Hahnville’s Nick Saltaformaggio and Zachary's David Brewerton were on opposite sidelines for the Class 5A title game. Two months later, the two coaches find themselves on the same side.
Neither coach likes the NCAA’s early football signing period that took place 12 days after the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic’s final championship games.
Playoff distractions are just one unintended consequence of the early signing period that allowed major colleges to sign the bulk of top prospects six weeks ahead of Wednesday’s traditional signing date. It is a game-changer for college coaches and for high schools that must also adapt.
“As a high school coach, I hate it,” Brewerton said. “When you get to play for a championship, that game needs to be the focus. We had colleges calling kids about making visits and talking to them about signing early. That is a huge distraction no one has ever had before.”
Some coaches, like J.T. Curtis of John Curtis, would like to see the NCAA tweak its process.
“I didn't like it for two reasons,” Saltaformaggio said. “When you are a team that makes a deep playoff run, it becomes a distraction. The second thing is, you get kids who get lost in the shuffle. That's the time of the year where college coaches are changing jobs left and right.”
While Hahnville running back Anthony “Pooka” Williams, Louisiana’s Mr. Football, signed early with Kansas, his teammate, Larry Dixon saw his scholarship offer vanish because of a coaching change.
Dixon, an offensive lineman, committed to Mississippi State. When Dan Mullen bolted for the Florida job, Dixon’s MSU scholarship offer went away. Saltaformaggio said Dixon contacted other schools who had been recruiting him and found no offers. Dixon may double-sign with Southern University and a junior college Wednesday.
A numbers game
Karr coach Brice Brown understands the process but also is uneasy about the possibility of colleges pressuring players to sign early. Two Karr players signed early and nine will sign Wednesday.
“If you're a big recruit going to a Power 5 conference or you're graduating early, I can see why you'd want to do it. I think it should be geared more towards the student/athletes who graduate in December,” Brown said. “The thing I don't like about it is, these universities are putting out so many offers and try to get the kids to sign early. Then you have a kid who is trying to sign in February, at some point the colleges have to decide if they are going to drop a kid. They are calling and saying 'Oh I don't have a spot now because he didn't sign early.' A kid shouldn't be punished because they didn't sign early.”
Brown believes colleges need to do a better job of controlling signing numbers in December, thus allowing flexibility for players not prepared to sign early.
Brewerton thinks high school prospects may also be at another disadvantage — with no wiggle room — if a better offer comes after they sign during the early signing period. The extra scouting/courting time previously allowed by having a single signing period that begins in February no longer exists.
“You have to say, ‘Where were you during the season?’ ” Brewerton said. “The decision process is different now.”
To tweak or move on
Curtis wants to see the NCAA work with high schools to move the signing date.
“One of the mistakes the NCAA makes is, they don't include (high schools) in the process. They work on their own calendar, and they don't realize the difficulties that they put the high schools in,” Curtis said. “I'm hoping that somewhere in the near future the NCAA will sit down with a bunch of high school coaches around the country and say ‘How does this work for you guys and what can we do to make this process better for everybody?’ ”
Southern Lab coach Darrell Asberry is in the minority.
Asberry, a longtime college assistant coach and a former Texas Southern head coach, likes the early signing period as it is.
“Early signing gives colleges a chance to see where their programs are headed for the next year,” Asberry said. “As a high school coach, once those early guys sign, you work to help the other guys find a spot.”
Asberry’s point suggests a different approach, one that recognizes there may be no changes to the early signing process. University High’s Chad Mahaffey has studied what the early signing period did for 2018 with an eye on next year. Division II champion U-High has no signees for 2018 but has six juniors with significant 2019 offers already.
“(Early signing) is definitely a game-changer,” Mahaffey said. “Now if you’re a Leonard Fournette-type player, you can sign whenever you want. Colleges wait for a player like that. A lot of guys are not in that boat. The early signing period forces colleges to identify guys they want earlier. The reality now may be that an offer to sign early may not mean that offer is still there later in the recruiting process.”
Mahaffey is encouraging his players to consider lining up a list of finalists before the 2019 season. He has told them to make official spring visits now allowed with the early signing period, if they feel ready. Mahaffey feels early visits, along with driving visits to nearby schools, could alleviate stress and distractions during the playoffs.
“I try to be a resource for my players and their families,” Mahaffey said. “Sometimes it is tough for parents to see what the best opportunity is. There is a tendency to want to wait for that better offer. I’ll support that, because I don’t want my players feel pressured to sign. But it may be a gamble.”