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How College Football Changes are Trickling Down to High School Recruiting

New rules surrounding the transfer portal and NIL have caused chaos across college football. Now the impact is being felt at the high school level as well.



In a few short years, the landscape of college football has changed drastically. Whether that’s in the name, image and likeness space, or the overbearing transfer portal, the realm of college football has shifted.

It’s no secret that coaches of college programs have felt the brunt of the impact with recruiting not only players out of high school but trying to retain their own roster from heading out for another team. There’s also something to be said about the repercussions this has on high school athletes and coaches.

In Western Pennsylvania, one football coach frequently vocalizes his opinion on the matter as he has witness change first-hand.

Central Valley’s Mark Lyons will enter his 37th year of coaching high school football in the fall. Since the merger between Center and Monaca High Schools in 2010, Lyons has built success by winning multiple championships, but also by regularly sending kids off to collegiate programs.

The past handful of years, things have headed in a new direction in his eyes.

“Everybody wants more,” Lyons said.

Trickle-down Effect

Ever since the opening of the transfer portal, a trickle-down effect has been sensed. Rather than college programs needing an entire wave of freshman to fill out their recruiting class with maybe a select few transfers, it has turned into potentially as much as half of a team’s recruiting cycle being filled with transfer players who have already suited up for another program.

For another high-profile WPIAL head coach in Eric Kasperowicz, he understands that there are not as many opportunities for kids in his program to get recruited by Division-I schools.

“The bigger the school, the more they are resorting to the transfer portal,” Kasperowicz said. “The smaller schools, the D-3 schools are still hitting the recruiting trail pretty hard. The bigger schools, probably up towards half are getting their kids from the portal as opposed to high schools, which is a shame.”

“Maybe you have to go to a smaller school now to start out and then transfer. You go to a D-2 school and play well and possibly transfer the next year to a bigger school if that’s your goal. It’s affected high school recruiting without a doubt.”

Even if players do receive a scholarship from a school and are very interested in going to that program, things could change on a dime.

“If a college gets an unexpected transfer late in the process, what that now means is if it’s a running back room, it’s the quarterback room, you now as a high school player got knocked down a peg because somebody just leapfrogged over you,” Lyons said.

Lyons added: “I can offer 65 high school kids and in one year, all 65 without any punishment can transfer out of my program. How about if I go get a junior or sophomore that already transfer. At least I know I got them for two years. That’s why these high school kids are in panic. The numbers are getting cut down.”

As college athletes have taken advantage of their own free agency, it might have started to creep into high schools.

High School Portal

“It’s a trickle-down effect, so kids are seeing college kids doing it and they say, ‘why not me?”

That’s the question that Kasperowicz raises about the current state of high school athletics.

The impact of the college transfer portal certainly has its presence felt in terms of the declining high school scholarships, which will be touched on momentarily. However, the thought has been put inside of high school kids’ heads that maybe they can move around as well.

Players want to find a way to get noticed, so why not go to a program that can help them gain leverage?

“Right now, these kids are constantly looking for training and edge, which I also think now is causing kids to move around to other high schools for an edge,” Lyons said. “For some reason, it seems to be that they think they are part of this transfer portal to try and move high schools to hopefully open another door or sure up their initial offer.”

The current atmosphere of recruiting also may have parents worrying about their kids’ future.

“It has these parents in panic. ‘I got to get them a scholarship. Where do I need to go? What do I need to do? How can I market them?,” Lyons said.

Take one of the most recent examples in Aliquippa. The Quips have dominated high school football in Pennsylvania and have continually climbed the classification ladder. However, their recent move to 5A has come with speculation due to potential transfers who have come into the school.

Aliquippa has benefited from their successes with athletes wanting to play in one of the most noteworthy high school programs in the country.

While Aliquippa is just an example of recency, there are plenty of schools that gain more due to their prosperity and kids nowadays want to jump on it just like a college athlete wants to play for a top program.

“Now, if a kid starts to expand his role and becomes on the spotlight for college recruiters, the only thing that’s going through his mind is, ‘how can I make myself more marketable.’ Even though colleges will say, ‘we will find them.’ That’s not good enough for high school kids right now,” Lyons said.

Non-committable Offers

As the transfer portal increasingly impacts recruiting, one of the biggest shockwaves that has been felt through the process is the devaluing of the traditional offer.

Not long ago, a college offer meant something. Now, offers come in so early from schools, even as early as eighth grade. Over time that offer may depreciate and not have the same weight when it was once put on the table for that athlete three years prior.

“It’s happening far, far too early in the process,” Lyons said. “This is not sitting well with me when we are giving offers to freshman. They are non-committable. You cannot sign anything to junior year. These kids are chasing these non-committable offers that may not be there.”

Just as Lyons is left puzzled by the was offers are being dished out, Kasperowicz is also left scratching his head.

“These eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh graders saying they got an offer – is it really an offer? Is it a signable offer, or is it ‘hey, we are interested in you as long as things go well, then we’ll possibly have a scholarship for you,” Mars head coach Eric Kasperowicz said. “Back when I played, an offer meant something. An offer was legit. You could sign today or on signing day and they were going to honor that.”

Instead of colleges looking for quality over quantity, it’s quite the opposite. Programs are dropping off these potential offers to get athletes more so on campus before they provide any true scholarship designation.

“Nobody gets a letter in the mail on nice university letterhead,” Lyons said. “It’s now, these colleges feel like they now have to extend this pseudo, non-committable offer just so these high school kids might entertain the thought of going to their camp.”

As colleges change their perspective on recruiting, the conversations have certainly changed. And, unfortunately, that may be at the cost of cutting any discussion of education.

“One of the things that used to be the top is, ‘hey, we are going to get your son or daughter to great degree.’ I’m not sure that’s even a topic anymore because if I’m a college coach, I’m not so sure if I’m wasting my time on a high school kid,” Lyons said.

Not Too Distant Past

A decade ago, Lyons’ dealings with recruiting were much different. He had the opportunity to watch two highly-touted prospects in Jordan Whitehead (Pitt) and Robert Foster (Alabama) develop through his program and navigate their own recruiting process.

It was more meaningful back then. There was no transfer portal. There were no NIL deals.

“When you signed, that means you are committing,” Lyons said. “That word committing had a lot of value for it. That’s why it was a grueling process. The last three or four days before signing, it was a grind.”

“Is it still a grind for some, I don’t know? Guess what, if it doesn’t workout, I’m jumping in the transfer portal. We never had a conversation with them two and that was just 10 years ago. The conversation we had is we wanted to check all the boxes making sure you were comfortable there because it was a commitment. I’m not sure those conversations are had anymore,” Lyons added.

As a high school coach, Lyons is used to giving advice to recruits just like he did with Whitehead and Foster. Nowadays, the words have changed.

“You cannot assume it is going to be the same in a year,” he said. “You need to shake everybody’s hand. You don’t know who’s going to show up at that university and who could be your position coach.”

Fixing the Problem

As Lyons watched Foster’s recruiting process back in the early-2010’s, the wide receiver made the decision to go and play for the Crimson Tide and Nick Saban.

Recruiting back then was simpler. Now, coaches have to deal with all the added hoops when it comes to constructing a team, which might be why there is a migration of coaches out of college football, including one of the greatest of all-time in Saban.

“I can’t imagine him sitting in his office and a kid going into coach Saban’s office and coach offers him a scholarship and he’s going to look at coach Saban and says, ‘is there some NIL money for me, or I’m not coming,” Lyons said.

Other coaches are making the leap to the NFL. With their exit from the college side, there have been some subtle messages that can correlate to their reasoning behind their departure.

“When guys are saying, “I got a great opportunity to go coach NFL football,’ and the last sentence says, “I can’t wait just to go coach football.’ To me, that’s saying something else in my eyes,” Lyons said.

There is an obvious problem in college football, but high school coaches don’t really have the power to help fix it. They can however curb things at the high school level, especially with players moving around.

“If it’s going to continue like this, rules are going to change,” Kasperowicz said.

For Kasperowicz, he’s content with there being changes made and the potential for kids to move freely without restrictions.

“A lot of states have transfer rules where you are allowed to transfer,” he said. “If people are going to do it, at least it’s legal and there’s no sneaking around and kids trying to lie about where they live. I think that’s eventually where we got to get to if things are going to stay where they are going.”

Just as the college level needs a system with oversight, Kasperowicz feels that needs to be the case in high school as well.

“I’m ok with change, but controlling it and having a hand on it, so it’s controlled,” he said.

While Lyons also believes it may be time for more to be done, he also wants to keep high school football in its traditional state.

“Maybe it has to come from a legislative standpoint if that’s the way to fix it,” Lyons said. “I know other states have open enrollment, but at some point, we still need to keep the purity of high school sports.”

There is still plenty of debate to be had, but college athletic is slowly seeping into high school athletics for potentially the wrong reasons and that’s something that could change the high school game for good.

“When are you ever going to get that good Cinderella story where a group of kids grew up together that are not concerned about chasing non-committable offers,” Lyons said.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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2 months ago

“Aliquippa has benefited from their successes with athletes wanting to play in one of the most noteworthy high school programs in the country.”

I can understand the connection attempted with this piece of the article, along with the line before it… BUT…respectfully…that’s a phantom statement! What transfers?🤔

2 months ago

Also, the one HS coach, I guess, is trying to see it from both sides?!?!?!

He states how hard it is for HS kids to get recruited but then says if he was a college coach he wouldn’t be dealing with recruiting HS kids!

Ok, once again, I guess!

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