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Recruitment processes forced to adjust due to COVID-19 pandemic

Jack Margaros
@JackMargaros

Springfield College head football coach Mike Cerasuolo and his staff should be on the recruiting circuit right now. 

In a normal season, they’d be in the heat of a packed football schedule — using any free moments to travel across New England to scout the top high school football talent. They’ve developed an enviable system of discovering and developing players, boasting a 29-13 record over the past four seasons and one of its best seasons in recent memory in 2017 — when the Pride went undefeated in the regular season. 

Although, that system has been nearly expelled in an unprecedented football season. 

High school football competition this fall is very limited — most are not happening, at least through the end of the year. Regardless, Cerasuolo and his staff have balked from attending any in-person competition for safety reasons, understandably. 

“Traditionally, we’d be everywhere right now. We just didn’t think it was the best idea to go out,” the fourth-year head coach said. 

The recruiting process usually starts in the spring, followed by camp circuits over the summer, then more scouting during the football season in the fall. Without the luxury of attending games in-person, the Springfield coaching staff has been forced to brainstorm creative ways to properly evaluate players while also selling the Springfield College experience — becoming part of the “Brotherhood.”

They’ve resorted to intense film study and countless Zoom meetings as a means of evaluation. Athletes send them “everything” according to Cerasuolo, from last year’s film to current practices, weight lifting sessions and 7 v. 7 competitions.

“Regardless of the situation we’re in right now, these kids are still excited about getting recruited,” Cerasuolo said. “For them, we still want to provide that excitement in some capacity, but it’s different. That doesn’t mean it’s not as good, it’s just different.”

An unforeseen silver lining is the fact that both the high school athletes and college football coaches have extra time on their hands with no season. Getting to know the recruits on a deeper level — albeit through virtual events and Zoom calls — allows coaches to better evaluate the type of character they could potentially bring into their program. 

“Our staff is more engaged with the recruits than ever,” Cerasuolo said. “Now is an opportunity to develop real relationships, rather than just seeing a kid for five minutes at a game afterwards. We’re on the phone with guys, we’re texting guys, we’re sending them more edits and graphics and things like that.”

One dearly missed aspect, however, is the overnight experience for the recruits. In the past, high school players and their families got to spend a day at the College, take tours and enjoy a football game, with the players spending the night with current Springfield football players to experience the social aspect of the campus community. 

“The most challenging thing for us, because we are so people oriented at Springfield, is not being able to get our kids around the recruits as much,” Cerasuolo said. “Zoom gets old, but the true interaction person-to-person is going to be a challenge.”

The same sentiments ring true for Springfield College women’s volleyball head coach Moira Long. This fall season is an especially critical time for recruiting. 

“All of our recruits play in a club season which typically goes from November until May or June. That club season got shut down in March,” she said. 

Similar to Cerasuolo, Long is working with current practice film to evaluate. Still, competition in a high school setting is significantly weaker than club, so true evaluation is tough. 

“You really have to be critical in skill cues and technique they have, not necessarily what’s happening with the ball,” Long said.

She also explained her reliance on alumni and connections within the volleyball community. People she’s known for over two decades have become hubs for information regarding potential recruits. 

“It’s a lot of referrals and blind trust,” Long said.

Fortunately for Long, she’s already had two athletes commit, and is hoping for a handful more. 

There’s always fear of over recruitment, which is compounded this year due to the fact that fall athletes gained an extra year of eligibility as a result of the cancellation of fall sports. Several members of the women’s volleyball team are entrenched in academic programs that take six years to complete, so that extra year could be used when they go to graduate school. 

“I’m not looking to pressure my kids as sophomores, juniors and freshmen (to make that decision),” Long said. “It is a real balancing act because you want it to be a great experience.”

Cerasuolo said his recruiting classes will likely be smaller over the next couple of years. He currently has over 20 football players on a leave of absence so they can take advantage of their extra year of eligibility. 

“We’re never going to load up and over recruit,” he said. “As long as we recruit the right kid, that’s all that matters to us.”

One would like to think fall competition will return to normal in 2021, but it will likely not be like that in terms of recruiting. The effects COVID-19 poses on college recruiting could potentially disrupt incoming classes years down the road.

Photo: Jack Margaros/Springfield Athletics

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