The faxes are in, and most of the players are officially committed in the 2018 college football signing class. You’ve argued with rivals on Twitter about kids your school definitely didn’t want, and you’ve heard your head coach blab about how all the needs are filled and that he really likes the class and the team got better today.
With that class in the books, it’s time to immediately focus on the next one. In truth, recruiting never really stops as there are already kids committed to colleges despite being in middle school in some instances. But for the majority of recruits, the time between National Signing Day that happens during their junior year of high school and the end of their senior football season is the most crucial part of their recruitment process because of all of the key moments that happen.
January-March: Junior Days
These are unofficial spring visits that often get players on a campus for the first time. They’re during the spring, and will usually be paired with a big spring sporting event like a home basketball game. They are the introductions of school to player and visa-versa.
The recruits get to meet the head coach, and take pictures with the school’s gear and any trophies it may have won. They get to talk with their potential future position coaches, and the coaches show them how they could be used, what the program looks for at certain positions, and often, how they can improve their skills for the upcoming seasons. Often, this is the first time the player will have met his future position coach, and his area recruiter will make the introduction.
The recruits also get to hear about the academic side of things, including the academic advising and tutoring program. Many prospects and their parents are quite impressed with the individual academic attention given to each prospect, and that’s a major point of emphasis on the tour. Schools want recruits to come away with the impression that the only way they will fail is if they don’t put in the work, or don’t take advantage of the individual help.
As a reporter, this means we’ll get wind of a kid maybe coming to campus on a random March Saturday, and sit outside of the team facility so you can have a player say what his top 14 schools are.
February-May: The camp/combine circuit, and 7-on-7 competitions
There are three major combine/camp circuits — Nike (The Opening), Under Armour, and Adidas (Rivals).
You’ll see more interviews from kids there, but you’ll also get testing results and see them run drills against air. Actual football product, imagine that.
In the vein of barnstorming and actual football product we also have 7-on-7 competitions. These are where the best high school players get together at regional competitions where non-linemen can compete against each other in the common practice drill adapted to team competition.
Strike from Joe Milton. Good ball. pic.twitter.com/aB2Th3Sxpr— SB Nation Recruiting (@SBNRecruiting) March 25, 2017
While some high schools have teams, you’re increasingly more likely to see this as a club competition. South Florida Express, for instance, takes the best players from South Florida and puts them on the same team, as does Florida Fire. They’d never get a chance to play with each other on the same high school team, but much like AAU basketball, this gives them an opportunity to play together.
The three big 7-on-7 circuits to know are NFA, Pylon, and Adidas.
April: High School spring practices
Coaches barnstorm the country visiting hundreds of high schools to see players, talk to them and their coaches, and begin to refine their recruiting boards.
Multiple times during the spring and summer: Rankings releases
The rankings are going to come out, they’re going to be unscientific by nature, and that’s OK. They will have some players comically underrated, and some not rated at all, but part of that has to do with just the way the rankings are done. Players needed to be scouted and evaluated and part of that is done over the summer in camps.
June: School camp circuit
Once most of the high schools are done with their academic year, colleges will host prospects for camps where players will come and sometimes overnight at a school, staying in the dorms and running through drills overseen by a coaching staff.
Can't wait for camp in June! pic.twitter.com/UjR8dO5BkH— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) February 24, 2017
These also are when satellite camps typically happen when different colleges combine to have camps on a different campus.
July: Friday Night Lights camps
Plenty of schools do this around July, the end of the camp season. It’s basically a regular recruiting camp in a team’s actual stadium under the lights. Music blares, fans attend, and it’s a fun event for the kids to participate in.
Teams like to set it up theirs as the ***must attend camp*** of the season and making it a star-studded event with as many top talents as possible is the goal.
July: The Opening
Those Nike regional camps in February, March, and April lead us here right around July 4, the Opening.
You earned it.— The Opening (@TheOpening) June 20, 2017
Now rep it.
See you at Nike World Headquarters. pic.twitter.com/SRtg8oFUzT
The Opening is a truly star-studded showcase and is a veritable whose who of the recruiting circuit. The competition takes place at Nike world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. The nation’s best quarterbacks take part in the Elite 11 for the first two days, and are then joined by skill players and linemen.
When the rest of the players get there on Day 3, the Nike Football Rating Championship takes place. Think of this like the NFL Combine for the top high school players. You can count on the testing numbers being legit as well as eye-popping. This replaces the SPARQ testing system you might have heard of.
There’s also a lineman challenge, where the best OLs and DLs go up 1-on-1, many of them wearing pads to give the most realistic assessment of skill. (Players from some states aren’t allowed to strap up, due to restrictions by their high school athletic associations.)
While the linemen do their thing, the skill players do theirs in a 7-on-7 tournament. It culminates with a final on Sunday to close the event.
August-December: High school seasons, traditional official visit season, and Early Signing Day
By the time August rolls around, it’s time for high school training camps to begin and season to begin near the end of the month. This is where you see the sport can be a year-round venture if a parent truly wants it to be. While opponents of sport specialization caution against this, with the way the offseason circuit has become jammed the trap is easy to fall into.
Official visits also kick up around this time where players go on an all-expenses paid trip to up to five schools. Officials can also take place in the spring starting April 1, 2019 after an NCAA rule change. Officials have in the past coincided with big game weekends on a particular college campus. Those can be tough to travel to if a player has a game on a Friday night and would like to visit a school on the opposite coast, for instance.
High school state championships usually happen around Thanksgiving, and then there is a recruiting sprint in December culminating in the Early Signing Period.
Next January: all-star game season
The big two are the Under Armour All-American game and the U.S. Army All-American Game, but there are other regional all-star games that happen throughout the country involving the best high school players in a particular state.
The Early Signing Period also factors in here because players competing in the games have already signed with their college and risk injury. But they’ve been a mainstay on the recruiting calendar, and aren’t going anywhere.
Next February: National Signing Day
The remaining players sign on the dotted line, and it’s time for the cycle to begin again.