Hillsborough's Agrinzonis navigates the non-Division I landscape in search of playing time

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Sat. March 3, 2012 | Laura Keeley | Email

Hillsborough's Agrinzonis navigates the non-Division I landscape in search of playing time

TAMPA — Hillsborough High quarterback Jeremy Agrinzonis was a two-year starter for a team that only lost to state champions or state runners-up during his tenure. He’s always played football, and he’s not quite ready to hang it up.

So, one Sunday in February, Agrinzonis, decked out in a pale blue dress shirt, khaki pants and a matching striped tie, made his way to the Jefferson cafeteria in hopes of finding a place to continue his playing career.

Forty-seven colleges from around the country, mainly Division IIIs with a few D-IIs and NAIAs mixed in, descended upon Tampa for the annual high school recruiting fair. On Feb. 18, 62 area high schools set up tables with computers and projectors to show colleges film on seniors still looking for a place to play.

Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia and offensive coordinator Max Warner showed off Agrinzonis’ highlight reel, along with his 5.71 weighted GPA and ACT score of 26 (most colleges didn’t look at players with a GPA below 3.0 and an ACT score not in the 18-20 range). In Agrinzonis’ case, 16 schools requested to see him the next day.

Wooster. St. Vincent. Ohio Northern. Hiram. Cornell (Iowa). Methodist. Geneva. DePauw. Maryville. St. Norbert. Adrian. Ohio Wesleyan. Millsaps. Defiance. Presentation. And Concordia.

So, armed with a typed list of those schools, Agrinzonis, along with parents Robert and Marisol, made his way through the crowded cafeteria with more than 300 other seniors and their escorts.

Over the next two hours, he heard a variety of pitches. Some emphasized academics while making passing references to football. Others showed off pictures of their facilities and the all-conference awards of their alumni. But the schools that stood out most were the ones that did what some, apparently, took for granted: took a few seconds to make Agrinzonis feel wanted.

“I liked when the colleges would say they already knew me, they’d already seen my film, and they were real interested, so that kind of caught my attention,” Agrinzonis said. “If you feel wanted, you’re going to be more interested in that school.”

St. Vincent, a school of 1,800 undergraduates in Latrobe, Pa. (about 30 miles outside of Pittsburgh), told him he would have a chance to play right away. Millsaps (Miss.) told him to be leery of schools making promises. Adrian (Mich.) College told him its staff “doesn’t recruit under false pretenses” or “blow smoke” at prospects. Missouri Valley talked with him even though they hadn’t requested to see him and claimed to not have seen his film. Then Agrinzonis and family heard from nine more.

“It was kind of tiring hearing the same thing,” his dad said. “You got to decipher who is recruiting and who’s telling the truth.”

“It’s like, you go to one, and you like, ‘Oh yeah, that sounds good’ and then you go to another one, ‘Well, yeah, this sounds good, too, he sounds good,’ and it’s overwhelming, I think,” his mom added.

Agrinzonis, for his part, didn’t get rattled as he filled out form after form and listened to pitch after pitch (“We should have brought a shopping bag to hold all of this,” joked Marisol about the various handouts from each school).

Tuition at most schools in attendance was $30,000-plus, and some had sticker prices as high as $50,000. But each one worked to assure the Agrinzonises no one actually paid that much. Agrinzonis queried about student body size and offensive schemes.

“We recruit boys and graduate men,” Geneva defensive coordinator Mike Pinchotti told him. “I can promise you this — you will graduate, and I will be there to shake your hand,” he said, adding that only four players in the past 19 years left without a degree before shifting the talk toward Xs and Os.

“You’ve got to balance it,” Pinchotti said later. “Parents are very interested in the academics, but you’ve got to remember that these guys want to play football, too.”

St. Norbert followed suit. “This is our average ACT score,” said special teams coordinator Bob DeKeyser as he scribbled No. 25 on a white envelope and showed it to the Agrinzonises. “I saw 45 quarterbacks yesterday, but today, I only asked to see two.”

Maryville, though, outdid them all.

After Agrinzonis briefly talked with one assistant, Shaun Hayes, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, caught him as he was walking to another school’s table. “Our coach kept talking about you in the hotel last night, he told me I had to speak with you,” Hayes said.

Then Hayes diagrammed defenses and drew up plays that the two dissected together. And Hayes encouraged Agrinzonis to attend an information session the school was holding for prospective football players in Celebration the next week.

Two weeks later, Maryville, also one of the closer schools with its Tennessee location, is at the top of Agrinzonis’ list. Geneva, Cornell, Methodist, Wooster, all of which he’s corresponded with, are on there, too. The lone school still in the running that hasn’t contacted him is Ohio Northern, whose PowerPoint presentation highlighted its 105 oak lockers, three 42-inch HDTVs in the players lounge, football-only weight room and 42 D-III All-Americans.

Agrinzonis, though, knows his future will require him to make a living outside of football. And he hasn’t ruled out trying to walk on at Maryland, FIU, FAU or West Florida, all schools that have accepted him. But, if the financials can be worked out, he’d love to play four more years.

“I want to use football to get a good education,” he said. “I’m proud of myself that I don’t have to rely on it. Some kids, if it’s not football, it’s like, ‘I’ll probably end up going to a community college of something.’ I’m just glad I have options.”

Laura Keeley can be reached at lkeeley@tampabay.com

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