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Recruiting in the age of coronavirus: Players and coaches are adjusting to college recruiting during the pandemic

Recruiting in the age of coronavirus: Players and coaches are adjusting to college recruiting during the pandemic

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - St. Thomas Aquinas linebacker Jaydon Hood took an early-spring visit to Minnesota last month.

He spoke to the coaches, saw the facilities and checked out local establishments where he could have fun if he chose to sign with the Golden Gophers.

He did all of that by video.

"They showed me videos of the facilities, the weight room, the field ... I FaceTimed a couple (coaches), I FaceTimed the strength and conditioning coach, the academic coach, coach (Joseph) Rossi, (Director of Football Recruiting Communications Steven Ruzic) is the one that guided me through the tour, and I ended the tour with coach (P.J.) Fleck. They showed me video of the campus and things I would see there, things outside of campus, like places I could go, non-football related, like to have fun.

"It was kind of like a tour, just online."

Hood, who is rated a four-star linebacker by 247Sports' composite ranking, took a "virtual visit" to Minnesota in lieu of an actual visit because the novel coronavirus pandemic has shut down all in-person college athletics recruiting for the time being.

"Before this quarantine hit, we actually were planning to go see Minnesota eventually in the spring," Hood said, "but, obviously, you can't now."

On Wednesday, the NCAA extended a national dead period through May 31, prohibiting in-person contact between coaching staffs and recruits. Coaches and players can still contact each other over the phone or electronically.

Although he was on the other side of the country while taking his virtual visit, Hood came away impressed by the Golden Gophers.

"It was very good," Hood said. "I liked how you could tell they put a lot of work into it. The videos were amazing. It almost felt like you were there."

Hood said he hasn't had another virtual experience like the one Minnesota provided, but other schools were trying similar recruiting methods.

"Louisville did like a FaceTime tour," Hood said. "They showed me the weight room and stuff like that, but it wasn't as in-depth."

Hood's teammate, St. Thomas Aquinas defensive end and linebacker Dallas Turner - the Sun Sentinel's 2019 Broward County Class 5A-1A defensive player of the year at American Heritage - has major programs recruiting him heavily. He said he had to delay a visit to Alabama because of COVID-19.

"The day I woke up to go to the airport, they canceled (the visit) because of the virus," Turner said.

During this recruiting dead period, recruiting has slowed but not stopped. Players are still reporting new offers each day. University School quarterback Nick Vattiato, a first-team All-County pick the last two seasons, has received offers from Holy Cross, Louisiana and Marshall in the past several days.

"It's definitely been different because basically If you had planned a visit anywhere during a college's spring ball, that got canceled," Vattiato said. "And now I don't really know what's going to happen with our spring ball. So a lot of coaches have been telling me the same thing. It's kind of like, 'If you guys have spring, and then I can come down and see you, then I will.' But the way things are going, pretty much every coach is waiting and seeing what's going to happen, which is all anyone can do right now. It's hard because all you can do is talk on the phone or talk or text."

Miami Hurricanes offensive line coach Garin Justice said the downtime during quarantine has actually allowed college coaches more time to recruit.

"What else do we really have to do right now (during quarantine)?" Justice said. "We have to fill our day with recruiting, and from a positive standpoint, it's allowed us to really take a step back, take a deep breath and really do a nice job with what we're doing recruiting-wise."

However, the coronavirus pandemic has jeopardized a crucial part of the recruiting calendar: spring football.

The Florida High School Athletic Association announced Tuesday that all athletic events were postponed through May 3. Spring football was scheduled to begin on April 27. No final decision has been announced regarding spring football or other spring sports in Florida.

Before the NCAA announced the extension of the recruiting dead period, an evaluation period was scheduled to begin on April 15.

Justice said coaches are relying heavily on film and recommendations from coaches because it's unlikely they will have the chance to go to spring practices to evaluate players in person.

"I guess probably the good thing is it makes you rely on film," Justice said. "At the end of the day, you want to recruit guys who are good football players. I think sometimes when you do go and do spring recruiting, I guess the negative would be you fall in love with a guy because you see him work out in the weight room or you see him do things that aren't necessarily football-related, and there's a bias sometimes that can kick in if you do that.

"I think the good news now is that we really have to rely on the opinions of the high school coaches and really what we see on the high school tape, and I think that's the biggest thing we're trying to take, as far as our offers."

Vattiato, who is rated a three-star prospect and the No. 30 dual-threat quarterback in his class, said the lack of a spring evaluation period could hurt players looking for college opportunities.

"Not knowing if we're even going to have spring football this year is really hard," Vattiato said. "Everyone knows that's when recruiting is in the thick of it."


Sun Sentinel staff writer David Furones contributed to this report.

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