It’s not impossible for athletes from smaller cities to get recruiting attention. Heck, Zion Williamson was the most famous high school athlete in the country while playing in a city with a population of about 35,000 people.
It’s not impossible. But even if you’re good enough, it’s often tough to make the right people notice.
Former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway got his break because a guy who knew a guy happened to be at the South Dakota nine-man football high school championship game the year Greenway’s Mount Vernon High School won the title. John LaFleur, who had kids who played at Iowa, reached out to Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz and said his team needed to see Greenway. It was the future first-round pick’s only Division I offer.
The rest is history for Greenway, who went on to become an All-American at Iowa and a two-time Pro Bowler in the NFL. But one of his first impressions when he joined the Hawkeyes: There were other athletes he played with in high school who could have competed in Division I football but didn’t get the chance.
“What blew me away was, man, all those guys fell through the cracks because they didn’t have the game I had when that guy was watching,” Greenway said.
With the advent of YouTube and social media, it’s become easier for high-level athletes to get attention since Greenway graduated from Mount Vernon High School in 2001. But the biggest challenges persist: the recruiting trips, validating the data athletes send, parsing through videos to find what is true, repeatable talent against reels that are essentially highlight clips. Finding the diamonds in the rough is difficult, especially for sports without comprehensive databases like 247Sports.
Recruitment platform Signing Day Sports, which launched in late 2020 and partnered with Greenway, aims to make it easier for athletes to get on coaches’ radars and give recruiters a more efficient way to parse through athlete information. The program hopes to stand apart from other platforms and video services by offering a wider range of advanced video, metric and filtration features.
One of the most interesting components is the ability for coaches to filter information based on specific needs. If a football team is looking for a speedy lineman, the recruiter can combine height and speed metrics. A baseball recruiter who wants a pitcher with a good fastball-slider combo can filter by velocity, cut and other metrics.
“Think like Zillow. If you’re out looking for a house, and you’re putting in your parameters – exactly the number of bedrooms, location, what zip code, square footage, price range, all of that — the college coach recruiter/player personnel coordinator, they’re doing the exact same thing,” said Signing Day Sports CEO John Dorsey. “They know (the) exact physical characteristic of the individual that’s going to fit in.”
Along with that is the side-by-side video feature. A coach can compare multiple players running drills or compare a player’s form against him or herself in different scenarios. Videos can be played simultaneously, overlaid and run slow-mo.
The data validation of the site ensures metrics are accurate and kept up to date. An athlete who hit a growth spurt doesn’t need to wait for the next camp for recruiters to see the difference in height, speed and strength when the Signing Day Sports account page can be updated and validated.
With a hub for videos and a way for coaches to filter more easily, players are able to get onto the radar of coaches easier without necessarily having to attend an expensive camp, transfer schools or get spotted by the right person.
“It’s an industry that’s flawed — to be nice about it – (and) needs to be disrupted,” Dorsey said. “There’s not a current cohesive system out there that every kid has equal opportunity to be seen. That’s what the purpose of our platform is.”
The site currently offers football, baseball and softball service with other sports in development to come. As of April 11, more than 125,000 athletes have profiles and more than 1,000 high school and club coaches and 600 college/university programs at Div. I, II, III, NAIA and JuCo schools are on the platform.
The basic plan for individual athletes is free but is more limited in allowances than the paid packages, which range from about $20-$30 per month. The program is working with clubs and high school associations in states such as Texas, Minnesota and North Carolina in an attempt to alter the pricing model in the future.
The recruitment industry was forced to change massively during the height of the coronavirus when much more of the process turned virtual. While this created a litany of challenges, the door was open to innovation against the norms: How much data and insight can be gleaned without recruiting trips? How much money can be saved by moving initial interviews and more information validation to the beginning of the process instead of booking an entire trip?
It’s a mammoth task in football, but even more so for the dozens of sports that must accomplish the same on a smaller budget. Many of those sports will be part of the platform down the road.
“You’ve made a college soccer coach’s job so much cheaper, so much easier on a small budget to actually go identify and find these kids,” Greenway said. “It’s not that they don’t want to seek out and find kids – it’s they can’t afford to do it, and I think that just comes down to what you actually have for recruiting budget, how much time and energy you put into it.”
For Signing Day Sports to maximize its potential, coaches must believe that there are enough athletes on the platform who would otherwise escape their notice to be worth signing up. Athletes must believe that it’s a more effective alternative to get on the radar than traditional methods. It also must accommodate the growing NIL sphere, an area that has not yet been integrated into the platform due to the questions and uncertainty around its guidelines that differ state by state.
As Signing Day Sports continues to grow, it can increase exposure to athletes in a way that can help a kid who can’t afford a camp or an athlete like Greenway won’t have to know a guy who knows a guy to be able to reach the next step.
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