ORLANDO — The Dr. Phillips Panthers are set to take on the Boone Braves in the second segment of a three-team spring football jamboree May 22 at Bishop Moore High School.
The Panthers are warming up, with new quarterback Marvin Washington taking snaps and running through some offensive sets.
On the sideline, a host of college football assistant coaches — donning polos and hats for programs including Auburn, Boston College, Florida State, UCF, Ohio State, Bowling Green and Bethune-Cookman, among others — are fixated.
The two-quarter contest between the Braves and Dr. Phillips hasn’t even started. The team is merely warming up — but this is the reality of spring football.
More than just a few weeks of practice for one game, spring football is increasingly where the lion’s share of recruiting is happening. And here in Central Florida, it’s big business.
“It’s unbelievable — I had 34 schools (visit) in two days,” West Orange head coach Bob Head said. “These kids are getting offers from the University of Hawaii to Washington State University to Ohio State. … It’s literally nationwide recruitment.”
Head said he gets 15 to 20 emails per day — in addition to hundreds of text messages — regarding recruiting. Head and coach Rodney Wells at Dr. Phillips, leaders of two of Central Florida’s elite programs, aren’t alone, either. Scouts stopped by practices for every program covered by the West Orange Times & Observer, even the smaller schools in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference such as Windermere Prep (which had a litany of schools stop by this spring) and CFCA.
And it’s happening for good reason.
The reality is that, on Friday nights in the fall, it is harder — although not impossible — for college assistants charged with evaluating potential recruits to get out to high school fields. After all, they have their own games for which to plan.
The spring, though, is a lot like open season in a state where the nation’s football programs come looking for talent.
“It’s a time where college coaches have time to come down and actually see you in action,” Ocoee head coach Ben Bullock said. “If you’re serious about being recruited to play college football, this time of year is critical.”
At a place such as Dr. Phillips, long a factory for turning out Division I-caliber players, the spring is when Wells’ Class of 2017 — regarded by him and others close to the program as possibly the most talented class in Dr. Phillips’ history — can shine and make recruiters drool.
“It’s a testament to what we’ve done in the past,” Wells said, reflecting on the attention his program received during the spring. “It’s tradition — these guys expect to go on to the next level and perform well. It was probably one of the biggest springs ever. Everybody knows that this is one of the best (rising junior) classes that I’ve ever had.”
Prized Panthers include Calvin Ashley and Jaquaris Bargnare, and for the Warriors, there are players such as Woody Barrett, Eddie McDoom and Stone Forsythe (who recently committed to the Florida Gators). While players such as those are attracting the Ohio States and Alabamas of the world, hosts of other programs are flocking to practices to see what else these powerhouses have to offer.
“We’re having, basically, 10 or 11 kids being recruited — when you’d think it would just be Woody, Eddie and Stone,” Head said.
Even for programs coming off a down year, such as Ocoee and Olympia — with a combined three wins between them in 2014 and both under new leadership at the top — recruiters are a daily occurrence.
At a recent practice for Olympia under head coach Kyle Hayes, an assistant coach from the University of Ohio stopped by unannounced, simply to see who was out there — hoping to find a “diamond in the rough” for his program to get a jump on recruiting.
The value of spring football goes further, of course. More players get more reps than would be the case in the fall when coaches are preparing for games that count, for instance. And in a way, the importance of recruiting can add to atmosphere and intensity of a spring practice session.
Just ask Head.
“When you have 12 coaches standing on the sideline (at practice), these kids play hard,” Head said. “It’s basically a game day.”