Paul Cronin just sat there, quietly, listening, dumbfounded. Shocking news always leaves people like that. It was last fall and the football recruiter from Arizona State was talking and the more he talked, the more Cardinal Newman's head football coach thought it might be a joke. But it was no joke.
"He told me blue-chip high school kids now have agents," Cronin said.
Here's how it works: The parents of a blue-chipper hire an uncle or a friend, someone who has convinced the parents he can get their kid numerous college football scholarship offers. For every college offer the kid receives as a result of his hustle, the parents pay him, like $1,000.
"He said single moms are particularly vulnerable," Cronin said.
The hook that grabs the parents: The more attention their kid gets, the greater likelihood some college will sweeten the deal to win the bidding war. Money, cars, houses, jobs, it's all been done before. And only the most na?e of us would claim it doesn't happen now. A single mom, on her own, stressed in every way possible, very well may not spend a lot of time debating internally the ethical dilemma those freebies raise.
Sounds crazy, doesn't it? Not nearly as crazy as this: In February, Alabama offered a scholarship to Dylan Moses, an eighth-grader from Baton Rouge, La. The year before LSU offered that same kid a scholarship. Of course all those offers are — literally — hot air. They are non-binding verbal offers. But the publicity generated by them creates a fantasy world all to itself. A 13-year-old kid now feels like a star and he's not even in high school yet. His parents now see a free college education. And the leeches get $1,000 a pop to spin fantasy into delirium.
"This kind of blows my mind," Casa Grande head football coach Trent Herzog said. "Now everyone is going to want a piece of this kid. He probably feels like he is on cloud nine right now, but he's going to enter high school with a big X on his chest. What happens if he doesn't grow? Or get any better? Do you think (Alabama head coach) Nick Saban will even be there in five years?"
What Herzog has had to do, however, is grudgingly accept that the football landscape is changing.
"When Nick Sherry (now a quarterback at UNLV) received his first offer (from San Diego State) in February of his junior year," Herzog said, "I thought, 'Wow, that's early.' Then Elijah (Qualls, headed to Washington) received his first offers in November of his junior year (Arizona State, Iowa State, Oregon State). Wow, that's even earlier. Now JaJuan (Lawson, a senior quarterback next fall) was offered in April of his sophomore year (Arizona). You can see the cycle getting earlier and earlier every year.
"Now if I want my kid to be out there (to be known), I have to send out film of him during his sophomore year. I don't think it's right but I have to do it because of all the competition."