Joe Davidson

Not enough college football scholarships to hand out to hopeful athletes

Record-setting Folsom quarterback Jake Browning is already at Washington on scholarship, but recruiters don’t look at a player’s stats when evaluating prospects. They look for good grades, good character, great bodies and equally impressive effort.
Record-setting Folsom quarterback Jake Browning is already at Washington on scholarship, but recruiters don’t look at a player’s stats when evaluating prospects. They look for good grades, good character, great bodies and equally impressive effort. rbenton@sacbee.com

Angus McClure can relate to the underdog.

He was one, a walk-on lineman at Sacramento State in 1987 who eventually worked his way into signing a scholarship.

Now the recruiting coordinator for UCLA football, McClure can speak from experience about high school recruits scrambling for scholarship offers, or to at least be seen and acknowledged by four-year programs. As National Signing Day looms Wednesday, the amount of despair from kids who do not sign letters of intent will greatly outnumber the euphoria from the fortunate few who do, a cost of up to $250,000 for books, tuition, room and board and a chance to suit up in college shoulder pads.

The math never adds up favorably, McClure said. There are about 15,000 high schools that offer varsity football in America, meaning some 310,000 seniors are playing.

Many prep seniors would love a scholarship – anywhere – but only 6.5 percent land on an NCAA roster, from major college, to mid-majors to Division II and III.

In other words, it’s slim pickings.

“It’s a limited industry, and it’s very frustrating to a lot of people,” McClure said. “There are only so many scholarships and roster spots, and there are thousands and thousands of high school prospects. I feel for the kids who don’t get anything.”

Today, some 40 area players will sign with Division I programs, a good haul for a region long known for football success. Folsom leads the way with seven scholarship players, including Bee Player of the Year Jake Browning, a quarterback already enrolled at Washington, Bee Defensive Player of the Year linebacker Sam Whitney (Boise State), offensive lineman Cody Creason (Arizona) and record-setting receiver Josiah Deguara (Cincinnati).

McClure said there are “other avenues” to explore for hopefuls who go unsigned today, including junior college, partial scholarships at programs of all levels or walking on, meaning no scholarship but at least a chance to make the roster.

Division I anxiety

High school coaches worry their athletes fret too much about what’s real and fantasy. Mike Alberghini of Grant said what is often lost is the realization there is life in college athletics beyond Division I. Grant will host a signing party for left tackle Darrin Paulo, who will attend Utah, and linebacker Carl Granderson, off to Wyoming. More expect to sign with smaller programs in the coming weeks.

“So many kids want so badly to go to a D-I school that they put themselves in an impossible situation,” Alberghini said. “Anyone who has the opportunity to go to college, to get an education and to play sports, at any level, that’s fabulous. I know some of my kids are disappointed they’re not signing (Wednesday). Disappointment is where you finish in life, if it’s not good, not where you are in the race. As long as you’re in the race, keep working on it.”

Elk Grove coach Chris Nixon fielded another standout team in 2014, but victories don’t equate to scholarships. In fact, college recruiters don’t measure wins or losses or statistics when evaluating prospects. They look for good grades, good character, great bodies and equally impressive effort.

“The math just does not add up for some of these great athletes everywhere who just don’t fit the physical mold and measurables college coaches want,” Nixon said. “We have nine schools in the Elk Grove Unified School District, about 180 seniors playing football, and there might be one who signs with an FBS Division I program.”

Nixon continued: “It seems like each year the stress for the students and parents gets greater and greater with the increased exposure social media provides.”

Technology era

McClure, who joined the UCLA staff in 2007, said he views “thousands of video clips a month” submitted by players, high school coaches or parents.

“I get up to 80 emails a day, and you can tell within three clips if he can play at this level, and most can’t,” McClure said. “In most cases, technology has made it more simplified in putting together clips, and so many have access to this, but it doesn’t make it easier for everyone.”

McClure said he tries to answer each email with an honest assessment. He has also helped prospects land at other schools. Honesty is also paramount in the recruiting process, area high school coaches say. McClure agrees.

“You can’t lie because college recruiters will find out, and then they won’t trust you,” Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson said. “You can’t tell a college you have a 6-foot-4 defensive end when he’s really 6-2. You need that trust so they can come back. I tell our guys not to exaggerate when filling out height and weight. Don’t waste our time and a college recruiter’s time.”

Said McClure, “If you fudge numbers, it’ll catch up to you. A good recruiter will investigate. It all comes out in the end, and fudging sticks in our memory banks when stopping by to recruit again. It’s not worth it.”

Social media pitfalls

Posting boorish comments or photos on social media isn’t worth it, either, area players say. Recruiters pick through dozens of social media profiles for character highs and lows.

Rocklin defensive back Garrett Kauppila said his father long ago warned him to be careful on Twitter, “or it can bite me,” he said.

“On my recruiting trip to Air Force, a coach said, ‘I hear you’re into cheerleading.’ I didn’t know what he was talking about. He showed me a tweet I posted two years ago with a pom-pom. Totally forgot about it. They’ll find it. So don’t bad mouth, don’t cuss.”

Kauppila will sign with Air Force.

Folsom’s Deguara said it’s important to be patient, even if it’s hard for one who’s used to competing. He didn’t receive a Division I offer until the 11th hour, over the weekend after a recruiting trip to Cincinnati, where he will attend school. Despite his 6-3, 205-pound frame, good skills (114 receptions, 1,671 yards, 24 touchdowns) and even better grades, Deguara found out how difficult it is to land an offer.

“It gets frustrating, because I was thinking, ‘I can play at that level,’” Deguara said. “You have to just be patient and hope for the best.”

Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.

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