The time is now for football recruits
The high school football season is months away, yet this has become the most important time of the year for Western Pennsylvania football prospects.
Their performances at various skills and drills camps in the next three weeks could determine whether they are bound for a major-college program or if they are an inch too short or a step too slow to play Division I-A.
The pigskin parade -- or, as some prefer, cattle call -- begins Saturday with the Nike Training Camp, a one-day, invitation-only combine at Penn State.
It's where Penn Hills quarterback Anthony Morelli and North Hills tailback Andrew Johnson solidified their status last year as top-10 players at their respective positions, and where Gateway junior cornerback Justin King emerged as a national talent.
"It put him on the map," said Gateway coach Terry Smith, King's stepfather. The 6-foot, 185-pound King now has 35 scholarship offers, from schools as far away as Florida, Southern California and Texas.
While those players lived up to their billings at the Nike camp, Woodland Hills receiver Devon Lyons created his by performing well in drills against the nation's top cornerback, Ted Ginn Jr.
"I believe they're ultra-important for the kid on the bubble," Gateway's Smith said. "Schools want to see them first-hand, and here's an opportunity for them to do drills with the best players on the East Coast."
The advancement of the regional Nike training camps have done little to diminish the importance of local skills sessions run by Joe Butler of Metro Index Scouting and Les Kemp of A-K Recruiting.
The top players in the WPIAL and City League are treating the local camps as a personal showcase, circling the dates shortly after their seasons end.
The A-K camp has sessions from 5:30-8:30 p.m. this Friday and Saturday and again May 21-22 at the Pittsburgh Indoor Sports Arena in Harmarville. For more information, contact Kemp at (724) 826-1331.
The Metro Index camp has two, four-day sessions at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex indoor facility on the South Side. The first session is May 16-19, the second runs May 23-26. For more information, contact Butler at (412) 343-7099.
Butler remains an advocate of schools waiting until a player's senior season to make scholarship offers. Yet he realizes that the recruiting game has changed and has adapted his service to accommodate it.
Top prospects have learned to do the same. Sometimes, that's what separates the major- and mid-major college recruits and divides D-I from PSAC.
"You have to be ready all year round," Butler said. "You can never get out of shape. (Prospects) can really put themselves in position for the first round of recruiting. Their senior season, they can put themselves in position for another round."
Those waiting until their senior year, though, will learn in dismay that the real recruiting was done this May.