Recruiting is an enormous part of covering high school sports.
Everyone wants to know where the star local quarterback is going to play in college, and National Signing Day gets massive coverage every year. Few days were as busy for me at The Ledger as that day.
There’s also another kind of recruiting that doesn’t get as much coverage but is always on the minds of fans, and it is being debated again with the recent transfer of George Jenkins quarterback Jadrian Clark and some of his teammates to Lakeland.
Recruiting of athletes between high schools is always a hot topic, in Polk County, around the state of Florida and around the country. But is recruiting really going on in Polk County, or do athletes simply transfer because of theirs’ and their families’ desires apart from any conversations with coaches or boosters.
Here’s what I know: In my three years of covering high school sports in Polk County, I heard many accusations of recruiting and complaints about transfers. But I never saw or heard one piece of evidence that would suggest recruiting actually took place.
If someone had ever brought me evidence, you better believe I would have looked into it and reported it.
There have been recruiting rulings against schools in other Florida counties, but those are rare and there weren’t any in Polk County during my time as Preps Editor at The Ledger.
I really believe the vast majority of coaches know there is too much at stake to risk recruiting a student-athlete. Does that mean it never happens? Maybe not, but as I said, I haven’t seen any evidence that it does.
Transfers do take place, though, and many of them involve students going to schools with established programs and a track record of success.
But can you blame them?
If I had a student-athlete who was incredibly talented at a sport and had a good chance at a college scholarship, I would explore every option at my disposal to put them in the best position to get that scholarship.
If I knew before they entered high school that they were going to be a standout athlete, I would probably try to get them into the best school for that sport before their freshman year.
But it’s possible I wouldn’t know exactly how talented my kid was until they had already competed a year or two in high school. At that point, if I felt the current program wasn’t giving my child the best opportunity to succeed, I would likely consider transferring to other programs.
And really, I don’t know if that’s wrong.
If I had a child who was struggling academically at their current school and I knew of another school that had a better track record of producing students with higher test scores and better college choices, I would consider finding a way to have my child transfer to the other school.
In the end, my child and I might decide that they would rather stay where they’re at, help that program succeed and still work hard at getting recognized by colleges on our own. There’s certainly honor in that, but I don’t blame someone for looking at transferring to better their situation.
Do students transfer schools for athletic reasons but use an academic excuse to make the transfer happen? I’m sure they do, but that doesn’t mean there is recruiting.
Again, I find it hard to believe Bill Castle at Lakeland or Johnnie Lawson at Winter Haven or Glenn Rutenbar at Bartow or any other successful coach in the county would actively recruit players and risk their entire programs. Maybe I’m just naïve, but that seems like an awful lot to put on the line.
They won’t, however, turn away a talented transfer who shows up in their locker room, nor would any other coach. And if they are told that the student is enrolled and eligible, you better believe that athlete will see lots of playing time.
Again, maybe I’m putting too much faith in coaches, but until I see real evidence that recruiting is taking place here in Polk County, you’re going to have a hard time convincing me it does.