PART 2 | Recruiting's become a world-wide phenomenon

Internet makes it easier than ever for players to market themselves

jlembo@bradenton.comAugust 2, 2010 

BRADENTON — Click on ‘play’ with your mouse, and the screen goes black.

Next comes a name, a number and a year.

Wait a beat, and there it is — a highlight reel.

There are clips of a running back zipping down the sideline. Clips of a defensive lineman barreling toward the ballcarrier. Clips of a wide receiver burning his man over the middle and gliding untouched into the end zone.

If the play gets too muddled, the film pauses briefly and the star of the video is marked with a yellow arrow.

And it’s all on your computer.

It has never been easier for high school prospects to market themselves and get their names out to the top-tier colleges — which is good, because it has never been more important.

The Internet, coupled with camcorders and desktop editing programs, has made it possible for anyone to splice together a reel of clips to show to college coaches.

Thanks to sites such as YouTube and the speed of e-mail, it’s possible for anybody to see it.

Just ask Manatee High running back Mike Blakely, whose friend decided to take all of his most impressive plays and make an eight-minute video.

That video has more than 12,000 hits on YouTube. It’s anyone’s guess if that’s the reason the Hurricanes’ rising senior has received 37 Division I offers — the fact that he totaled nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage last year didn’t hurt — but the reel is out there for everybody to see.

“The last thing they (colleges) are going to look at is the tape,” Manatee assistant coach Chris Conboy said. “That’s what they’re going to make their final decision on.”

Conboy saw it first-hand two years ago with former Manatee running back Ben Axon. Conboy sent a tape of Axon’s highlights to Derek Williams, the founder of SunshinePreps. Williams, who began running his business in Tampa and has now expanded into Texas, examines every play a prospect participated in for an entire year, whittles it down to a file ranging from one to three minutes and sends it out to colleges.

After completing Axon’s reel, Williams told Conboy to expect a call or two.

“The next day, Florida State called and offered Ben” a scholarship, Conboy said.

This is the age of advanced technology. Everyone wants their information now, not later. So instead of waiting a week for a clunky videotape to arrive in the mail, coaches have databases full of prospects sent right to their e-mail.

“With the way the economy is now, a lot of these colleges can’t go on the road as they have in the past,” said Allan Gerber, a former college coach who is now the Bradenton Christian head coach. “Technology has taken over that realm.

“Anyone with a camcorder and desktop computer can be their own agent.”

Or they can just go to Williams. His job sounds simple — he cuts down 10 or more games’ worth of highlights into a few minutes, creates a database of prospects and fires it off to colleges that pay for his services.

Williams does not charge players or their families.

Just like that, college coaches have game film on hundreds of players in Florida waiting for them in their inbox.

“I started sending one VHS cassette tape of 35 kids to colleges, and some kids started getting real exposure,” Williams said. “It just blew up from there.”

Unlike high school coaches, he doesn’t have to worry about splicing together film while trying to cobble together a game plan for Friday night.

“High school coaches are paid to coach, they’re not paid to be video experts,” Williams said.

Suddenly, Williams found himself flying to different colleges across the country — or playing host to BCS football coaches looking to watch some game film.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m running a bed and breakfast,” he said. “But it’s exciting.”

Thanks to the Internet, juniors and seniors aren’t the only ones able to get exposure. When watching a full season on film, Williams can also pluck out an underclassman or two who may be special.

“Instead of a coach hearing about a big player (graduating) in 2012,” he said, “I can show them.”

And technology has made it easier for everyone involved. Gerber remembers receiving bins full of videocassettes and letters. Williams recalled a time when his house was stuffed with piles of VHS tapes, which eventually gave way to DVDs.

“That turned into a hard drive where I can house 1,500 games,” he said, “and put it in my pocket.”

Of course, marketing a prospect isn’t limited to video. Prep players go to all the camps they can to try to pass the collegiate coaches’ eyeball tests, and Manatee is hoping to increase its exposure when its Aug. 27 Kickoff Classic against Tampa Plant is broadcast live on ESPN — a week before the Hurricanes head to Pennsylvania to face Woodland Hills.

“It’s about how many people will look at you,” Gerber said. “It’s a numbers game.”

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