
Those months are also prime visiting time for players.
Boyd Miles, Caiden’s father, said the family had several official visit planned the week of what turned out to be an extended spring break in late March.
“He had three unofficial trips scheduled that week and they all canceled,” Mr. Miles said.
Caiden Miles said he wanted to commit this summer, even when taking official visits became impossible.
One reason for this, which the pandemic helped solidify, is the big man’s decision to graduate from Centennial in December and enroll in college for the spring semester.
“Eventually, we came to the realization that (visits) weren’t going to happen.
But I still wanted to commit before my senior season so I could focus on that,” Caiden Miles said.
Miles had seven offers, from a wide range of school and football program types — Abeline Christian, Air Force, Columbia, New Mexico State, Northern Arizona, UNLV and Yale.
He heard frequently from Air Force, NAU, UNLV and Yale since the pandemic began, breaking down film with Yale coaches and doing Zoom meetings with the UNLV staff. Before Miles made his decision, he went for a drive with his dad, visiting the NAU and UNLV campuses on a very unofficial basis — walking around their campuses almost like a tourist.
Mr. Miles said seeing the campus helped Caiden be comfortable committing to UNLV, which he did on May 29. Other Division I schools had set out feelers, but backed off once he signed with the Rebels.
“There were a lot of schools that said they weren’t going to offer him until his spring ball. Once he made his commitment, they respected it,” Mr. Miles said.
In recent months, Miles has worked out with Centennial teammates in his garage. Several players talked about missing the opportunity to pick up offers at camps hosted by universities, as well as spring ball back home.
He received a bit of good news Aug. 5 with the Arizona Interscholastic Association announcing plans to play a shorter football season starting in October, instead of pushing back games to 2021 — when Miles is already in Las Vegas.
“Having that taken away is hurting quite a few kids. It did place an emphasis on being able to commit. It’s a relief that I don’t have to stress about what schools might do,” Caiden Miles said.
Richard Smith has been with Independent Newsmedia since 2016, and worked at a Sun City-based news outfit covering the Northwest Valley for 22 consecutive years.
An NAU alum and lifelong Arizona resident, Richard began as a copy editor and page designer at Surprise Today and the Daily News-Sun, then rekindled his love of sports writing by taking the reins on West Valley Preps in 2008.
For most of the mid-2010s he was the Surprise editor and West Valley Preps reporter. Now he’s the West Valley Preps Editor and Surprise Associate Editor.
As COVID restrictions slowly lift, Richard is cautiously optimistic he will visit book stores, football fields and gyms again this fall.