Coastal Carolina University recruiting coordinator Cory Bailey vented his frustration last week on Twitter over how high school football players transfer for their senior or junior seasons for more exposure to colleges.
“Transferring to get recruited based on the school you’re at = crazy,” tweeted Bailey, who previously was Division II Assumption College’s head coach. “Dominate where you are ... we will find you! Show loyalty.”
While there is some truth to that argument, it isn’t true in every case.
At IMG Academy, where some coaches from high school football hotbeds in Texas and Georgia blasted the private Bradenton program in the past for recruiting players away, a familiar feature accompanied Wednesday’s spring practice: college coaches in attendance.
“I think those are all recruiting ploys when guys like that (at Coastal Carolina) say that,” IMG Academy head football coach Kevin Wright said. “I heard a Power Five coach make a comment similar to that and then turn around and all their recruiting literature has a couple of our kids on it.”
More than 200 college coaches were expected to watch some of the Ascenders’ practices this spring, and it has benefited multiple players at the star-studded program.
Andre Cisco, Zack Annexstad and Case Gatlin are three IMG players that either had zero or minimal college interest prior to transferring to the national power.
Cisco, a native of New York City, is a defensive back who arrived in August 2016. He developed his skills through IMG’s practices, where four- and five-star prospects are in such abundance that they practice against each other often.
“I feel like IMG is the exception, just because the resources and the college recruiters that come through here,” Cisco said. “You can’t get that anywhere else.”
Annexstad came to IMG Academy along with his brother Brock, who quietly went from not getting much interest and off the Ascenders’ depth chart last fall behind wide receivers’ Brian Hightower and Jhamon Ausbon to walking on at the University of Minnesota.
“You really can’t pass up IMG,” said Zack Annexstad, who is from St. Peters, Minn., and is aiming to earn the starting quarterback job for the fall season.
Annexstad didn’t have any college offers prior to transferring to IMG, but received interest from Holy Cross at Wednesday’s practice.
Gatlin, a native of Boerne, Texas, received interest from two schools prior to transferring to IMG Academy. Now he’s a Virginia commit. And aiding Gatlin isn’t just the football side of the equation, but the academics.
“I feel like I do a lot more here work-wise,” Gatlin said. “... I’d say probably an hour a day, somewhere in there trying to find that time in.”
Studying back home?
“Not really anything,” Gatlin said. “None.”
Sure, there are past IMG players such as Alabama’s Dylan Moses, Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond and Alabama’s Bo Scarbrough who arrived to the Bradenton campus with plenty of offers during their development at their previous high schools. But IMG also enhances the development to the point that those players are college-ready faster.
I feel like IMG is the exception, just because the resources and the college recruiters that come through here. You can't get that anywhere else.
IMG Academy defensive back Andre Cisco
“They went right from here in December to college campuses, and they’re not just competing,” Wright said. “I mean, they’re winning jobs right now.”
The Ascenders, who are expected to contend for the mythical national title again, aren’t playing an intrasquad scrimmage to wrap up the spring as in past years. Instead, they’re playing Clermont East Ridge on Thursday.
“It’s good to go against somebody else, and to do it in a live setting,” Wright said. “Because we don’t do much live to the ground tackling ... so you get a true game-feel.”
Avon Park at Cardinal Mooney, 6:30 p.m.
Out-of-Door Academy at Fort Myers Evangelical Christian, 7 p.m.
Clermont East Ridge at IMG Academy (National), 7 p.m.
Sarasota Booker at Lakewood Ranch, 7 p.m.
Southeast at North Port, 7 p.m.
St. Petersburg Northeast at Palmetto, 7 p.m.
Bayshore at Dunedin, 7:30 p.m.
St. Petersburg Lakewood at Braden River, 7 p.m.
Manatee at Lakeland Lake Gibson, 7:30 p.m.
Note: Bradenton Christian is not playing a spring game this year.