Raesjon Davis faced a decision earlier this summer. With deadlines looming, the four-star linebacker needed to choose between enrolling early at LSU or completing his senior year at Mater Dei High School in California.
At first, Davis decided to graduate early. He wanted to jumpstart his college career and participate in spring practice. But as the novel coronavirus pandemic continued, throwing his future plans into uncertainty, Davis talked to his parents. They convinced him to stay another semester.
“I'm not in a rush,” Davis said, “so it wasn't a big deal.”
With his decision solidified, Davis didn’t reconsider earlier this week when the California Interscholastic Federation postponed fall sports until at least December. He’ll play when Mater Dei retakes the field and enroll at LSU next summer.
But California’s postponement convinced other players within the state, particularly early enrollees, to skip their senior season. After the CIF's announcement Monday, four-star safety Xamarion Gordon and three-star defensive tackle Victory Vaka said they will forgo their final high school seasons and enroll in January. (Vaka changed his mind two days later. He will play his senior season and join Texas A&M next summer.)
Korey Foreman, a five-star defensive end and LSU target considered the No. 1 recruit in the country, wrote on Twitter: “If they make me choose between my senior season or going to college ... please believe I’m headed to my first camp ... no questions asked.”
As high school associations make decisions about football, a trend has emerged. Some recruits in states that won’t play this fall have elected to skip their senior seasons, opting instead to begin their college careers despite the blurry state of collegiate athletics.
"There will probably be more mid-year graduates than ever,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said this week on 104.5 ESPN's "Off the Bench.” He added LSU has one available scholarship. The Tigers could use it on a rising high school senior.
“If there's a big-time player out there that won't play his senior year and he's able to graduate and the NCAA will clear him, I'd be able to take him right now,” Orgeron said. “They're out there and we're doing our research."
Before states began postponing high school football, the coronavirus pandemic had already upended recruiting. In-person contact stopped because of an NCAA dead period, which will last through August. Schools canceled annual camps. College coaches evaluated players through videos. Official visits disappeared.
Now delays have added another wrinkle to the recruiting process. States have made separate decisions on their high school football seasons, irregulating start dates across the country. As of Wednesday evening, high school governing bodies in 17 states had delayed football by at least two weeks.
Meanwhile, 17 states haven’t made a decision while 13 will begin practice when originally scheduled. Associations in three states — California, Virginia and New Mexico — have postponed football until next spring, as well as Washington, D.C.
For high schoolers across the country, recruiting has entered a virtual setting as coaches evaluate players from home.
Players in the states that canceled a fall football season face two options. They can play their final high school season in 2021, or they can skip it in favor of an early start on their college careers.
But questions swirl around college football, concerning coaches who want their players to make the best decision for them. Multiple conferences, including the SWAC earlier this week, have postponed their seasons to next spring. Bruce Rollinson, the coach at Mater Dei, wondered if colleges can add early enrollees before a spring season.
“I would ask any of the early enrollees, 'If it goes south, what're you going to do? Are you going to graduate and train? Would you delay your graduation?'” Rollinson said. “I don't know what the answer to those questions will be.”
If recruits play this spring and graduate with the rest of their high school class, they risk injury and would have to begin summer practice without much rest. Someone who wins a high school championship might have to play 25 games within 11 months.
“I think that will help me and keep me fresh,” Davis said. “I'll be more advanced.”
In Virginia and California, decisions have differed between teammates. Myles Alston, a three-star athlete at Ocean Lakes in Virginia, won't participate next spring. His teammate, four-star defensive end Naquan Brown, intends to play. Alston will enroll early at Pitt. Brown arrives at LSU next summer.
Not sold on the idea of college football in the spring? Don’t tell Southern football coach Dawson Odums that.
Either way, players in spring seasons won’t have game tape before the early signing day this December. Though players recruited by top programs like LSU have already received scholarship offers, seniors hoping to get discovered by a mid-major program or FCS team have a disadvantage. Schools won’t see them play before recruiting classes form.
The altered seasons also affect underclassmen trying to begin their recruitment. In the states that pushed football until next spring, sophomores and juniors will be evaluated months after players in other states. Their recruiting process will get delayed more than it has already during the pandemic.
“It's going to be a much shorter evaluation process over the next year-and-a-half for those guys,” Ocean Lakes coach Joe Jones said. “We have to keep them motivated and get them to some of these non-college camps run by recruiting sites.”
If more top players leave before high school seasons begin, coaches agreed the on-field product won’t look the same. Younger players would have to contribute earlier than expected. Teams with deeper rosters may separate themselves. At Mater Dei, Davis would have left a hole in the defense. How do you replace a leader with elite speed who delivers crushing hits?
“You don't say next man up,” Rollinson said. “That sounds good in the press and that sounds good until you close your bedroom door and start crying.”
With seasons delayed, recruits have time to make a decision on their participation this season. But at some point, Rollinson said he needs to decide who will get reps during practice, whenever that begins. He can't give them to someone who won't play next season.