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You kids stay off my lawn!
Playing the game
Recruiting process all about salesmanship, politics and dreams

By Tom Groeschen/Enquirer staff writer

<!-- ARTICLE SIDEBAR --><TABLE cellSpacing=1 cellPadding=3 width=185 align=right border=0><!-- MAIN PHOTO --><TBODY><TR><TD class=small_text align=middle>
Robby Schoenhoft
The Enquirer/Joseph Fuqua
Zoom </TD></TR><!-- OTHER FEED PHOTOS --><!--RELATED PHOTO GALLERIES--><!-- RELATED MULTIMEDIA ASSETS --><!-- MAIN FACT BOX --><TR><TD class=sidebar_head>WANT TO PLAY SPORTS IN COLLEGE?</TD></TR><TR><TD class=sidebar_body>Here are some Web sites that will offer information for prospective student-athletes:

NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association): www.ncaa.org

NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics): www.naia.org

NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association): www.njcaa.org

NCCAA (National Christian College Athletic Association): www.thenccaa.org

The National Letter of Intent signing dates for this school year:

Basketball - Early period: Nov. 10-17, 2004; Late period: April 13-May 18, 2005.

Football - Regular period: Feb. 2-April 1, 2005

*Field Hockey, soccer, men's water polo : Feb. 2-Aug. 1, 2005

All other sports - Early period: Nov. 10-17, 2004; Late period: April 13-Aug. 1, 2005.

*NOTE: These sports do not have an early signing period

</TD></TR><!-- ADDITIONAL PHOTOS --><TR><TD class=small_text align=middle>
For many years, Colerain's Kerry Coombs (left) watched recruiting as a coach. But this year, he experienced it first-hand as son Brayden (right) went through the process.
Enquirer file photos
Zoom </TD></TR><TR><TD class=small_text align=middle>
Zoom </TD></TR><TR><TD class=sidebar_head>NCAA RECRUITING BY THE NUMBERS</TD></TR><TR><TD class=sidebar_body>50,000: Approximate number of scholarships granted by NCAA member institutions in men's sports in Divisions I and II

30,000: Approximate number of scholarships in women's sports

400: Approximate number of Division III schools that award different kinds of aid, although not directly athletic related

60,000: Number of students who receive aid from NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) institutions in 26 men's/women's sports at the Divisions I, II and III levels

</TD></TR><TR><TD class=sidebar_head>ODDS OF PLAYING SPORTS IN COLLEGE</TD></TR><TR><TD class=sidebar_body>Estimated probability of competing in athletics beyond the high school level, for sports which have U.S.-based professional leagues:

Men's basketball
Less than one in 35, or approximately 2.9 percent, of high school senior players will go on to play at an NCAA member institution.

Women's basketball
About 3.1 percent, or approximately three in 100, of high school senior players will go on to play at an NCAA school.

About 5.8 percent, or approximately one in 17, of high school senior players will play at an NCAA school.

Less than three in 50, or about 5.7 percent, of high school senior players will play at an NCAA school.

Men's soccer
Less than three in 50, or about 5.7 percent, of high school senior players will play at an NCAA school.

Men's ice hockey
Less than 13 in 100, or about 12.9 percent, of high school senior players will play at an NCAA school.

SOURCE: NCAA. (Figures listed are for NCAA schools only. Comprehensive data not available for NAIA, junior colleges and Christian colleges).

NOTE: In each of the sports listed above, less than 1 percent of high school senior players eventually will be drafted by a professional team.


A Michigan assistant coach was Robby Schoenhoft's best buddy, until Schoenhoft decided to play football for Ohio State.

This was last July, and Schoenhoft was one happy young man. The recruiting process was over, and the phone calls finally would stop. But then the Michigan coach called again.

"I was in the car when he called," said Schoenhoft, St. Xavier's heavily recruited senior quarterback. "He wasn't very happy with me, and he told me Ohio State was the wrong decision. I couldn't believe some of the things he said. I told him, 'I'm going to be playing you in a couple years, and I'll remember this.' "

Such is the highly pressurized world of college sports recruiting, a process which frazzles players, families and coaches and affects lives forever.

With the national letter of intent signing day Wednesday for football and several other sports, athletes across America are getting ready to sit down, smile for the cameras and sign on the dotted line.

And no, we can't hear from the Michigan coach - or any other college coach - until the athletes actually sign.

NCAA rules prohibit coaches from commenting publicly on prospective recruits.

The recruits who do sign Wednesday will be a distinctminority.

Less than 6 percent of prep senior athletes will go on to play at NCAA member schools in the so-calledmajor sports of football (5.8 percent will play for an NCAA school), men's basketball (2.9 percent), women's basketball (3.1 percent) and baseball (5.6 percent), according to the NCAA.

Figures are not as clearly defined for NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics), NCCAA (National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association) and NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) schools, but suffice it to say the odds of playing in college remain small.

With so few spots available, it's a trying process. Even if you're a big star.

"You learn a lot about human nature," said Debbie Schoenhoft, Robby's mother. "You don't know if the recruiters are ever being truthful with you, or if they're telling the same thing to the next kid right behind you."

Some are coveted, like Schoenhoft. Some have to beg college coaches for a second of their time. Some have no idea how to get noticed. But the student-athletes have one thing in common - they aren't ready to give up their sports careers.

In recent months, the Enquirer has talked to several players, parents, prep coaches, recruiting analysts and scouting services both locally and nationally. Here are some of their stories about the pressures of the recruiting process.

The players Schoenhoft was Cincinnati's most highly publicized football recruit last summer. Several recruiting services and Web sites, including ESPN.com, rated him among the nation's top 10 quarterback prospects, and scores of colleges sent him mail.

He received 26 official college offers, which is a lot.

Michigan thought it had him. Schoenhoft first went to the Wolverines' offseason camps as a St. Xavier freshman. Most prep football superstars commit to colleges the summer before their senior years, and in summer 2004, Wolverine Nation was among many tracking Schoenhoft's every move.

"A reporter from Michigan was calling me 15 or 20 times a day, to see what I was doing," Schoenhoft said. "Luckily, we've got caller ID."

Schoenhoft announced for Ohio State at the EA Sports "Elite 11" quarterback camp in California in July. In the end, Ohio State was closer to home and just seemed a better fit.

Schoenhoft had a good senior season, leading St. Xavier to an 11-1 record, passing for more than 1,500 yards with 15 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He missed two games with an ankle injury.

Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr came to St. Xavier last year to visit Schoenhoft. It's a big deal when the head coach of a major program comes to your school.

"We liked Lloyd Carr," Debbie Schoenhoft said.

And Jim Tressel, too. The Ohio State coach was just out at the Schoenhofts' house in Mason last week, having dinner. See, Robby Schoenhoft could always change his mind between now and Wednesday.

But he said he won't.

"We've had five Ohio State assistants come through here since Thanksgiving," Debbie Schoenhoft said. "I guess they just want to be sure."

The coach, parent Kerry Coombs has never had a more pressure-packed year in his life.

The Colerain football coach dealt all year with the expectations that his team would win the state championship, which the Cardinals did. Moreover, he and wife Holly dealt with college recruiters who wanted their son, Brayden, a standout senior defensive back.

"Ball State comes in on a Tuesday, and they say they've got to know right now," Kerry Coombs said, recalling one hectic week of Brayden's recruiting. "If it's not yes, then it's no, because we've got to offer that scholarship to someone else. That kind of pressure is applied on kids constantly.

"The next day, Miami (University), and then Ohio U. comes for a home visit. This is all within 12 hours, and a player is being asked to make a decision right now. To his credit, he took his time."

Brayden, ranked first in his class at Colerain, chose Miami.

Kerry Coombs, a former college player at Dayton, has dealt with college coaches for 14 years as Colerain head coach. But now he really knows what a parent endures with recruiters.

"It's like they're selling a car," Coombs said. "They tell you that if you don't buy the car, they've got another guy coming in at noon who wants it. And they're pulling this stuff on high school kids who are about to make the biggest decision of their lives."

But Coombs understands. Coaches have to win.

"I guess the whole thing is they've got to find an edge," Coombs said. "I remember Jefferson Kelley, our offensive tackle everybody wanted 10 years ago. He had guys offering him scholarships the February before his senior year. That's a whole year in advance! Holy cow, anything could happen in that time.

"But that's how it is. ... It's getting earlier and earlier."

The short of it The case of Terrill Byrd, the Colerain star defensive lineman, provides another interesting twist on recruiting.

As in, big prep stats don't always mean big-name college.

Byrd had 21 sacks in 15 games, helping lead Colerain to the Ohio Division I championship. He was named national defensive player of the year by PrepNation.com, the Ohio Division I defensive player of the year, and Enquirer/Channel 9 area player of the year.

But Byrd, 6-foot and 289 pounds, said the big schools told him he was too short to play major Division I-A football.

Actually they didn't tell him that, as most of the "names" didn't talk to him. To be a top-notch major Division I-A lineman, the computers want you a few inches taller than 6 feet.

"They just figured I'm too short," Byrd said. "They overlooked the fact that I was a good player."

Mid-level football schools such as Cincinnati, Miami, Toledo and Akron were certainly interested. And that war heated up on its own level, as Byrd wanted to commit to several schools because he liked them all.

"Nobody did anything outrageous," Byrd said of the recruiters. "It was all on thelevel."

Byrd chose Cincinnati, and will sign Wednesday.

"If I was taller," Byrd said, "I'd be going to the (big time)."

That would be at a place like Michigan or Ohio State. Playing in Columbus is a dream for many prep players in the state, but there are very few Schoenhofts around.

At your service Seton senior Kelly Hofmeyer is an All-American volleyball player, so designated by PrepVolleyball.com.

Her father, Mike, was a standout basketball player at Northern Kentucky University. She was named first-team all-state and led the Cincinnati area with 396 digs this season as she helped lead Seton to the Division I state Final Four.

Even with all that, Kelly has had no guarantees as she has narrowed her college choices to Cincinnati and Western Kentucky.

She is not especially tall as a 5-foot-6"libero," which is a defensive specialist. But she knew what she wanted out of college, primarily one with a good pharmacy program. And that has helped her cause.

"I've kind of lucked out," Hofmeyer said. "I was a little late getting into the recruiting process."

She had a highlights tape made and a profile sheet sent out through a college recruiting service. Scores of such "services" are available with one Google touch of an Internet button.

As it turned out, her club coach, University of Cincinnati assistant Josh Steinbach, opened the most doors.

"Sometimes it just depends on who you know," she said. "He e-mailed some people asking which of them needed my (libero) position."

She also found out some harsh recruiting realities.

"It's been really frustrating overall," she said. "You get a lot of bad news, and all you want to do is figure out where you want to go. There have been some days where I wanted to just stop and not do it anymore. I've just kind of hung in there, because I decided this is what I want."

The worst part: Telling some college coaches, "No."

"It's hard," she said. "You don't want to do it without being rude. It's been nice to have a tape made of you and get your profile sent out, but I'm ready to move on, too."

Almost free ride Tiffany Burlew had several things working for her, but just as many against her.

She was an Enquirer all-city fastpitch softball pitcher at Landmark Trinity, which was great for her. But Landmark is - or was - a very small school in Evendale. It was so small, it closed its doors last spring because of declining enrollment.

Burlew, a senior last season, didn't have a bunch of scouts tracking her every move.

"It didn't seem like anybody would come watch me, because we were a small Division IV team," she said.

She and her family enlisted the help of Tom Greco.

Greco, of Edgewood, Ky., is the Greater Cincinnati director of National Scouting Report, one of the more respected recruiting services. He made a profile of Burlew that included a video and mailed it to colleges.

"It was just a matter of her getting noticed," Greco said.

She started getting letters in the mailbox almost daily, said Bob Burlew, her father and high school coach.She also had a plan. She wanted to attend a Christian college and study nursing.

She narrowed her choices to Cedarville and Campbellsville (Ky.). She wound up at Campbellsville, an NAIA Division I school.

With performance grants for athletics, music, dance, drama, etc., the high costs can be offset at NAIA schools. In Burlew's case, she has been able to cover about $15,000 of the estimated $21,000 it will cost her to go there annually.

"Tom Greco was a big help," Tiffany Burlew said. "I've always loved softball, and it was a dream of mine to play with the big people like the women's pro league. Now I can keep striving for that."

The parents Debbie Schoenhoft said nothing prepared her for son Robby's college football recruitment.

"It was very hectic," she said. "We gave up a lot of things. We didn't take a vacation last summer because Robby was at camps. We spent our spring break doing recruiting things. It's a very long process."

She still has the boxes full of recruiting letters. Hundreds of pieces of mail arrived at the family home the past couple years.

"I should pitch them, I guess," she said. "I don't know why I'm keeping them."

Some were form letters, but with a blue-chip recruit like Robby, there were many personal touches.

"Jim Tressel wrote Robby several nice notes," Debbie said of her son's future Ohio State coach. "You wonder if they write like this to every kid."

The answer is no, which she knows.

For instance, it's not every day that North Carolina State sends both its head basketball coach (Herb Sendek) and baseball coach (Elliott Avent) together to the home of Moeller's Andrew Brackman.

That happened one day last spring, when the Wolfpack coaches showed up at Brackman's home on Major League Baseball draft day. Both men assured Brackman that each still wanted the two-sport star, and that he could still play each sport there.

Brackman is doing fine in North Carolina, already a basketball starter. Not everyone can do that, and in Schoenhoft's case, Ohio State won out over schools such as Michigan, Michigan State and Iowa simply because it was closer to home.

"It was a fun process," Debbie Schoenhoft said, "but I'll be glad when it's over on Wednesday."

The prep coaches Dale Mueller just coached Highlands to the Kentucky Class 3A football championship. He has coached state in championships before, but like college recruiting, it's always a learning experience.

"Recruiting is a unique experience in the kids' lives," Mueller said. "They haven't experienced anything like it before, and they probably never will again. They've got all these men calling them and talking about their schools. They're just dying for the kids to say yes. There's real pressure to commit, and both sides feel it."

Mueller said he understands why colleges sometimes promise more than they can give. Recruiters can make everyone feel they're the next LeBron James or Michael Vick.

"If a school's only got 20 scholarships to give for football, let's say, they have to offer more than 20," Mueller said. "If they just make 20 offers, they might only get 10 guys take that offer. And then if you wait too long, in other cases the scholarship could really be gone because someone else takes it."

Mueller, in more than 20 years as a coach, said he has found college coaches to be mostly honorable.

"You hear and read things, but I've found them to be really above board," Mueller said.

The call You could write a book about recruiting.

Jack Renkens has. It's called "Recruiting Realities." Renkens, a former basketball coach at Division II Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., travels the country and gives about 140 speeches a year. Topic: Recruiting.

"First, I stress to parents to get realistic," Renkens said, speaking from Kansas City before a recent speech. "If you haven't gotten a call by about March of your junior year, you're probably not going to be at the major Division I level in college."

The average athlete, Renkens said, might get recruited at the Division III or NAIA level. And by average, that means an above-average prep athlete.

"You might have a great senior year and get discovered, but that happens about once in a thousand," Renkens said.

If you can't get recruited, signed, or otherwise don't have any idea how to do it, you're not alone.

"Maybe 1 percent of parents have a clue," Renkens said.

Not being critical, he said. Just factual.

What to do?

Step One: "Log on to the NCAA Web site, ncaa.org, and look for the guide to the student-bound athlete," Renkens said. "There are other options. I have a book, and there are at least 50 books out there on how to market yourself. The final option, to me, is a scouting/profile service. There are five or six out there that are legitimate, but there's only a couple that give any type of guarantee of a refund."

Renkens said it can all be done, if your child is good enough and also committed maybe not to playing next door.

"If you're in Ohio, you might have to go to Nebraska or New Hampshire to play," he said. "You might have to give something up. My motto is that it's a game, so you'd better learn the rules."