2020 — Chronicling Ivy League
recruitment: The summer months
At 6:30 a.m. on April 15, 2015, the Hartmanns’ phone rang. It was the first day of the NCAA’s spring evaluation period, and Princeton University wanted to be the first to call defensive end Carter Hartmann, a current junior at Mission Viejo High School in Southern California.
They were indeed the first.
“Harvard called me at 3 [p.m.] and they’re like, ‘Hey, we just wanted to be the first people to call you. We are the first, aren’t we?’” Hartmann said. “I had to tell them, ‘Yeah, Princeton called me at 6:30.’ It was pretty funny.”
Hartmann, however, has not yet spoken to Yale, the last of the three Ivy League schools that has expressed serious interest in him, during this spring evaluation period. He said his parents will be speaking with head coach Tony Reno sometime before the period ends on May 31.
Not every high school football player is woken up by a call from a Division I university. As football recruiting for the class of 2020 approaches its peak, high school athletes around the country are seeking the one thing that can get them that phone call: exposure.
With classes out and football season quickly approaching, the summer between a player’s junior and senior years can set the tone for his recruitment process. Data derived from summer camps, combines and preliminary academic assessments helps Ivy League coaches to whittle down the prospect pool, and although NCAA restrictions limit the contact between student-athletes and coaches, there is increased communication as the deadline for official visits approaches.
“At Yale we need to cast a wide scope because we’re looking for students that we can predict … [will] get through the application process academically, student-athletes that can play Division I football.”
—Tony Reno, Head Coach of Yale Football
THE REGULATION OF RECRUITMENT
Since its inception in 1906 as the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States, the National College Athletic Association has served as the ultimate authority on college athletics. As the number of student-athletes has swelled, the NCAA has grown right alongside it, as have the rules and regulations it creates.
Today, Division I football recruiting is an almost scientifically precise process. Each year, the NCAA puts out a colored calendar demarcating the four different types of recruitment periods: the quiet period, in which prospects can unofficially visit schools and communicate with coaches via written or electronic methods; the evaluation period, in which off-campus interactions between prospects and students are forbidden but coaches may visit high schools and prospects may visit colleges; the contact period, in which coaches and prospects may communicate and visit anywhere, provided a coach does not visit a high school more than once in one week; and the dead period, in which only written or electronic communication is permitted.
In addition to abiding by the NCAA standards, schools in the Ivy League adhere to further standards set forth by the Ivy Group Agreement.
The first agreement, signed in 1945 and restricted to football, affirmed the decision to uphold the same eligibility rules and academic standards and to dispense only need-based financial aid, not athletic scholarships. By extending the agreement to all sports in 1954, the Ivy League was formally created.
Since then, Ivy League football has been regulated separately from all other sports. The football programs operate under a slightly different set of rules, as the league allows 120 students over four years to matriculate with support from the football coach, according to Carolyn Campbell-McGovern, deputy executive director of the Ivy League.
“All other sports are lumped together,” Campbell-McGovern said. “Every institution makes their own decisions about how they’ll further limit, or how they’ll allocate the number of slots that they have. They’re bound more by institutional limits.”
Of course, that does not mean a perfect 30 football players matriculate — or are even admitted — to Yale in any given year, according to Undergraduate Dean of Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan. Campbell-McGovern noted that there is a much larger pool of students who are contacted by, and subsequently communicate with the football programs.
Reno explained that due to the school’s high academic standards, the football program is forced to start looking early and cast a wide net.
“We’ll start gathering information on recruits or potential prospects in February of their junior year,” Reno said. “As you can imagine, at Yale we need to cast a wide scope because we’re looking for students that we can predict … [will] get through the application process academically, student-athletes that can play Division I football.”
Sometimes it falls to the student-athlete to put him or herself on a school’s radar. Gathering information often begins with players or coaches reaching out to recruitment coordinators.
Highlight tapes, unofficial transcripts and conversations with high school coaches allow the football staff to sketch a basic profile for each player.
“What we do is we get recommendations from high school coaches and we get transcripts from the student-athletes,” Reno said. “They’ll give us unofficial transcripts and we’ll take a look at them and see where they are, how well they’re doing in class, their strength of schedule and the classes they’re taking.”
Per NCAA standards, prospects are permitted to visit a school unofficially as many times as they like and whenever they like, provided that there is no contact with a coach if the visit falls during a dead period. Official visits, which the universities pay for, do not begin until Sept. 1 of a student-athlete’s senior year. There is a limit of five for each prospect, and it is up to his or her discretion to choose which schools to visit.
In the meantime, summer camps provide another method of evaluating players.
(courtesy of Koby Quansah)
ROLE OF SUMMER CAMPS
Yale hosts eight one-day prospect camps throughout the summer to help student-athletes attract attention. According to Reno, these summer camps are valuable because they allow the staff to evaluate personal characteristics.
“I think for us, it’s a way to see how players work, how they take coaching, how they react when the chips are down and they’ve made some mistakes,” Reno said. “Are they able to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and go to the next play? Those are all very important things. For me, the intangibles are very important: how they carry themselves, how they treat others. What we’re looking for are Yale football players, guys who look like they’re going to live by our core values and what we believe in.”
High school coaches, however, were more ambivalent when it comes to the importance of summer camps.
“The name of the game is exposure,” said Jason Martinez, the head coach at Kingswood-Oxford High School in West Hartford, Conn. “You got to get your name out there. You got to go out there [and] go to camps. You can’t expect, as a blue chip kid, to get recognized. Some kids choose to not go to camps and [they] don’t get recognized because they’re not putting themselves out there.”
Martinez coaches Koby Quansah, a linebacker who began receiving calls from coaches in his sophomore year of high school. Now finishing up his junior year, Quansah said he might not attend summer camps this year because he has already done so and earned scholarship offers. Instead, he will relax and give his body some rest.
According to Martinez, this strategy works for certain athletes. For players with 20-plus offers like Quansah, Martinez explained, there is not much to do with the summer.
“He’s done all the work already,” Martinez said. “A lot of these camps are money camps, and you’re fighting for exposure and twisting in line to get reps. I’m not sure that’s where Koby is right now. I think he’s above that.”
Much like Quansah, Hartmann has already turned heads. He is currently sitting on three preliminary Ivy offers of support as well as one Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship offer. The defensive end is also talking to two other FBS schools, Vanderbilt and Boise State. While he is considering attending Stanford’s football camp on June 20, he will participate in Mission Viejo’s varsity football summer training regimen.
That plan was deemed acceptable by Bob Johnson, Hartmann’s head coach at Mission Viejo High School.
“His potential off the field, in the classroom, is off the charts,” Johnson said of Hartmann. “It comes easy to him. He’s the brightest football player I’ve ever been around, and I’ve been around a long time.”
Summer camps are one of several methods of attracting attention. While Hartmann went the traditional route of sending his highlight tape, other recruits succeeded in catching Reno’s eye with performances at various combines.
(courtesy of Joyce Andersen)
A series of timed drills, tests and exercises, football combines offer an empirical standard by which to evaluate players. Their results can factor into national rankings, which in turn generate the exposure necessary to attract Division I attention.
Last Sunday, Quansah participated in the invite-only Rivals100 camp in central New Jersey, walking away with the top linebacker award. He is now considered a four-star recruit: Rivals.com ranks him as the best inside linebacker in Connecticut and the sixth-best in his class in the country.
In addition to 15 FBS offers, two preliminary Ivy offers of support and one FCS offer, Quansah has been talking to Stanford and Oregon, two perennial powerhouse Pac-12 football programs. His coach added that Stanford visited Kingswood-Oxford on April 23 to see Quansah.
During that visit, the Cardinal linebacker coach told him that Stanford wanted to make an offer, Quansah said. However, since Quansah was informed that the school recruits at a slower pace than many other schools, he will have to wait before receiving his offer.
“I don’t think this is common in the northeast,” Martinez said of west coast schools flying east, which Stanford did in both January and April. “I talked to the Stanford coaches who said I’m only here for Koby. So I don’t know how common it is that the west coast schools come over here, or the [Southeastern Conference] schools, I don’t know how common it is for them as well. But we’re fortunate for getting schools from all over the place.”
(courtesy of Alex Hall)
Damarea Crockett, an Arkansas native and current high school junior, also benefitted immensely from his performance in a combine. At the Nike SPARQ combine on March 14, the running back earned the highest score in the country. Official combine results measured Crockett’s 40-yard dash at 4.69 seconds, his shuttle run at 4.00 seconds and his vertical jump at 38.7 inches. For reference, running back Tyler Varga ’15, the Ivy League’s leading rusher last season, ran a 4.72 40-yard dash and had a 38.5-inch vertical jump at his pro day on March 31.
“I was getting approached more [after the combine]. I was getting more calls, I was getting more mail,” Crockett said. “That’s when I began to think about everything more and more.”
His coach at Little Rock Christian Academy, Jeff Weaver, said that while Crockett was already attracting attention before the combine, his phone began ringing from all over the country afterwards.
With seven FBS offers, including ones from Arkansas State, Vanderbilt and Colorado State, Crockett is going to have a tough decision to make, Weaver said.
“Damarea can go as high as it can go, honestly,” Weaver said. “He is the strongest overall player on our team, even as a running back. He’s a guy that’s getting lots of offers and you know, he’s a smart guy. He’s going to be eligible for everybody.”
Eligibility is a key factor in Yale’s football recruiting process. The admissions criteria for Ivy League athletes, listed on the Ivy League website, make it clear that academic standards must be met before athletic ability is taken into consideration. Student-athletes know that, to get a shot at an Ivy League school, they must have an excellent academic record.
So when two-way player Jacob Morgenstern, then a sophomore at Ketcham High School in Wappingers Falls, New York, was given the opportunity to transfer to St. Luke’s School in New Canaan, Conn., he took it.
“I think it’s one of the best academic institutions in the nation,” Morgenstern said. “The academics speak for itself. It’s an incredible school with some incredible people who’ve done some crazy things.”
Morgenstern currently has offers of support from coaches at both Harvard and Yale, the latter of which he has visited twice this year. The coaches’ support can only come into play after Oct. 1, when the admissions committee is permitted to begin reviewing completed applications.
But these offers of support are more tenuous than scholarship offers extended by any other Football Bowl Subdivision or Football Championship Subdivision team. Unlike other Division I schools, Ivy League schools do not provide athletic scholarships and maintain much more rigid academic standards.
Therefore, coaches noted, many academically ineligible prospects find out that their applications will not be supported by an Ivy League school earlier than a prospect being recruited by another Division I school.
“Another school might just drag its feet and you might think you have a shot, but you really don’t,” Martinez said. “But the Ivy League [schools], I’ve noticed, are pretty much upfront with the kids. They’ll say, hey listen, your GPA is not where it should be, or your test scores won’t allow you to get in here … They’re not stringing them along, and I don’t think anybody wants to be strung along or given false hope. Sometimes it’s tough. But they’re honest.”
This honesty pervades public recruiting information.
The Ivy League explicitly states online that “a ‘verbal commitment’ by a coach is not an offer of admission, as only the admissions office has that authority. An Ivy League coach can only commit his or her support in the admissions process.”
Before committing support, a coach can ask for a preliminary assessment of a prospect. According to the Ivy League, the admissions office may review the student-athlete’s academic credentials beginning July 1, including standardized test scores and high school transcripts. It then crafts an initial assessment, which may be shared with the prospect. But even if it is positive, this preliminary assessment in no way guarantees acceptance.
Reno said he will sometimes request these early assessments from the admissions office during the summer.
“Nothing is set in stone, they just take a look at things,” Reno said. “For us, it’s much more about looking at transcripts and saying, guys, these are some things we think you need to work on, whether it be your SAT scores or your ACT scores or your classes in general, just things that can make the application stronger.”
Hartmann, for example, spoke to Harvard on April 15. The school knew from Hartmann’s unofficial transcript that the defensive end had a 5.0 GPA his first semester of junior year.
But that is only one factor. Even without the official preliminary assessment, Harvard advised him to continue retaking the SAT.
“I got an 1890 and [Harvard] said, ‘Okay yeah, you’ll get into this school.’ But they asked me to keep taking the test because if I score higher then they can recruit someone that scored lower,” Hartmann said.
Hartmann has the entire fall to improve his score, as football operates on a comparatively late recruiting schedule, according to both Reno and Quinlan.
“The Ivy League [schools], I’ve noticed, are pretty much upfront with the kids… Sometimes it’s tough. But they’re honest.”
—Jason Martinez, Head Coach of Kingswood-Oxford High School football
Reno said the recruiting process comes to a completion when student-athletes are prepared to apply and the coaching staff is ready to move forward with them to support applications. While the date varies, Yale sometimes will not complete the entering class until the February before the student-athletes matriculate.
This is mostly because the fall is a key element to a football player’s recruitment. Throughout the prospect’s senior season, the coaching staff keeps tabs on the player. His senior year performance is a helpful benchmark in determining his ability to play at the next level, Reno said.
“A lot of it depends on senior film,” Reno said. “We look deeply into their senior film. We do that with every player … What you’re looking at is how they’ve grown from their junior film to their senior film. Have they made improvements? Have the questions you had on their junior film been answered on their senior film?”
Many of these improvements come out of the work athletes put in over the summer, both on and off the field. Although many rising seniors have not yet begun the college application process, it is well underway for these four recruits.
Greg Cameron contributed reporting.