Sports

Web captures recruiting fans

By CASEY OLSON

Sports editor

Today is a day that used to mean something.

It used to be a special day for a select few high school football players.

It marked the much-anticipated National Letter of Intent Day — when prep stars sign their name on the dotted line for the college football program of their choice. It’s a day that avid college football fans anticipated all year long.

Now, National Letter of Intent Day is basically a photo op, a day when the best high school players around America put on the hats of their college choices and smile, pens in their hand. Decisions were made long before their letters of intent were put in front of them.

Thanks, Internet.

American society has grown accustomed to continual updates in a fast-paced world. High school football recruiting is no different and nothing delivers quicker than the Internet.

There are thousands of Web sites out there devoted to outlining every possible detail about a potential high school football player. Recruiting news on the Internet has become big business and fans, recruits and college athletic departments are having to deal with the good and the bad that go along with keeping tabs on the prospects.

“They really try to get a kid or their parents to say where they are going (to college),” said Decatur coach Bill Heglar. “That can be good and bad. If the word gets out that they are going somewhere, the other schools sometimes pull off a kid and then if something happens, they have kind of put all their eggs in one basket.”

Legendary Pacific Lutheran University head football coach Frosty Westering, who retired after last season, thinks the current recruiting process in Division I football is rolling down a bumpy path.

“Recruiting at those big schools is such a business,” he said. “They all act like you are the only guy and there are so many stories of guys dropping through the cracks.”

Federal Way High School senior Antonio Lindsey got to experience the business side of recruiting, as well as the Internet, over the course of last year before deciding on the University of Idaho.

“I don’t even look at those Internet sites too much,” said Lindsey, who is set to sign his letter of intent today. “But those guys are calling me all the time. They call and ask you for updates and you give them a little interview about what is going on.”

According to Dave Samek, the publisher of Dawgman.com, a Web site dedicated to sports at the University of Washington, there’s a fine line separating curiosity from invasiveness into the high school kid’s life. Samek worked as a senior financial analyst at Boeing before starting Dawgman.com in 1998.

“We try not to call any kid more than once a week,” Samek said. “There are some sites that call kids every day and that borders on harassment. We never pressure a kid.”

The questions asked vary from site to site, but most want to know what schools the player is interested in, if they have any visits scheduled and if they could rank the football programs that are interested in their services.

“You don’t know who these guys writing for these sites are,” said Federal Way High School coach John Meagher. “They could work at Safeway as a bagger during the day and then go home and write this stuff.”

The sites are actually not allowed, by NCAA rules, to act as a recruiting tool for the university. In fact, Samek can’t talk with potential recruits because he graduated from the University of Washington in 1985 and is considered a “booster” by rule.

A recent University of Kentucky case demonstrates the tenuous situation in which Web sites find themselves on. The operator of a Kentucky Web site was formally “disassociated” from the university for allegedly involving himself in the recruitment of athletes.

“Some of us get a bad name when some don’t hold themselves to a code of ethics,” Samek said. “The Internet has been a lot more embraced and a lot more abused.”

Whether it’s a problem for the NCAA, Internet recruiting sites seem to be a hit with fans. When Dawgman.com started up, the site had a total of 400 subscribers. Now, around 4,000 rabid Husky fans pay $8.95 a month for access to recruiting with the immediate satisfaction only the World Wide Web can provide.

The recruitment of Lindsey, as well as Decatur safety/quarterback Darin Harris, have been well documented on these Web sites. Lindsey, a 6-foot-1, 285-pound defensive tackle, was named to several preseason all-state teams and was on the list of most schools in the Pac-10 and the western United States before his senior season.

“It was kind of like a roller coaster, man,” Lindsey said. “(The recruiting process) started out high and then you start seeing guys in front of you that you are better than getting offers. It was kind of crazy.”

Lindsey ended up signing up to take official campus visits to Montana State, Idaho and Idaho State. Dawgman.com had Lindsey as a first-team preseason all-stater, ahead of University of Washington signees Jordan White-Frisbee (Inglemoor) and Johnie Kirton (Jackson), and listed schools like Nebraska, Colorado, Washington State and Washington as suitors.

Harris was always high on the Huskies’ wish list and made it pretty clear from the start of the process that he wanted to attend the University of Washington.

“He was pretty public about what he was going to do,” Heglar said.

But even with that information, Dawgman.com and Realdawg.com — competing UW recruiting Web sites — were fighting to be the first to report Harris’ verbal commitment. Realdawg.com made the announcement on their site nearly a week before the Washington coaching staff made it official.

“I got a call from coach (Randy) Hart and he asked me what was going on,” Heglar said. “But it all worked out.”

It’s been working out for Samek and other Web site owners in the football recruiting business, as well.

“We are a niche market that people can’t get anywhere else,” he said. “There are probably so many people out there who just want to watch the Huskies play and don’t care about high school kids until they become Huskies. But a lot of people like recruiting.”

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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