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Prep football players to sign despite limited opportunities

It was only a few years ago when the first Wednesday of February was circled on calendars across the country as National Signing Day for college football teams.

Several changes have been made in the past few years that have taken some of the luster off the once-celebrated day, such as an early signing day in December that began in 2017, the rise of the transfer portal’s importance and the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19.

All of that has conspired to limit scholarship opportunities for football players coming out of high school across the country, but particularly this year’s senior class in Nevada. Most of them completely lost their junior year to the pandemic, and that’s when most would normally get the film they need for colleges to come calling.

“This year’s senior class got the shaft big time,” Arbor View coach Matt Gerber said. “There are a lot of Division I-level kids who aren’t getting Division I offers. Every college coach I talk to says they’re strapped for scholarships right now.”

The number of scholarships colleges are allowed always has been capped, but that number didn’t increase despite the NCAA granting the extra year of eligibility.

A Football Bowl Subdivision school has a maximum of 85 scholarships and a Football Championship Subdivision school 63, and they now must be spread out among six classes instead of the usual five. Also, with the importance of winning now, many programs are opting to bring in more players from the transfer portal who have played at the college level.

None of that was an issue for the high school players who signed in December. Most of them have been on the college radar for years and are headed to top-level programs, such as Bishop Gorman offensive lineman Jake Taylor (Oklahoma) and defensive back Zion Branch (Southern California). Liberty wide receiver Germie Bernard also signed in December with Washington, but since has been granted his release and enrolled at Michigan State after Washington’s wide receivers coach left for Oregon.

“Signing in December, with the amount of turnover that happens in college football at that time, makes it tough for kids,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said. “Do you pick a school based on the coach that recruited you, or do you pick it for the school? That’s the situation (Germie) found himself in, and I don’t necessarily know if it’s a good thing.”

There are still Division I-caliber players expected to sign Wednesday in the valley, such as Liberty defensive back Saco Alofipo and Desert Pines athlete Jett Solomon at Utah State and Faith Lutheran linebacker Jordan Pollard with San Jose State. Many also are expected to sign with Division II schools or junior colleges.

While most of the focus will be on those who sign Wednesday, Muraco and Gerber stressed it’s not the end of the process. This is only the first day of the signing period, and there probably will be others who sign into March and possibly April.

“There are a lot of ways to bring kids on to campus,” Gerber said. “There aren’t just athletic scholarships. There are things like grayshirts and preferred walk-ons, so the players and coaches will have to see what’s available (after Wednesday). There’s still a lot of time for kids to go find somewhere to play.”

Contact Jason Orts at jorts@reviewjournal.com. Follow @SportsWithOrts on Twitter.

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