LARGO — National signing day has become a holiday at Largo High, where the football program has advanced to the state semifinals the past two seasons.
For the school's top players, the yearlong recruiting bonanza ended Wednesday with a celebration as linebacker Mike Marry (Mississippi) and Mike Lang (Connecticut) sat at a table facing banks of cameras and signed their letters of intent to attend college.
For others, such as Largo quarterback Ryan Eppes, the day after signing day signified the beginning of their recruitment.
Smaller Division I-A and I-AA schools and most of the D-II and D-III schools wait until after signing day before offering scholarships. Simply put, they want to see who didn't get scholarships from the major schools, then they snatch up the best of the rest.
"Signing day is the big splash that everyone sees," said Davidson assistant Brett Hayford, son of Shore-crest football coach Phil Hayford. "But for schools not on the Division I level, it becomes pretty busy because we're trying to get the guys that fall through the cracks."
Even after signing day, Eppes continues to worry about his potential college choices. A few programs seem like good fits. Now he needs to let them know of his interest.
It would help if he had more consistent statistics. Eppes is good. Good enough to start for a program that competes at a high level on a yearly basis. But he was only a full-time starter for one season. And though he stands 6 feet 1, he is about 3 inches shorter than most college players at his position.
"I had a breakout year this season," said Eppes, who threw for 1,313 yards and 11 touchdowns. "I just wish I was able to put up those same type of numbers the year before."
Eppes hopes to land with a Division I-AA, II or III school. If not, he plans to try to walk on at a Division I program.
"I don't know where I stand right now," Eppes said. "First and foremost, I want to go to school on scholarship. I just hope everything works out."
College coaches are prohibited from discussing potential recruits such as Eppes. Jay Davis, an assistant at Grambling and son of Countryside High coach John Davis, said 90 percent of his team's recruiting class is cemented by signing day, though he admits the staff stays alert for unclaimed talent.
"A lot of the Division I schools are getting early commitments from kids," Jay Davis said. "That helps the smaller schools get more of a head start in recruiting. We go at it hard in December and January. We had 14 guys who signed on signing day. But we're always on the lookout for others."
One way small colleges mine talent is by attending recruiting fairs sponsored by local high schools.
East Bay High coach Brian Thornton has held one the past nine years. This year's fair is Feb. 14-15. Thornton expects 50 high schools and 50 colleges to attend.
The way it works is high school coaches show highlights of their respective players. College coaches stop by to watch. If a college recruiter is interested, he sets up an appointment with the player for the following day.
"We should have about 100-175 kids who will sign with a college from the recruiting fair," Thornton said. "There are more kids signing from the fair than on national signing day."
Eppes said he was not planning to attend the recruiting fair. For now, he is sending out highlight tapes on his own.
"I just want to get my name out there," Eppes said. "And then wait for something to happen."