Athletics recruiting slows during COVID

Liz O’Connell Staff Writer

“The kids really are trying, academically and athletically. But circumstances out of our control dealing with the pandemic has pretty much put this Class of 2021 in a tailspin.” — Coach Ralph Jackson

WADESBORO — The fall season does not seem complete without Friday night lights, and for some Anson High School athletes, that season may never happen, leaving those students wishing to be recruited, uncertain about the future.

The district has yet to return to athletics, despite the North Carolina High School Athletic Association providing guidelines to return, and the county’s young athletes are getting nervous. Recruiting is a long process, one that starts well before senior year. Athletes can either send emails and highlight reels to potential schools or they can participate in showcases or combines.

For football, those combines typically happen in March and college coaches have the opportunity to see rising juniors and seniors, according to Head Football Coach Ralph Jackson. Then, starting in May through the summer, college campuses usually hosts camps for recruits.

“Since I’ve been in Anson, we’ve gone to combines and one-day camps for the last five years,” Jackson said. “It has proven to be very beneficial for our players.”

But as COVID-19 tossed a curve-ball to athletics as we know it, everyone had to pull back and wait, leaving the Class of 2021 to suffer in the recruiting process and Jackson unable to take his athletes to recruiting events.

Only one football player was recruited pre-COVID, according to Jackson. This athlete is also graduating early, meaning he won’t even get a senior season. Two more players each have one offer, but if the team can start playing, there could be more offers on the table.

Jackson has about eight seniors looking to earn a scholarship and play at the next level, but again, the athletes are waiting in limbo, and if the football season does not start until February, seniors may not be recruited in time.

“The kids really are trying, academically and athletically,” Jackson said. “But circumstances out of our control dealing with the pandemic has pretty much put this Class of 2021 in a tailspin.”

Jackson explained his athletes are scared and intimidated because their chances of being recruited are slipping away.

Student athletes looking to play at the next level could send in a highlight reel, showing off their best moments, but that is only a small portion of the whole recruiting process. Colleges are looking to build relationships with their future athletes.

“They are looking for high character kids,” Jackson said. “Kids who are going to do the right things when no one is looking.”

Senior three-sport athlete Katie Horn is already familiar with long recruiting process and creating a relationship with potential colleges. She hopes to be recruited for softball.

Pre-pandemic Horn was talking with colleges, but with COVID-19 halting games, the talking ceased as well.

Going from playing sports all year long to completing stopping left Horn with “cabin-fever” and unsure what to do with her time. And in the months of free-time with no sports, responsibility fell on athletes’ shoulders to stay active and in shape.

“I’m used to fast pace and then having to slow down, not playing, that was really hard,” Horn said. “I wasn’t worried about recruiting. I just missed playing.”

Although not worried about her next step, Horn did describe how most athletes want to be recruited before their senior year and not be strung-out uncertain of the future.

“Right now I’m just going ahead and applying to the colleges I want for academics and then see how it plays out,” Horn said.

Horn is interested in pursuing an engineering degree and while she is applying to schools, she is still getting together her recruiting information to send out.

Seniors unsure of whether or not they will be recruited to a Division 1 school are beginning to sign with Division 2 or 3 schools because the NCAA suspended in-person recruiting for D1 until January of 2021.

“Most seniors don’t want to have their futures hanging off a thread,” Horn said. “A D1 softball player who would be recruited in now being recruited by D2, D3 because they just want to go ahead and have a set future.”

The uncertainty of recruiting, and sports in general, could lead to athletes falling through the cracks. More college-level athletes could potentially be red-shirting in order to gain back another season of eligibility after losing it to COVID-19.

Second or third string players recruiting process significantly slowed because the sports world paused for a few months, according to Jackson. Top athletes already have been recruited or will be recruited by the D2 and D3 schools, that have no restrictions on the recruiting process during COVID-19.

“Division 2 schools and Division 3 schools, I think, should have a ball of picking really good athletes to play college football,” Jackson said. “Those are the kids committing upfront because they fear not having a season.”

The Anson County School Board will discuss bringing back athletics to the high school during the upcoming special meeting on Oct. 12.

“I’m praying that we allowed to play in February and these guys have a good season,” Jackson said.

Reach Liz O’Connell at 267-467-5613 or at eoconnell@ansonrecord.com. Follow on Twitter @TheAnsonRecord.