COVID-19 has brought many uncertainties over the past few months for a lot of people. Amongst those affected are high school athletes. With the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) moving the fall sports season to spring, many athletes are concerned about what this means for their sport and the college recruiting process.
The Eastside Catholic (EC) football program has built its reputation over the years as a powerhouse team that attracts a lot of attention from colleges. Since winning the 3A state championship last season for the second year in a row and sending many student athletes to play at top colleges, the EC football program has not slowed down. Many current senior football players are in the process of college recruiting, even as the pandemic has delayed this year’s season.
Typically, colleges have a month-and-a-half period in the spring when they can recruit and meet some of the players in-person, after watching these players in action and seeing their stats from the fall football season.
“We have upward of about 125 schools [colleges] come through during a typical year, which is extremely high,” said Dominic Daste, EC’s head football coach. “A normal school probably gets ten.”
Colleges go to recruit upperclassmen, but also make connections with freshmen and sophomores who they will follow and track through their high school years.
Jaylahn (J.T.) Tuimoloau, the top recruit for the class of 2021, is one of the few athletes who has already gone through this process, yet he is still undecided on which college to play for. The defensive end explains his recruiting process started freshman year. Many athletes being recruited this young usually do not do official visits as underclassmen. Only in their junior year do they go visit a campus to spend a day with a college football team.
“For me, since I never got the chance to do official visits, it is cool having virtual tours, but I’m unable to get a feel for it like I would if it was in person,” Tuimoloau said. “Making a relationship with the coaches though is not as bad as I thought it would be online.”
Will Reed, also a senior at EC, has also switched to virtual recruiting.
“My recruitment picked up during this past season, so around October was when I started getting heavily recruited,” Reed said. “I was able to go on a couple visits [in person] …but since April, March, and on it was all Zoom calls and phone calls.”
Both Tuimoloau and Reed felt that the virtual recruiting process allowed them to keep in contact with a lot more coaches at once. In addition, going to high school remotely also frees up extra time for recruiting. To compensate, colleges are trying harder to develop relationships with athletes and make up for the fact that they cannot meet in-person. Reed committed to University of California, Berkeley, earlier this year.
However, not all athletes have had the luxury to begin their recruiting process so early. Kobe Mauasau, the uncommitted quarterback at EC, transferred to the school last year as a junior from Hawaii. Because his high school in Hawaii did not get nearly the same recruiting interest as EC, Mauasau was unable to start connecting with college programs during his freshman and sophomore years, unlike some of his teammates.
“When I came here to Eastside, it really gave me that look and allowed me to get out there and get noticed,” Mauasau said.
Unfortunately, this means that Mauasau’s entire recruiting process has been virtual. He is unable to meet in person with any coaches and will not be able to do official visits to get a feel for the schools and their football programs.
Mauasau, along with other athletes, are sending footage of themselves from previous seasons and hoping to get the chance to play in the spring and demonstrate their skills. On top of this, many athletes are continuing to practice and workout by themselves, or safely with teammates, in hopes of showing improvement when the season starts back up again.
“I started reaching out to coaches before season and during season, trying to send them as much film as I could, basically anything I had,” Mauasau said. “Some coaches ended up hitting me up after last season and I started connecting with more schools.”
For Mauasau, this diligence has paid off, but what he really wants is the opportunity to play a football season and showcase his skills.
“I only have two offers, but I’m still trying to get myself out there to get recognized by different coaches,” he said.
All the athletes interviewed by the Sammamish Independent agree that having the season up in the air is scary especially for their teammates, who like Mauasau, have not been able to connect with as many schools and coaches as they would like. Athletes across the state have experienced similar feelings of sadness and frustration, and some of them protested in front of the State Capitol in early September to demand Governor Jay Inslee re-instate the fall football season.
“Without a season, that will be really sucky for me, not being able to get that look, so I’m doing everything I can to get myself out there,” Mauasau said.