For under-the-radar recruits, travel football key to raising profiles
Chance to play against top national competition can lead to scholarship offers
Tuscaloosa tourney put three South Florida Express WRs on recruitniks' radar
No offers scares schools away, but one scholarship offer can open the floodgates
SI.com's Andy Staples recently accompanied the South Florida Express travel team, which includes 25 of Florida's top prospects, on an unofficial recruiting trip to a national tournament and four schools in the South. From The Grove to South Beach, Staples got a firsthand look of what it's like to be a top recruit. This is the third installment of a five-part series.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Barton Simmons stood near the corner of the end zone last Saturday at the BadgerSport Elite 7-on-7 National Championship. Simmons, a former Yale tight end, has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the nation's top football prospects, and he could identify most of the players in the 14-team tournament by sight.
That's what made Simmons' statement so shocking after a South Florida Express player with short dreadlocks made an acrobatic touchdown grab near where Simmons stood. "Who is that guy?" Simmons asked. Brandon Snell, a receiver from Miami's Norland High, someone answered. "Never heard of him," Simmons replied.
He has now. Snell, who will only be a junior this fall, kept catching touchdowns all weekend. So did teammate Jessie York, a last-minute replacement player who will be a senior this fall at Boyd Anderson High in Lauderdale Lakes, Fla. Early this week, Simmons heralded Snell and York's skills to his audience of hardcore recruitniks. Undoubtedly, college coaches also noticed.
"Snell and York in particular were nearly impossible to cover throughout the weekend," Simmons wrote. "Neither seems to have remarkable speed but both have great feet, run great routes and catch everything. In the semifinals, Snell caught a one-handed touchdown that may have been the catch of the weekend."
Snell, York and fellow Express receiver A.J. Sebastiano, a rising senior at North Broward Prep in Coconut Creek, Fla., hoped playing seven games against the nation's top players would raise their recruiting profiles. York has scholarship offers from West Virginia, New Mexico and Florida International, but he wants more options. Snell and Sebastiano want options, period. Neither has received an offer.
Snell dreams of playing alongside his cousin, Miami Northwestern quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, at Miami. Because of his age, Snell will have plenty of time to accrue offers. But the clock is ticking for Sebastiano, who dominated defenses in the Florida regional tournament in March and who caught the two-point conversion Sunday that was the margin of victory in the Express' quarterfinal win.
The 6-foot, 190-pound Sebastiano knows exactly why college coaches haven't tripped over one another to offer him scholarships. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds. Coaches at BCS-conference programs want players who run the 40 in the 4.4-4.5 range. But Sebastiano also has an uncanny knack for beating elite defensive backs when they attempt to jam him. That negates the speed differential on most plays. And, with the exception of a few frustrating drops Saturday, he has reliable hands. Sebastiano has attended camps this summer at South Carolina, Boston College, Rutgers, Northwestern, Illinois and Wisconsin, and he had private audiences with head coaches Greg Schiano (Rutgers), Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern), Ron Zook (Illinois) and Bret Bielema (Wisconsin). The average camper doesn't get that, which means coaches definitely have noticed Sebastiano, who is originally from Ohio and dreams of playing in the Big Ten.
Sebastiano offered an interesting analogy to describe his situation. "Let's say your favorite flavor of ice cream is chocolate," he said. "But I'm like that strawberry sorbet you haven't tried. And you try it, and you say the next time you go to the ice cream store, you're going to get that one. I'm exactly like that. But you're still going to get your favorite."
Sebastiano's Express teammates have been supportive. Most can't understand how a receiver who can torch some of the best DBs in one of America's top football states doesn't have a single scholarship offer. All week, teammates suggested Sebastiano only needs one offer to open the floodgates. Sebastiano agrees. "No offers scares people away," he said. "But one offer turns into two."
Sebastiano has reason to hope. He said each head coach he met suggested that if a receiver that program has offered picks another school, Sebastiano is next on the list for an offer. If the dominos fall a certain way, Sebastiano will get that elusive first offer.
Meanwhile, York and Snell should see a marked increase in the volume of mail to their homes.
York wasn't even supposed to be on the Express roster. He was added late on a recommendation from teammate Corey Tindal after Kelvin Benjamin, a 6-6, 210-pound receiver from Glades Central High in Belle Glade, Fla., who holds offers from more than a dozen elite programs, pulled out of the trip. "I'm glad he didn't come," York said with a smile. York barely spoke as the Express spent several days before the tournament visiting colleges. Instead, York did all his talking on the field. "I ain't a talkative person," he said. "I just do it like Nike."
Snell grew up catching passes from Bridgewater on the street and in the back yard, and that chemistry was obvious on the field. Bridgewater always knew where to find Snell, and Snell always knew how to get open.
"I really thought I wasn't going to play as much as I did," Snell said. "But, first game, they gave me a shot and I took it."
If Snell can follow his performance this past weekend with a solid junior season at Norland, college coaches should be willing to give him a shot. One particular member of Miami's signing class of 2011 will be pushing his coaches hard to make sure Snell signs with the Hurricanes in 2012.
"I believe he stole the show," Bridgewater said. "He opened some eyes."