Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Recruiting Trail

As regular readers to this blog know, High School Cover 2 has been closely following the careers of two outstanding Western Washington student/athletes. Both KeiVarae Russell from Mariner High School and Zach Banner from Lakes High School will be juniors when the new school year starts later this month. Both of them are starting to receive attention from major D-1 programs and will be highly recruited throughout the next two years should they decide to play football at the next level. We interviewed both of them earlier this year and now plan to ask them periodic questions about the recruitment process and what the are doing to both improve themselves and their game. KeiVarae and Zach are not only fine athletes and students but they are also fine people who are well like in their individual schools and communities. Follow along with them as they wend their way through the dangerous waters of big-time college recruiting. Recently, we asked them to respond to the question below. Their responses follow. (photos courtesy of SCOUT.COM)

Did you do anything special this summer to get ready for the upcoming football season? If so, what specifically did you work on? Do you have any specific goals for your junior season that you can share and, if so, what are they?

I've been working on becoming more athletic and fast. Coaches really like how I can move my body at a high speed just like my backs and receivers. I wanted to b able to out-pace and last longer than my opponents. So most of my lifting consisted of high reps and less breaks. I have also worked with my trainer Brent Merrit on leg strength and speed. We ran sprints and strides on the track, field and court. Our workouts took place about three times a week... We would start on the track day 1, and run a set of "countdown's". This was a sprinting workout which would start off with a 400 meter lap, then a 300 meter, a 200, and then a 100 meter sprint. Then we would go back up from 1 to 4... This is workout that track runners and Olympic athletes consistently do, and it was a great experience to work in their shoes.

Day 2 and 3 consisted of court drills and weight room workouts. These were usually 2-a-day workouts, and I have gained a lot more athleticism from these days.

I feel I will prove to a lot of people that I will be ready to play at the next level. I also want to make sure I have fun in doing so... Coach Miller, Coach Rodriguez (basketball) and I are ready to take my game to the level its capable of. Zach Banner

I did quite a bit to get ready for this upcoming football year. For starters, I busted my butt in the weight room participating in intensive workouts. I knew I needed the strength, explosion, power, and speed to be as effective as I can be at the high school level. I also took lot of my fellow teammates under my wing, helping them develop the work ethic that will be necessary in the long run to better our team. I worked on many other things as well. I worked on being more of a leader by example; on my fundamentals as a running back and DB, and I learned that this game is a mental game and you've got to be the one to control the game to be effective and not let it control you.....etc.

My team goal for this year is of course, the T-DOME..but that is every high school teams goal.
My individual goal for this year is too be top 3 in the state in tds and rushing yards.

I want our team to be successful regardless if we go to the Tdome or not, just to know that we went out there with everything we had and fought without the thought of "I COULD'VE done better". If we are unsuccessful, we will fail at 110% effort and with intensity!!!!! KeiVarae Russell

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Preparing a Kid for the Possibility of Football after High School

If a kid is interested in the game of football being in his future at least through college, when is it too early for that kid to start preparing for it? When is it too late? We have all seen kids who we felt could have been successful at the Division I or Division II level, but never ended up playing anywhere through a number of unfortunate circumstances. In a past column I mentioned Danny, an extremely gifted, natural athlete who could throw a football the proverbial country mile, could run like the wind with one of the worst running styles ever seen, running with his arms sticking straight out as though his armpits had been blow-torched and bent at the elbow as though he were dog-paddling across a fast-moving river. Even though his running style obviously slowed him down a little, he was still extremely fast and coupled with the fact that he had hands like bushel baskets, he could catch anything thrown remotely in his vicinity. He could also throw a football around sixty-five yards in the air, and he was an excellent defensive back. At 6'4" and 225 pounds, he had the size and speed to play anywhere. But, he did not play again after high school. Why not? Grades were a big part of it. Lack of focus in practice and in a game was part of it. Taking his talent for granted and believing that there would always be opportunities available for him was probably part of it as well. The second most talented kid I had seen in 38 years of coaching never played a game of football again.

Danny is not alone. There is a kid on a nearby high school football team (Let's call him Harvey) who is about 6'4" or 6'5" and weighs in the neighborhood of 320 pounds. Harvey has moved around a great deal, and is now living with his grandparents some 1200 miles from his hometown. These moves have hurt him academically, and he has lacked the self-discipline to turn his grades around. He also lacked the discipline or the foresight to change his growing body into an athletic machine. However, now that three years have gone by and he has settled into his high school, for the first time in three years he seems determined to use his innate intelligence in the classroom and his size, agility, and quickness on the football field to make a name for himself. He's a great guy, earnest and honest and now...willing to learn. Is it too late for a guy like Harvey to turn things around, academically and athletically? It might be. Considering the paucity of choices for schools in the Northwest to play at, Harvey will be fortunate indeed to have any school come calling, and the days of the Otis Sistrunk from sandlot to the NFL are long gone. We have to hope that someone, somewhere has the foresight (and the humanity) to give this diamond-in-the-rough a second chance.

So, what is a kid who really wants to be a part of the collegiate football experience going to do to prepare himself to be recognized? An intriguing possibility is Academic Sports Development (ASD), a company formed by Scott Laigo, whom my associate Dick Kalla wrote about in an earlier blog. Had someone like Laigo and his associates contacted Danny or Harvey earlier in their athletic careers, both young athletes might have ended up with dozens of college scouts beating on their doors. The major hang-up is funding. Obviously, the money needed for monitoring these promising but challenging kids can be prohibitive, and neither Danny's nor Harvey's parents would have been able to afford it. Academic Sports Development needs to find a way to defray the costs of the program. If they can do this, then their program will take off like a rocket. Jim Olsen

Saturday, August 21, 2010

New Program Helps Athletes Prepare For College Recruitment

Jim and I started High School Cover 2 a little more than a year and a half ago because we wanted to tell the story of High School football which we thought wasn’t always being presented in the best light. Since that time we have interviewed coaches and players and told their stories; we have talked about injuries and how to avoid them, we have covered games and reported on what we saw; we have researched and provided training techniques and we have talked about our own experiences playing and coaching the game that we love. When we were recently approached by Scott Laigo, Director of Academic Sports Development (ASD) we jumped at the chance to learn more about his newest project.

Scott is well known in Washington football circles, has played the game at O’Dea High School and the University of Washington before launching his coaching career that culminated in a three year head coaching stint at Garfield before leaving to join the business world. Casting about for a way to mingle his two passions, business and football, he saw first-hand that potentially excellent athletes were being repeatedly rejected for admission to college because they weren’t prepared athletically or academically.

How many great players ignore their grades until it is too late and they can’t meet eligibility requirements? How many have acquired a reputation, deserved or undeserved, for being hard to handle and selfish, etc.? ASD not only provides athletic skills training to help young players improve their play, but it provides tutors to set them on the path to becoming a successful student in the classroom and helps them understand what recruiters are looking for in terms of character.

There are many camps and academies that teach aspiring athletes how to improve their games. There aren’t many, however, that take the all inclusive approach and teach academics as well as footwork, etc. This is something Scott noticed over and over while helping with recruiting and something he has vowed to change. This is not an entirely new concept. The famous Bollettieri Tennis Academy has been providing a similar service for young aspiring tennis players for a long time, but it is a relatively new concept in the northwest. In fact ASD is a first in Washington State.

ASD is not only for football players, nor is it strictly for males. In addition to football, they provide tutoring for basketball, baseball and softball with a possibility of adding other sports in the future. Anyone who wants to improve their chances on receiving a scholarship would benefit from some aspect of this program.

Lest this sound like a testimonial or infomercial for ASD, High School Cover 2 did have some concerns. We told Scott that we thought that the very kids who needed this type of specialized help the most, would be the ones least able to afford to sign up. Those from wealthy areas who could afford his services already go to camps and often fully understand how important their studies are when it comes to recruiting and life. He told us that this was also one of his concerns and he is exploring ways to get non-profit organizations involved in the future and hopes to be able to offer scholarships or reduced fees for needy applicants. Nevertheless, for those who can afford to go, he offers competitive rates and excellent and focused training.

Make no mistake. This is a business venture for Scott Laigo and his associates. He eventually hopes it will be a sound investment. Lest we give the wrong impression about his motives, however, we found him to be a truly inspirational person who is committed to helping kids develop both academically and athletically while improving their chances to gain a scholarship to a college. He also makes it clear that he doesn’t promise pupils that they will become superstars, only that they will become better players and people. It would be impossible, for example, to make a 4’10” basketball player into a starting center at a D-1 school, but he does offer kids the chance to improve both their game and their chances to be successful in life after athletics. Not a bad offer.

If you’d like to find out more about ASD or you know someone who would benefit from the services it offers. Contact High School Cover 2 and we will pass on your request. Send your query to:


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Loyalty in Football

I have been thinking a great deal lately about the word loyalty and its different manifestations since Dick and I met with Dick Baird, the ex-Cougar player, ex-Husky recruiting coordinator. The first thing that I thought about was fan loyalty. Reason doesn't work with most die-hard fans, especially in pro football. They know what they know and feel what they feel, and no one is going to talk them out of it. They will paint their faces and sit bare-chested in sub-freezing weather screaming at the top of their lungs, cheering for a team that will be fortunate to win a quarter of their games. When their team wins, they feel vindicated, and when their team loses, it was a lousy job by the ref or the coach doesn't know what he is doing or they need to change quarterbacks and give the rookie a chance. Week after week, season after season, sunshine or snowstorms, they feel that a win is right around the corner. Hope does indeed spring eternal.

In high school, it seems that loyalty is reciprocal, quid pro quo...something for something. High school coaches will often start out as assistant coaches for an established program and stay with that program out of loyalty. When they do move on to a better position in a different district, it is often at the suggestion of the head coach who will follow up with telephone calls and a letter of recommendation. The head coach loses an important assistant and gains a potential rival, but he is fine with that. That is the reward the hard-working assistant receives from his countless hours running drills under the heat of the August sun or early November's monsoon season when, unless he is geared-up in rain gear, he is soaked from head to foot every day. That assistant may not be able to take little Alexie to her soccer practice on Saturday, or he may miss little Joey's first Pop Warner football game as the starting running back, because he may be reviewing film from the previous game or helping in the process of breaking down the next opponent's games searching for tendencies.

I must be a lot different from most college football fans, because my life is not drastically altered if my favorite team (Washington is my alma mater) loses. Don't get me wrong, I want them to win, but if they don't, I can live with it. If, for example, WSU were to make it to a bowl game, and the Dawgs were to be sitting home, would I want the Cougs to win? Of course I would...regional pride. How about the Oregon schools? That's a little more difficult, but probably. How about Stanford or Cal? Yeah, I guess. USC? That is asking too much of anyone.

I was thinking particularly of college football when we spoke with Dick Baird. At my 50th high school class reunion, a WSU alum was vilifying Baird as a traitor to Cougar Nation. I didn't know the story, so I asked Baird, and his explanation was reasonable (There is that word Reason again). He had had knee surgery (obviously, from the shots he took as a Cougar linebacker), and he needed to go under the knife again. Since he would be on the field again, helping as a graduate assistant, he asked about the surgery. WSU told him that he had finished his eligibility, so they would not be paying for it. Where is the quid pro quo in that? Wazzu was offering nothing for something. Baird had a chance to work for the Huskies, and he took it. Who would not do the same?

High school coaches take care of their own, even at the risk of competing against, and possibly losing to them. They are loyal sportsmen in the truest sense of the term. Jim Olsen

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dick Baird Talks Small School Recruiting

Jim and I were talking football the other day when we returned to a familiar theme that we have been hearing from coaches and players from small schools -- that their best players, some who are definitely D-1 material, are not being recruited.

We decided to take a look and see if this was reality or just perception. To understand the mindset of major college recruiting and what schools were looking for, we needed to speak with someone who had done the job. Who better to explain the ins-and-outs of recruiting than ex-recruiting coordinator for the University of Washington, Dick Baird?

After starring as a line-backer at Washington State, Dick coached the sport for more than 30 years and served as Don James’ recruiting coordinator during the years when the school was in the hunt for the Rose Bowl every year. He still follows the game closely and writes a periodic column for the “Dawgman/Scout” recruiting service and is one of the “Husky Honks” on Seattle radio station KJR where he provides insider knowledge of college football and, in particular, the Washington Huskies. He has an intimate knowledge of what it means to recruit athletes to a D-1 school.

We met up with Coach Baird at the RAM restaurant in University Village near the UW where he was having lunch prior to attending a practice. In a wide-ranging conversation that covered much more than our intended question, he told us what he thought were the reasons that smaller school athletes weren’t being highly recruited.

Colleges look at big urban areas first when seeking talent. They know that the level of competition is high and big-time athletes abound. A kid at a small school might dominate at his level, but might not at a higher level where there are an abundance of excellent athletes. It is also easier for recruiters to travel to major population areas so players get more exposure than those at smaller schools. Coach Baird mentioned that he had traveled all the way up to tiny Orville, WA, to recruit Braxton Cleman during his tenure as recruiting coordinator, but that is only done when a player is deemed to be exceptional. A quick look through the current UW roster shows that most come from major urban areas. A couple who didn’t are Mason Foster from the small town of Seaside, CA, south of San Francisco near Monterey and James Atoe, a true Freshman recruited out of The Dalles, OR.

There are fewer opportunities in this state to play football at the college level than there were previously. The elimination of the Junior College programs several years ago and the more recent termination of the program at Western Washington has directly affected recruiting and forced players to either go farther afield (California) to find playing opportunities or, in most cases, give up the sport entirely.

Speed today is king in college recruiting. Kids from smaller schools might dominate at that level, but not have the required 40 time for their position or recruiters might not trust the reported times. It was key, he thought, for players to go to camps where the big schools were heavily represented and where they could display their talents against those from bigger schools and have their speed properly monitored in a competitive setting.

Title IX, he said, is another thing that has changed the landscape of college recruiting. Before Title IX, colleges could stuff their roster with walk-ons who needed more time to grow and develop. Now many of those so-called “diamonds in the rough” go un-recruited.

We asked if the recruiting services like Scout and Rivals had made recruiters lazy and inclined to accept the star ratings given instead of going out and beating the bushes for talent. We didn’t really expect a confirmation of this from Coach Baird since he works for one of those services, and we were right. It still, however, makes us wonder if that is the case. Like the colleges, it is certainly easier and cheaper for the scouting services to travel to the areas where most of the athletes live, and they, not intentionally, would have a tendency to ignore a player from a remote location.

In closing, Coach Baird told us that even in the old days, there were times that he failed to take an athlete who later turned out to be great proving that no matter what, recruiting is still an imperfect science. Two examples of players who wanted to play for UW, but who he rejected were Pat Tillman who was, he thought, too small at the major college level and Tedy Bruschi who was a 6’, 230 lb nose tackle. Who Knew?

Finally, just a caveat to say that it is not our intention here at High School Cover 2 to demean those who recruit kids to play football at their institutions. It is a tough job and requires constant attention and dedication to sell their schools. Recruiters spend untold hours flying hither and yon and sitting in family living rooms as well as keeping in touch with players via telephone and other electronic means. This was merely an exercise to try to understand why the perception was that players from smaller schools were being under-recruited. Hopefully, the above information helps with that understanding.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Question the Coach - New Season Prognosis

With the 2010 high school football season soon approaching, High School Cover 2 wanted to find out from our coaches group how they viewed the upcoming season. We asked them the following questions to find out their thoughts. To date, three have responded. Here are their replies.

Without giving away any operational secrets, what is your hope for your team this coming year. Is it a building year or do you think you are poised for a run at a league championship and/or the state playoffs? Is there anything that particularly concerns you? And, are you considering or planning to change your offense of defense to take advantage of a particular player or players? Anything else that you might want to tell us about the upcoming season is welcome.

The first to reply was coach Bob Ames from Meridian High School. Coach Ames took a tongue-in-cheek approach to his response, but it is obvious that he is a little concerned the size of his returning squad.

Gosh, the Troooohans (sic., Trojans) are in for another year of 5th fiddle in a 4 team league. Most people are building with 200 pound cement blocks, we will be building with the small legos. Injuries are always a concern for everyone. We are very concerned about a lack of size. Our in county rivals are so big and physical that there won't be enough room on the field for us to line up. We're so small our guys drive match book cars to practice. All seriousness aside, we hope to compete. That is all we can ask from our guys. We will do the same stuff we have always done, only on a smaller scale with smaller guys. Our largest concern is the presence of a lot of raptors around. Eagles and turkey buzzards seem to be hanging around the practice field waiting for some of our linemen so to carry them off to feed their young.

Coach Ames

The second to reply was coach Rob Freise from Willipa Valley High School. Despite some concerns, the Vikings will, under the tenure of Coach Freise, be extremely competitive, as they are every year.

Our goals are always set to try and end the regular season somewhere at
the top of our league in order to give us the best possible playoff
scenario. This year will be especially challenging as we have lost 9 key
players to graduation. We do have some key starters returning, including
our quarterback and some key running backs. Our line will be our biggest
question mark as we have lost several key linemen. Because of this, we
may be opening up our offense a bit more to take advantage of our
quickness and make up for our lack of size. It seems to get tougher every
year, mostly because of our school size getting much smaller (we opted up
to 2B this year even though our numbers warrant 1B). The advantage we
always have though is a strong tradition and players who buy into the
program and expect to do what it takes to be competitive, and very strong
parent and community support.

Coach Freise

The next to reply was coach Darren Talley from Chelan High School. Coach Talley chose to list both the question asked and his reply. Like the two coaches above, his team will be in the championship mix at the end of the season.

Is it a building year or do you think you are poised for a run at a league championship and/or the state playoffs?
We are always rebuilding and planning for success at the 1A level at the same time. It's a numbers thing that all 1A schools have to deal with.
Is there anything that particularly concerns you?
Our offensive line is almost all new, and they have much to learn.
Are you considering or planning to change your offense of defense to take advantage of a particular player or players?
Again, at the 1A level you better make sure your schemes and personal match-up each year.
Anything else that you might want to tell us about the upcoming season is welcome.
It's always fun to see who and what the new and emerging leaders become together.

Coach Talley