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WITH COVID-19 SHUTDOWN, OFFSEASON OPPORTUNITIES FOR HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PLAYERS DISAPPEAR

By Jon Manley - Tacoma News Tribune, 04/10/20, 9:45AM PDT

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With COVID-19 shutdown, offseason opportunities for high school football players disappear

BY JON MANLEY

APRIL 09, 2020 05:00 AM, UPDATED APRIL 09, 2020 12:19 PM

Steilacoom’s Chance McDonald warms up before the game. Steilacoom played Ridgefield in a football game at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma, Wash., on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. JOSHUA BESSEX JOSHUA.BESSEX@GMAIL.COM

Coming off a productive junior year in his first season as the starting quarterback for the Steilacoom High School football team, in which he led the Sentinels to the Class 2A state championship game, Chance McDonald felt this offseason was his time to shine.

Until suddenly, it wasn’t.

With states working diligently to curb the spread of COVID-19, effectively shutting down much of normal day-to-day activities, sports have understandably taken a backseat. With schools shut down for the remainder of the school year in Washington, high school spring sports are out the window. But the pandemic stretches further into the high school sports world, with many planned summer sports either on hold or canceled altogether.

That means McDonald, who threw for 3,812 yards in the 2019 season, with 49 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, likely won’t have the chance to keep the momentum rolling into offseason 7-on-7 tournaments, showcases and college football camps — along with plenty of other high school football recruits who were banking on offseason exposure to see their stock rise, hopeful of bringing in some scholarship offers.

“It’s a very confusing time for coaches and players,” McDonald said. “We can’t go on visits, can’t go on (college) campuses, they can’t come to us. It’s hard to make those connections with coaches.”

McDonald, considered a three-star prospect by 247sports.com, holds offers from San Jose State, Western Kentucky, Bucknell, Idaho, Georgetown and Montana State-Northern. He plays for Elite Training Academy (ETA) 7-on-7, based out of Monroe, splitting reps with Lake Stevens quarterback Tanner Jellison.

“I had a lot more confidence (heading into this offseason),” McDonald said. “Coming into this year, starting my first year, didn’t expect to make it to the state championship. I always tried to play my best. … This year would’ve been amazing. Now, when I go to these college camps, I have the confidence to tell coaches, ‘We made it this far in the season.’ It would’ve been beneficial. It’s upsetting. It’s upsetting for other people, too.”

Brandon Huffman, 247sports.com’s national recruiting editor, said recruits not being able to take official visits to colleges has had the biggest impact.

“Colleges are shut down; that’s where it hurts,” Huffman said. “Coaches want to get kids onto campus, take a look at them, see how they look physically. Potentially, June is the earliest that could happen now. For a lot of guys, they needed coaches to come by and look at these guys. That second tier of guys are now seeing their recruitment be on hold until coaches can get eyes on them.”

The top-tier recruits — Kennedy Catholic quarterback Sam Huard, Lincoln athlete Julien Simon, Eastside Catholic’s J.T. Tuimoloau, Steilacoom’s Emeka Egubka and others — aren’t affected by the shutdown. They’ll still have plenty of suitors and will have their pick of big-time college football programs. It’s the next tier of players that are hurt by the shutdown.

“Those top-tier dudes, college coaches are going to come see,” Huffman said. “That allowed a lot of second-tier guys to get exposure because of the amount of talent around (Washington). National programs that were making the Northwest a stop on their recruiting trip, that’s gone. Some panic has set in with recruits.”

The Northwest 7on7 Association tournaments are on hold. The Avery Strong Showcase is on hold. The Heir Football Showcase has been wiped out. The Under Armour Camp, the Dick’s Sporting Goods Combine, all on hold. The list goes on.

“Whether you’re a lineman or skill position guy, your opportunity to get onto national radars has been mostly wiped away,” Huffman said.

For Huffman and others in the recruiting industry, it’s a challenge, also. The spring and summer is where recruiting analysts put together the bulk of their scouting reports ahead of the high school football season.

“I’m busier during the spring and summer than during football season,” Huffman said. “At a high school football game, you see two teams. You can see guys from 60, 70, 80 different schools during these showcases. You get to see far more guys and a more even-level playing field. With 150 kids that are elite players, how do they stack up against their peers?”

That’s more telling than say, looking at a football player’s stat line from a 56-0 blowout from a fall Friday night.

College recruiters, who are used to being on the road and living out of a suitcase, are having to get more creative about their recruiting approach, too.

“It’s funny, you’re seeing a lot of different approaches to it,” Huffman said. “A lot of schools are doing everything they can to market their program. Spring football, spring season is the best time to showcase their campus. Without that ability, schools that have been more aggressive in recruiting are doing more on social media.”

In the South Sound, a few names came to mind for Huffman that could be impacted recruiting-wise by the shutdown.

“(Steilacoom linebacker) DJ Fryar, (Steilacoom wide receiver) Tre Horner are probably the first two that come to mind. Chance McDonald. A lot of Steilacoom guys. Chance, being a quarterback, he was in a position where you’ll throw the ball to Emeka. That gave Chance a chance to throw for these coaches, with them coming to see Emeka. The Steilacoom guys, especially, are hurt by that.”

Huffman also mentioned Tumwater’s crop of players, 6-foot-5 tight end Austin Terry and 6-foot-6 tight end Ryan Otton, who recently picked up an offer from Washington. Also, 6-foot-2, 300-pound defensive tackle Jacob Schuster, The Olympian’s 2019 All-Area player of the year, who holds offers from WSU, Cal and Boise State, to name a few.

“Schuster has great film,” Huffman said. “Coaches wanted to see how big he was.”

Depending on how long the shutdown continues, high school football players could miss the entirety of the summer schedule. That would place even more importance on the high school season, when the lights come on. McDonald, along with the rest of his class, is staying ready.

“Just telling myself to find new ways every day to make myself better,” McDonald said. “Try to learn some new things. And just keep working out, get some reps in.”

 

Steilacoom’s Tre Horner celebrates a touchdown during the first quarter. Steilacoom played Tumwater in the 2A WIAA Football State Championship at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup, Wash., on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019.

Tumwater defenders Max Henry (55) and Ryan Otton celebrate Gaven Murphy’s fumble recovery early in Saturday’s 2A state quarterfinal football game against Archbishop Murphy at Tumwater District Stadium on Nov. 23, 2019.

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Steilacoom’s Tre Horner celebrates a touchdown during the first quarter. Steilacoom played Tumwater in the 2A WIAA Football State Championship at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup, Wash., on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. JOSHUA BESSEX JOSHUA.BESSEX@GATELINE.COM

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JON MANLEY

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Jon Manley covers high school sports for The News Tribune. A McClatchy President’s Award winner, Manley has covered the South Sound sports scene since 2013. Born and raised in Tacoma.