June 30, 2016
ANN ARBOR — Owen Pappoe received a college scholarship offer before he ever played a single snap of high school football.
He was just 14 years old.
“I actually thought it was illegal to offer eighth-graders,” said Pappoe, now an incoming sophomore linebacker at Grayson High School in Georgia. “I was not expecting that.”
Per NCAA rules, schools can’t extend official written offers until Aug. 1 before a prospect’s senior season, but there’s no age limit on verbals.
So early Wednesday morning, when Sol-Jay Maiava, an eighth-grade quarterback from Hawaii, tweeted that he received a scholarship offer from Michigan, he joined the latest of the young and sought-after.
Maiava’s announcement came on the heels of Jim Harbaugh leading a pair of camps in Hawaii since Sunday. The Michigan coach has been a lightning rod of controversy due to his whirlwind tour of satellite camps this month and extending an offer to an eighth-grader undoubtedly will be criticized by some.
However, Harbaugh certainly is not the first coach to offer a recruit before he even enters high school. It’s actually becoming more common, and Michigan State recently joined a growing list of schools that have offered Jesus Machado, an eighth-grade linebacker from Florida.
“Michigan, under Harbaugh, has been a lot more aggressive with their verbal offers,” said Steve Lorenz, a recruiting analyst for Wolverine247. “It’s gotten them into a couple situations, I think, but for the most part it’s what most schools in the country do. They’re not doing anything that’s uncommon or that’s way out of the box as far as the general landscape right now.”
HOW YOUNG IS TOO YOUNG?
John Herrington has been the head coach at Farmington Hills Harrison since the program started in 1970. He’s won 420 games and 13 state championships, sent players to the NFL and is a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
In 53 years of coaching, Herrington has noticed a significant change in the way players are recruited.
“I used to like it when they didn’t offer a guy until after his senior year, to tell you the truth, because I’m old school,” he said. “I understand why they’re doing it, so they can throw out the offers now and see how a kid develops.”
Herrington coached quarterback Drew Stanton, a 10-year NFL veteran now with the Arizona Cardinals, and his former star wasn’t recruited nearly the way players are now. Herrington said he’s never had a player in his program receive an offer before entering high school. For the first time, he has two incoming sophomores, who played on the JV team last season, with offers.
“In my opinion, when you offer kids that young, I don’t know how it’s going to affect their high school careers,” Herrington said. “That’s what I worry about.”
Detroit Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher sees potential problems when a young recruit already has an offer while an older teammate — who is bigger, stronger and faster — doesn’t. That can lead to friction, Wilcher says.
“The most important thing I’m noticing is it tears up the team camaraderie, it tears up the work ethic system, it tears up the philosophy behind ‘Do your best in high school and that’s where they’re going to come get you at,'” he said. “It just tears down that system.
“These offers are going to come, they need to come, but the problem is it’s just breaking down the system in what people have established of trying to get the kids to high school to work hard and do more.”
YOUNGER PLAYERS, MORE OFFERS
As recruits are becoming more active in getting their names out there by competing nationwide, coaches are increasingly extending more offers and to younger players.
Then-USC coach Lane Kiffin made national headlines in 2010 when he offered a scholarship to seventh-grade quarterback David Sills, who verbally committed. That came when he was only 13 years old.
Kiffin was fired in 2013 and Sills didn’t end up signing with USC. He decommitted in 2014 and ultimately signed with West Virginia. He moved moved to wide receiver and recently transferred to El Camino College in California.
Other recent examples:
• Rashan Gary, Michigan’s prized freshman from from Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey, received an offer from Rutgers while in eighth grade. He went on to become the consensus No. 1 overall player in the 2016 class, and signed with the Wolverines.
• Dylan Moses, a linebacker from Louisiana who is now at IMG Academy in Florida, received an offer from LSU before starting eighth grade. He’s now the No. 2 2017 overall recruit in the nation, according to 247 Sports Composite rankings, and has about 40 offers, including Alabama, Ohio State, Texas, Michigan — just about every top program in the nation.
• Zadock Dinkelmann, a quarterback from Somerset High School in Texas, received an offer from LSU in eighth grade. The nephew of 1990 Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer is committed to the Tigers’ 2018 class.
It’s important to note that verbal offers are non-binding, as are verbal commitments from players. Coaches are prohibited from commenting on recruits until they’ve signed a national letter of intent, which can’t happen until February of the players’ senior year.
Michigan, according to 247Sports, has extended offers to 290 players in the 2017 class. Harbaugh might have room for less than 10 percent of those players. But his program isn’t alone, it’s just the current state of college football.
“With just the way the landscape is right now, for the school to throw (an offer) out there, there’s not a lot of downside,” Lorenz said. “The only downside is if the kid doesn’t develop and the kid still wants to go to Michigan and they say he doesn’t have an offer. That’s the only situation where it becomes sticky, but it’s so commonplace now for schools to claim an offer to a guy and then stop recruiting him.”
WHAT’S THE VALUE OF AN OFFER?
Michigan continues to become more aggressive in recruiting under Harbaugh, who said his program will look at any individual who is competitive in the classroom, on the football field and is a good citizen. He said the program doesn’t hide how it operates in and has referred to it as a “meritocracy.” There are expectations for recruits to improve in order to make sure a scholarship offer is one that can actually be accepted.
Wilcher, who has a slew of Division I prospects at Cass Tech, including five-star receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, said there’s one question that each recruit and his parents should ask a college coach who extends an offer.
“Is it an offer that I can commit to?” Wilcher said. “Or is it an offer I cannot commit to? Do I have to keep coming back to the university and continuing to work out? That’s what I want to know.
“You have a lot of non-committal offers out there. What happens is, when these kids get these offers they get fixated on these schools and aren’t able to commit.”
As college coaches extend more offers to younger players, the value can be diminished. A prospect may have an offer, but a school can simply stop recruiting a player and tell him to look elsewhere.
“Given the current landscape of the recruiting world, I don’t think it’s going to slow down anytime soon unless the NCAA steps in and enforces these offers to be written and not verbal,” Lorenz said. “I think you’re going to continue to see it.
“We see kids that get offered right now that will be (2017) seniors that don’t necessarily have committable offers before national signing day, let alone a guy like (Maiava, the 2020 quarterback from Hawaii).”
Brady Hoke, who coached Michigan from 2011-14, is believed to be the first Wolverines coach to offer a high school freshman, which came in 2013 for Isaac Nauta, who signed with Georgia’s 2016 class. Harbaugh, according to Lorenz, is the first Michigan coach to offer an eighth-grader and did so twice last year for Pappoe and Blake Hinson, a wide receiver from Florida.
Pappoe is preparing for his sophomore season and now has 35 offers, including Alabama, Auburn, Florida State and others, all since the first was extended from Boston College. He’s not even old enough to get a driver’s license, but is being pursued by the top college coaches.
“It’s really like a dream come true, being that young getting offers from, not just any college, but some of the top programs in the country, big-name schools,” he said. “It just feels great.”