What to offer with Bay State players

There have been times in recent years when Massachusetts would send less than 10, or maybe about a dozen, players to the highest level of college football.

Those times appear to be changing, and fast.

If you go by the most recent metrics of both the 247Sports.com database and other places that track such information, not only do you have more Football Bowl Subdivision-scholarship-offered players for rising seniors, but the trend looks to continue for younger classes, as well.

For the 2020 class, the number is creeping up closer to 20, and the 2021, 2022, and even the 2023 classes are piling up FBS offers from both local and national programs.

The question, then, is why? Are the players better now than before, or are more people just starting to notice them? Ask around, and you won't always get the same answer.

"I think there's more opportunity now," Xaverian coach Al Fornaro said. "If you go back 20 years ago, there was never a camp at (the University of Rhode Island) that was also a satellite camp for Michigan and Boston College, and whoever else was there. Back 20 years ago, back 15 years ago, Boston College was the only school in this area that was bringing in multiple schools (to its prospect camp). There were all Division 3 and the 1-aa, whatever that is, (Football Championship Subdivision), and the (Ivy League schools). So that's where you'd get exposure to those schools, but not now these national level-type schools."

Those national level-type schools now routinely include Michigan, and even Southeastern Conference programs that rarely, if ever, came up to New England for talent in the recent past. Michigan has always had a fairly significant presence here, and the fact that current Wolverines defensive coordinator Don Brown hails from the Bay State has helped immensely in that area.

But the role of social media and other non-traditional outlets has allowed programs from further away to get a better look at some of the players here when, in the past, they would remain relatively hidden.

"I'm not sure of the exact timeline of Rivals (another recruiting website) and Twitter and Facebook and that type of thing," Fornaro said. "But before, if you got offered, a school might come and look at you. But if you weren't offered by the local school, and somehow the kid had an uncle out in California, and he sent a tape out to UCLA, the first thing they would do is call Boston College and say, 'Why aren't you recruiting this guy?' In effect, that kid was getting blackballed for whatever reason. Maybe BC already (had) seven guys at that position.

"But now, they don't even have to ask because they have so many things that they can see the kid. Whether it's Hudl, whether it's YouTube, these things didn't exist. We go back, and not to sound like one of those glory day guys, you go back to some of the better players 15, 20 years ago and say, where would they have garnered interest? You talk about (Brockton's) Rudy Harris going to Clemson, (Brockton's) Darnell Campbell going to Boston College: where would a 6-foot-3, 235-pound kid who can run get offered by now?"

It is a point that often gets overlooked now, but one that Boston College defensive ends coach Jim Reid made recently.

"You know what, if you really follow it closely, this has always kind of happened," Reid said. "Can I just say this here? Social media, and all those avenues you just talked about, is being publicized more. . . . So there's always been that (national recruiting element in Massachusetts), but the focus now with people, they know it because they see it (on social media)."

While that's true, the volume of offers has certainly increased. Some see a greater focus on year-round training as part of the rise in FBS-ready athletes.

"Everybody's different now because of the training," Reid said. "When I started at UMass (as a graduate assistant in 1973), you had some guys lifting. Now, everybody has personal trainers. The nutrition is remarkably different."

BC running backs coach Brian White sees a combination of that and the commitment of the local coaches.

"Obviously, I think kids are training year-round. Coaches are coaching year-round. Coaching is excellent in this state right now," White said. "Two-year cycle, last year and this year, is as good as any that I can remember, and I grew up here and played on the North Shore at Pentucket High School. . . . There have been a lot of really, really good players in the state the last few years."

However, not everyone is on board with the offers that are handed out to players who are still sophomores, freshmen, and, in some cases, eighth-graders. The fact of the matter is that those offers are "non-committable." In other words, a player can't make a verbal commitment until the start of his junior season, so those offers that come beforehand are really just a school saying it likes you. That does not mean that the offer will be there down the line.

"It works at both ends," Fornaro said. "The colleges are looking to get their best bang for the buck, and (they're) going to offer these guys, and the ones (they) really feel (they like), and they put the hard press on (those players). When a guy commits, that phone call to Johnny (who had an offer but wasn't one of those players) doesn't come every week.

"That's the side that most parents don't know. Oh, he's got all these offers? Again, he's got to decide. Unless he's one of the bluest of blue chips, he better have an idea at least of three schools that he would like to go to. And come junior year, I'm not sure the date which you can now declare, but you better be ready to make a decision, because other dudes are."

It usually follows the same type of pattern, according to Fornaro.

"All right, (a program is) offering eight linemen. The first five that say yes, (that team is) taking," Fornaro said. "Now, the bigger schools, they'll always hold a spot. Say you're Alabama and Clemson and Notre Dame, and you all offer the No. 1 running back in the country. Say you offer five running backs and the first three say yes, they're going to keep a spot for that (No. 1 back). And then when a kid calls, they say, 'Sorry, we don't have a spot anymore.' " Said Reid: "When I broke in, when you offered a guy, you offered, and when he said yes, yes. Now, you have these things called non-committable offers where they say, 'We like you, but you can't commit. Now, we'll find out if (someone else) wants to come. If he doesn't want to come, now you can commit.' Now, players are being offered as freshman because they're big. I did that with, I can't mention his name, but I've been recruiting him for two and a half years."

When UMass coach Walt Bell took the job with the Minutemen last December, he hit the in-state recruiting trail hard. Bell has been aggressive with offering local talent early, including Belmont Hill wide receiver Oluwakoleade "KO" Osinube, St. John's Prep wide receiver and Lynn native Joenel Aguero, and Springfield Central quarterback William "Pop" Watson III, all of whom will be going into their freshman year of high school this fall.

Michigan took a similar tact with BB&N linebacker Tyler Martin last year, and some question the strategy behind offering a player so young.

Bell, however, feels it is the right thing to do for his program.

"I think for us, the thing is when we find someone within six hours of our home that's good enough to play college football for us, and not just play for us, but make our team better, we're going to do everything we can to make sure that young man understands that he's wanted, that he's valued, and we think a lot of him," he said. "I think the more momentum that you can create that way, the more young people that see our name, the more young people that see us on social media and the excitement that we surround our program right now in recruiting, the better that we'll be."

And that social media aspect is one thing, and it can create in some ways a perception that is not necessarily reality, but the proof that Massachusetts players can compete with anyone has reached the sport's highest level. Xaverian and Michigan alum Maurice Hurst is starting as an interior defensive lineman for the Oakland Raiders, and Shepherd Hill and Boston College offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom was drafted 14th overall by the Atlanta Falcons this April. Springfield native Christian Wilkins from Suffield Academy (Conn.) and Clemson was also drafted in the first round by the Miami Dolphins.

For the players in not just Massachusetts but all of New England, even though there have been others before them, this most recent wave has acted as an inspiration.

"If anything it just pushes you more," said Jake Burt, a tight end for Boston College who is a Lynnfield native and attended St. John's Prep. "If they can do it, why not me? Why not the kid in high school from Massachusetts? So it just gives you something to look up to that maybe I didn't have when I was in high school, just kids in Massachusetts going all the way pro. It's a little less rare than it was in the past, and maybe that's driving kids harder in high school and at the collegiate level."

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