To say that the landscape of college athletic recruiting has changed in the past year is a huge understatement.  A worldwide pandemic will do that.

An argument can be made, however, that while college coaches have been hamstrung by new rules, changing dates of when certain recruiting processes are allowed, and simply having less chance to visually evaluate players, some high school athletes may actually benefit from the lack of thoroughness that college coaches have historically enjoyed. 

I defy you to to tell the difference between a kid who runs a 4.5 forty and one who runs a 4.6.  But that one-tenth of a second can earn or cost a kid a star.  And that’s how these kids are rated. Stars. The same way as hotels.

This is not to suggest kids are “slipping through the cracks,” earning spots on teams they normally wouldn’t.  More realistically, perhaps, more emphasis is being put on an athlete’s potential, their “upside,” in lieu of available game tape and / or performances at combines and camps. 

There’s an old coaching cliche that rings true now more than ever: ‘you can’t teach size.’  Feel free to insert one of the many attributes college coaches look for in student-athletes, that are natural and honed by the athlete over time.

That being said, while this new culture of recruiting may be giving a certain level of athlete more options on where he or she chooses to attend college ... the double-edged sword is sharp, in that it’s inevitably making that decision more difficult. 

Historically, in our area, a typical decision for our athletes may come down to choosing between Lycoming, Wilkes and Misericordia, or which Penn State branch campus to go to.

That is not a knock on any of those schools, or our athletes. Please don’t take it as such. The reality is, Division 1 athletes are rare.

We have had local athletes choose to compete at higher levels, with varying degrees of success.

I have been a loud proponent (mostly to my gigantic list of seven followers on Twitter) of kids taking care to choose going somewhere they can actually “play” the sport they love.

“Do you want to be a football players or do you just want to say you’re on a football team?”

That has been my rallying cry to any kid who actually had the option between, say, playing at a Lock Haven or Bloomsburg, or walking on at Pitt, Rutgers or Akron. 

My feelings on this are somewhat personal. I chose wrong.

Not to insinuate I had tons of options to choose from coming out of high school, or that my college football “career” would have gone any differently if I had chosen a lower division of play.  The simple truth is, I had exactly one offer to play at a Division II school. Well, two, but at that time, Mansfield was D-II only on paper.
In my mind, then, going to a higher level meant I was better. Better than D-III.  The D-II school coaches told me I could play D-II.  They roomed me with, and next to, kids from powerhouse high schools from the WPIAL, from Berwick and Steelton.  I believed I could play there.

Unfortunately, I was so, so wrong.  I simply was not good enough. Definitely not right away. The extremely long road ahead I had to look forward to, until I could “maybe” see any sort of playing time, or even suiting up, was made very evident to me, as I was handed a jersey and found that I was the THIRD player to receive that number!  Not even the second ...THIRD!  But, I digress.
I was not good enough. I don’t know if I was even good enough for the few lowly-Division-III schools I scoffed at after getting my big D-II offer.  I definitely was not good enough for where I was.

So I preached, to any kid that would listen:

“Go somewhere you can play!”

“You’ll be a tackling dummy at that big school!”

“You’ll never see the field!”

“You’ll transfer out in a year!”

“You’ll get your helmet knocked off on the first day of practice by a safety from Berwick!” 

Okay, I added the last one just, well, because I actually did.

But the rest of those extremely encouraging sentiments?  They’re eerily similar to the kind of nonsense I’ve been hearing lately, in regards to Canton’s Ben Knapp announcing that he is accepting an offer to attend Penn State and to play football for the Nittany Lions as a “Preferred Walk-On.”

Let me repeat a few key words of that sentence ...


If, at any time, ANY negativity, jealousy or utter ignorance, such as my previous opinions convey, is relayed to this young man concerning his decision, I urge him, and anyone who cares about him, to loudly, emphatically and with as strong of “sentence enhancers” as you see fit, repeat the above..


To any adult who feels anything but pride and excitement for this kid, I feel sorry for you.

To any that “vocally” express anything but pride and excitement for him, shame on you.

To the kids in nearby towns who think they can now just show up on Penn State’s campus, try out and make the team?  You probably can’t.

James Franklin didn’t pick Knapp’s name out of a hat and offer him a guaranteed spot on his football team. Oh, your team held him to one or two catches this year in your high school game?  I don’t care. Neither does James Franklin. 

Knapp didn’t just pop up on college coaches’ radar.  He’s been working toward this for a lot of the few years he’s been alive.

But, if you — the 5’7”, 140 pound linebacker whose team “held” him to two catches — want to try and keep playing ball, then go try.  Contact some D-III and D-II coaches. Look into NAIA schools. I’m probably even partial to the Sprint program at Mansfield University, where a seldom-used kid on a bad high school team can go and damn-near lead the entire league in receiving his sophomore year.

BUT, if there is even the slightest chance, let alone a “guarantee,” you can wear the blue-and-white, and run out onto the field at Beaver Stadium, you do that.

And all of us — fans, parents, teammates, alumni, opponents, we applaud that decision. We congratulate you, wish you the absolute best, and we cheer like hell for you.

And Ben, we don’t care what number you wear, or how many guys ahead of you have the same one! 

Best of luck, young man.

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