An Investigation of Covid-19 and College Recruiting
Over the past several months, it seems as though Covid-19 has placed its mark on every facet of the sports world.
Over the past several months, it seems as though Covid-19 has placed its mark on every facet of the sports world. More publicly, major sports leagues have had their seasons canceled, high-profile players have been infected with the disease, and competitions all around the world have been shut down. However, in the world of high school sports, and more specifically recruiting, it is difficult to fully understand what Covid-19 will mean for athletes looking to be recruited for college athletics. Different high school sports have different timelines and expectations for athletes who are hoping to earn a spot on a college sports team, so Covid-19’s effect on the recruiting process is not a “one-size-fits-all” scenario. In order to better understand how the virus will affect the recruiting process for high school students, I spoke with a number of different athletes from different sports to hear about their stories and conversations with their coaches. In addition, I contacted Director of College Counseling Jeffrey Durso-Finley, Ed.D. P’13 ’14 ’19 ’22.
The Girls Lacrosse program at Lawrenceville is extremely competitive and successful, breeding recruited Division I (D-I) athletes year after year. According to a U.S. lacrosse online survey, individuals begin to train at the age of eight and a half, and the sheer number of girls who dedicate immense efforts to the sport makes the recruiting process even more difficult and selective. Oftentimes, the process of gaining recognition from a school begins very early in their athletic careers, and can possibly end early as well, as schools begin offering spots on September 1 of an athlete’s junior year. In order to learn more about what potential recruits are undergoing during Covid-19, I spoke with Libby Ford ’21 and Caroline Foster ’21, two competitive lacrosse players at Lawrenceville. In the wake of their main sports season being canceled, Ford and Foster are making sure to continue training at home in order to put themselves in a strong position to be recruited. “Since we learned our season was canceled in early March, I have been working out with a few of my teammates at home in sessions with Eric Law,” said Ford. “[Law] is a professional lacrosse player from Denver, Colorado, and he has been a family friend [of mine] for a long time, so it has been really nice to keep playing and training with him.” In addition to improving under Coach Law and teammates in Colorado, Ford has been practicing regularly with her “Big Red Lax fam” on Zoom.
When asked about how Covid-19 has changed her personal recruiting process, Caroline Foster was confident in her abilities and her current position for recruiting, saying, “fortunately for me, the coaches and schools that I have talked to and [that I] am interested in [have] enough information to know that they will be able to make offers on the date that they are allowed to do so.” However, Foster does understand the implications that a canceled season may have on her teammates and other lacrosse players trying to get recruited. Foster said, “for other players, quarantine has totally derailed their process and final opportunities to get some much-needed exposure. As a result, coaches and other people in the lacrosse community are pushing to have tournaments in late August and prioritize our 2021 class this fall from a recruiting standpoint.”
Beyond the recruits’ actual play, Ford believes that the academic performance leading up to this point will be a crucial aspect of capturing coaches’ attention and support. She thinks that “academics are more important than ever because coaches cannot focus on raw talent now that no one is actively playing in games or tournaments. ACT and SAT scores, as well as GPAs from the previous term, will be very important in getting more attention, because having stronger scores and grades is the only way [athletes] can truly stand out at this point.” Foster also notes that maintaining a strong relationship with the coaches is a make-or-break aspect of the new Covid-19 recruiting process, saying, “Now...the frequent FaceTimes, Zooms, and texts with coaches that help build an off-field relationship are even more important. Coaches are no longer shopping for just skill, as they have narrowed down a group that fulfills that criteria already, but they are looking for people that mesh with their program, their players, and especially their culture.”
Unlike girls lacrosse, Lawrenceville Boys Football has had a bit of a rough patch in terms of their win-loss record the past few seasons. Regardless of their performance, however, the program still produces a solid number of recruits each year. Although the 2020 fall football season has not been officially canceled as of now, serious football players train year-round. During a conversation with Brandon Kim ’21, who came to Lawrenceville last year as a new IV Former and football recruit, I found out about the unique aspects of the football recruiting process in regard to Covid-19. Although Kim is undergoing a similar process as his recruiting peers, he has a slight advantage over his teammates and competitors, as he lives in South Korea. Speaking on this advantage, Kim said, “the Covid-19 situation [in South Korea] is a lot better than before and compared to other [countries]... gyms and fields are open, so I’ve been working out...and have been doing on-field drills. I’ve been using this time to get ahead of the competition.” By capitalizing on his favorable situation, Kim is hoping to secure himself a strong position in the midst of recruiting next fall.
In terms of the recruiting process, Kim gave valuable insight into how the process is changing for football players: “From my conversations with college coaches, recruiting is starting to pick up quicker, especially with lots of camps being canceled as a result of Covid-19, and the prospect of [the] fall season being canceled. However, other schools are hoping that everything pans out and are planning to utilize senior film more than they ever have in the past to make up for camps. The main thing I was told by the coaches was to record my workouts and drills and send it to them, which would essentially replace the aspect of live evaluations at camp.”
Football recruiting relies both on statistics and on visual analysis. Due to the uncertainties surrounding the fall season, the opportunity for coaches to watch players is still up in the air. But, even with all this uncertainty surrounding actual play, Kim has been doing all he can in order to strengthen his relationships with coaches. Kim said, “Considering I’ve only had a season of football with Lawrenceville... I haven’t had a ton of opportunities to talk to coaches in person here, and I was looking forward to my second season, but for right now I believe that texting and calling can make up for that.”
Over the past several seasons, the Lawrenceville Boys Crew team has been one of the most successful and competitive teams on campus. In most seasons over the past six years, the crew team has produced top-notch NCAA Division I talents who have risen to the college and national rowing stage, including Kyle Fram ’16, who was on the Columbia University Men’s Crew team and the US Rowing Under-23 National Team, and Thomas Bishoff ’16, who was on the Yale University Men’s Crew team. Although the spring season that the crew team was looking forward to was canceled, many IV Formers still dedicate their time to improving their recruitability potential. Unlike many other sports, crew is a sport where athletes do not have to start early in their high school careers; consequently, the recruiting process begins fairly late.. It also ends somewhat quickly compared to other sports, as most recruits commit to colleges in the fall of their senior year. In the class of 2021, a number of oarsmen are looking to be recruited to top-tier programs. To get further insight on their current situation, I spoke with Guy Ferrera ’21 to see how his experience with the recruiting process has been going, and what effects Covid-19 has had on it.
Dissimilar to other high school sports, the recruiting process for crew relies heavily on objective measures, specifically each athlete’s 2000 meter ergometer time. When Ferrera was asked about this aspect, he stressed that because the opportunity for college coaches to see him race is limited now, those “erg” scores are even more important than ever, as the now-canceled spring season typically marks the high point of high school rowing. In addition, the fall season could also be in jeopardy, making the erg score not the only factor colleges have to potentially assess. Ferrrera said that both he and the college coaches with whom he has been in contact are experiencing a high level of uncertainty as to where this process will head.
In hopes of remedying these uncertainties, Ferrera has been solidifying his case both on the erg and in the classroom. Over the past few months, Ferrera has stayed true to the coaches’ training as well as making sure his grades are where college coaches want. In addition to personal improvement, Ferrera also believes that strengthening relationships with the coaches is extremely important in the current situation. For Ferrera, letting college coaches get to know him both as an oarsman and a person will put himself in the best position possible to get recruited over the summer or next fall.
Although the athletes have an important story to tell about their personal recruiting process, it is also important to learn from the coaches’ side of the experience and what they are going through during this time. Co-director of the College Counseling Office Jeffrey Durso-Finley P’13’14’19 ’22 has been in constant conversation with college admissions teams and coaches in order to help student-athletes with the recruiting process. “The fundamental process hasn’t changed,” says Durso-Finley. “Students still need to communicate with a range [in schools] of selectivity and strength of competition, become identified by prospective programs and coaches, get evaluated both academically and athletically from a coach and admissibility perspective, then enter the recruiting process as the college program determines needs and ability to contribute.” However, he does think that the performance analysis aspect has shifted, saying, “What’s changed is the current availability of those evaluation opportunities. High-level summer competitions have been suspended, as have tournaments and camps, so the opportunity to be seen and evaluated has disappeared.”
Through his conversations with college coaches and admissions teams, Durso-Finley has learned that, as of right now, coaches are “holding tight, most likely because they have no clarity on what’s to come in the next few months.” He believes that in the near future, various coaches’ actions could differ depending on the school and the sport, as some may wait until later in the summer to wait for potential recruiting camps, while others may move forward with the information they currently have. “Many of those decisions will be made in the next six to eight weeks, so my expectation is there will be much more clarity in mid-July.” Durso-Finley said. For example, one question that admission offices and coaches are contemplating is whether or not they will be able to admit foreign students to their universities as normal. A forced decrease in recruiting foreign athletes would not affect football as much, for example, but for international-heavy sports like crew and tennis, it could force coaches to change their habits.
For sports that have a more subjective recruiting process, such as football and lacrosse, Durso-Finley doubled down on the uncertainties of the future, saying that “[it’s] unclear how coaches will evaluate the subjective sports, that’s certain. Some will use video performance submissions they have in hand, some will make assumptions based on the level of play their prospects are coming from, and others will use predictive measures that students will submit, such as bench press, first-to-home [plate] time, cone drill, physical state, etc., much like the combine does for the [National Football League].” In sports where the statistics don’t necessarily indicate skill, Durso-Finley relayed that “[as] we often say in the college counseling office…[It] actually doesn’t matter how good you are in your sport, what matters is how good the coach thinks you are.”
So, how will college recruiting change because of Covid-19? For lacrosse, as Ford and Foster stated, the recruiting process is nearing the end, so coaches already have most, if not all, the information they need to make decisions. However, for football, the uncertainties that individuals such as Kim feels are extremely valid, as there is no real way to know if there will be a fall season, a season which would be particularly valuable to class of 2021 recruits. For crew, the process hasn’t really changed from is known so far, but has been magnified, since the lack of a spring or summer season means ergometer scores will be even more consequential. Although uncertainty is prevalent for both athletes and coaches, they will most likely receive clarity in the near future from college admissions offices and their administrations. As for Lawrenceville athletes who are prospective recruits, they are continuing to put in hard work during these trying times in order to put themselves in the best place possible for recruiting.