TRAVERSE CITY — Christian Boivin never thought a part of trying to become a college football player would be sending prospective coaches photos of himself next to common objects in his house.
After hours of highlight tapes and workouts sent to coaches, what they wanted next was to see how Boivin measured up against a chair.
Normally coaches would get these measurables at camps and campus visits, but the coronavirus pandemic has thrown a wrench in the recruiting cycle, among other things.
“The hardest part comes down to the unknowns because there isn’t a lot of communication between colleges and those players that are in the middle right now,” said Boivin, a potential Division 1 recruit and Traverse City West senior. “If you don’t have the obvious intangibles like height or weight it’s hard for colleges to want to commit to you if they can’t see you play. It’s hard to prove yourself.”
College recruits have always had a formula to follow when trying to find the place they want to continue their athletic careers.
Create a highlight video. Attend in-person camps and summer tournaments. Field phone calls from coaches and visit perspective campuses. See games and facilities in action with the fanfare that surrounds it all. Sign a national letter-of-intent in front of peers and family.
Many unprecedented things happened in 2020 and student athletes who have hopes to play college sports are experiencing a whole new type of recruiting trail.
Athletes who have interest from Division 1 schools are experiencing the same thing as those who are looking in the lower divisions. They are stuck making decisions on virtual tours and video calls with coaches few have met in person. Coaches are having to commit to players who they may never have seen play in person.
Restrictions on college campuses and high schools limited access for athletes and coaches across the nation and local students are no exception. Many scouts have been unable to attend high school games because of attendance and travel restrictions.
Athletes are having to find new ways to prove themselves and show their skills to perspective coaches. Boivin said he’s had to do a workout over video chat to get in front of interested schools.
“It’s definitely difficult not knowing when you could be able to see a coach in person and actually talk about it or being able to visit,” Bellaire senior softball player MacKenzie Hoogerhyde said. “You have to go by all the regulations that have been put in place.”
Hoogerhyde went the route of many seniors and used recruiting that happened prior to the pandemic to aid in her decision. The biggest difference for Hoogerhyde came on her signing day. Hoogerhyde inked with Mid-Michigan Community College to play softball on Nov. 9, but the normal fanfare of a signing day in front of her peers was disrupted.
“My classmates were looking forward to me signing, so that made that special feeling not go away even though they all couldn’t make it,” Hoogerhyde said.
For those who still haven’t made a decision, it is getting tougher by the day as time wears thing for the senior class of 2021. Seasons are being marred by the pandemic and athletes have even less chances to get on the field to showcase their skills.
Onekama seniors Johnny Neph and Ben Falk ran into an uncommon scenario in that neither has much game film from this year. The Portagers completed only one game this season because of low numbers and injuries.
Onekama lost 28-6 to Vestaburg to open the season, then won one game by forfeit, forfeited two others and had to stop their regular-season finale against Brethren at halftime because of injuries and opted out of the playoffs for the same reason.
In that one game, Neph ran for 125 yards and threw for 60 more against Vestaburg.
Falk, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound defensive tackle, has a similar game to Dalron Gray, a 2019 Onekama grad who committed to play on the D-line at Alma College. Both Neph and Falk plan to attend a showcase later this year in order to generate some interest.
“(Ben) is young for a senior,” Portagers head coach John Neph said. “He’ll graduate at 17. He can get bigger and go from there.”
The lack of campus visitations has been a big hindrance for student athletes trying to decide where they will live and play for the next four years.
“Coaches are still reaching out, but I’m not allowed to go on campus,” Traverse City Central senior football player Austin Bills said. “Since the start of all of this we haven’t be able to visit anywhere.“
Virtual walkthroughs of campus and athletic facilities don’t offer the same feeling of connectedness according to Bills and he said it has made it more difficult to find the right fit.
The waning timeline for senior recruits only puts more pressure on them to make a decision with the limited knowledge they have — and puts coaches in a tough place to commit to them long-term.
Boivin said the biggest part of his decision is trying to understand the culture of a program and doing that via telephone is hard to grasp. Building relationships and connections with new programs has become a new type of hurdle for student athletes to manage in 2020.