Long before the novel coronavirus pandemic changed the trajectory of high school sports last spring, Catholic High football coach Gabe Fertitta and one of his assistants, Hudson Fuller, had an idea.

By the time the Bears hosted their first “Cur Dog Combine” on Friday, Fuller, then Catholic’s offensive coordinator, left to become the head coach at West Feliciana. Fuller did his own combine with the Saints a few weeks ago.

“This is something Hud and I talked about probably a year ago — before any of this (pandemic) happened,” Fertitta said. “We’re treating them just like they walked into a college camp. They are going to get a number to put on their shirt first.

“Then they get processed through for height, weight and wingspan. The main thing we had to do was video the drills. I had a Zoom chat with 15 dads who have volunteered to video. Once we get the videos, we get them to the kids and send them out to colleges.”

The combine was supposed to offer players a picture of what a college camp looks like. But when a pandemic eliminated spring practice, college camps and 7-on-7 showcases, Catholic’s plan was more than a way to teach approximately 60 socially distanced players about camps.

Catholic's combine is one example of how coaches involved with football, basketball and baseball have developed new ways to get their athletes competition and recruiting exposure since the pandemic has limited the access for recruiters.

Catholic’s combine expanded the scope of an early-summer email from UL assistant coach Tim Leger. In the email, Leger sent coaches in multiple states copies of short videos of drills and activities college coaches want to see a player complete before offering a scholarship.

Catholic junior lineman Emery Jones netted about 10 offers, including one from LSU, with a homemade video during a 24-hour span earlier this summer. Not long after Friday’s combine, sophomore receiver Shelton Sampson Jr., son of the former Redemptorist running back, got offers from Virginia and Mississippi State. Sampson's 4.35 40-yard dash was a big selling point.

Methods for baseball and basketball require travel, along with live stream video or getting video from another source.

Former LSU and Runnels pitcher Alden Cartwright, director of player evaluation for the Louisiana Knights, notes that the program’s high-school aged players got to attend nine tournaments to date.

However, Cartwright said the Knights started their spring with a very basic approach — pitcher vs. catcher.

“All the kids really wanted was a chance to play. They missed baseball. Back when the corona was raging there would only be a few kids at a time at our complex,” Cartwright explained. “So, we decided why let them do it … pitcher vs. hitter. We streamed it on YouTube and got an immediate response, which surprised us.

"Once the teams got to play in tournaments, colleges were able to watch games that were live streamed. We sent out video, too.”

Summer teams traditionally offer fewer opportunities for graduating seniors. Cartwright said the Knights were among the teams that expanded the number of 18-year-old teams and rosters to help compensate for a lost spring.

Knights president Jack Cressend, a former Tulane player/ assistant coach and a long-time baseball scout, worked to help the program’s 2020 seniors find college opportunities.

Basketball workouts are tightly restricted because Louisiana remains in Phase 2 of reopening and scrimmaging is not allowed. Teams like Dale Clay’s EP Elite girls travel out of state for tournaments, too.

There are no handshakes and social distancing is in place for fans and players on the bench. Gyms are cleared and sanitized after each game.

Clay, an assistant coach at Walker High, coaches younger players from several cities who will either enter high school this fall or have one more middle school season. Tournament sites provide live-streaming for college coaches to watch.

And if the host’s live streaming does not work, parents provide video, much like Fertitta’s parents did at Catholic’s combine. Clay said several of his players received scholarship offers.

“We have done a lot of drills and fundamental work. The idea is to help them get better for their schools and drills do that,” Clay said. “Most of these girls did not know each other before this year and they have developed a bond. The parents have been supportive.

“There is not a lot of strategy. I tell them to go have fun and they do what comes naturally. It’s not the ideal situation, but I am glad they get to play.”


Email Robin Fambrough at rfambrough@theadvocate.com