Winning and recruiting don't always go hand in hand

Recruits on less than stellar teams still find Division I-A interest.
Robinson coach Shawn Taylor says colleges look for height, weight, character, academics and skill, and DL Keldric Preston is “five out of five.” MONICA HERNDON   |   Times
Robinson coach Shawn Taylor says colleges look for height, weight, character, academics and skill, and DL Keldric Preston is “five out of five.”MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published January 13 2016
Updated January 14 2016

TAMPA — Senior defensive back Deedrick Daniels wasn't at Chamberlain High School long before family friends and acquaintances started getting in his ear about finding a new place to play football.

The Chiefs, once a perennial powerhouse under Hillsborough County's all-time winningest coach, Billy Turner, haven't had a winning campaign since Turner's last season in 2008. Chamberlain finished 4-6 in each of Daniels' first two years on the varsity, and the Chiefs didn't come anywhere close to a playoff berth.

These days, college recruiting has taken on a life of its own, with players worrying about their college football futures earlier and earlier, coaches say. Parents and players alike worry about how the caliber of a high school team might affect recruiting, Unsigned Preps president and founder Ricky Sailor said, which can often lead to offseason transfers.

But even though Daniels, a 6-foot, 180-pound three-star recruit, started getting visits from college recruiters as a sophomore, he never once thought about leaving Chamberlain behind in search of something better.

"I'm the type of person where if I start something, if I do a sport somewhere, I'm going to see it all the way through," he said. "I'm not going to switch up on it."

Still, the question persists in many athletes' minds: Can wins help get me to the next level?

• • •

Robinson coach Shawn Taylor spends time every season trying to debunk recruiting myths with his players and coaches, and the theory behind the recruiting advantage on winning teams is just one of them.

Taylor, a Robinson alumnus who has been coaching at the school since 2003, said his experience has shown him that recruiters look for five things: height, weight, character, academics and skill — none of which has anything to do with a high school team's win column.

That much was evident to him by the attention Knights defensive lineman Keldric Preston (6-4, 245) received.

"(He) was five out of five, and that's why he had 30 offers," Taylor said of Preston, a Wisconsin commit. "If you have the players, (recruiters) are going to come. When you win, they're around, but they're not around because you're winning, it's because of the guys you have."

Taylor said it's not uncommon for parents to have the wrong idea about how the process works or the things that matter when it comes to their sons' college football potential. At a program like Robinson — which hasn't had a winning season since the Knights played in the state semifinal in 2012 — the aura of excellence at neighboring programs like Plant and Armwood can be enticing to parents and players.

"A lot of people … they think if you're at a super-stud school, it helps," Taylor said. "Take a look at Armwood and Plant. Are there kids (who) aren't Division I (recruits) getting scholarships because they're there? No way. Go look at them. They're 6-foot-5, 260 pounds."

Through his role at Unsigned Preps, an organization that helps high school athletes obtain admission into college, Sailor works daily with kids who have the potential and the desire to get to the next level. And while he agrees that playing on a state championship-caliber team doesn't guarantee players a college scholarship, Sailor, who is not affiliated with any high school team, doesn't deny the benefits a winning team can provide recruits.

"In my opinion it does matter, because the old saying is, 'if you're good they'll find you,' which is true," said Sailor, a former Texas Tech defensive back. "But you may not get found by the school who should have found you."

In 26 seasons as head coach at Armwood, Sean Callahan has a track record of helping his players earn college scholarships. Just this season, nine of the 19 seniors on his roster will likely be playing on Saturdays next fall.

The Hawks have made it to the state championship game each of the past three seasons, giving them up to five more of practice and games than other teams in Hillsborough County. And though his players' talents are what ultimately earn them college scholarships, Callahan said the extra exposure certainly doesn't hurt.

"There's a lot of things that go into it, but that's 15 weeks of football, as far as practice and recruiters seeing my kids," Callahan said. "Visibility is key. If they know I'm here and practicing, then they're going to come."

• • •

Since he founded Unsigned Preps in 2010, Sailor has made it his mission to help get athletes to college — that's the same, he said, for kids who play on winless or undefeated teams. Because in Sailor's opinion, no matter the success of his high school team, a football recruit needs to accomplish three things to have a shot at making it.

"Regardless of the school a kid goes to, all the kids worry," Sailor said. "The thing I tell all the kids in terms of recruiting is, get your film out there, make sure you have good grades and make sure you're a good kid."

Daniels found all of that to be true.

After receiving six Division I-A offers, Daniels committed to the University of Virginia in June, choosing the Cavaliers over offers from Georgia, Purdue, USF and more.

Daniels never competed in a single playoff game during his four years of high school, and the Chiefs won just 12 games during that time, fewer than some Hillsborough County teams won in 2015 alone.

He admits that sometimes, he wonders if his recruiting process might have looked a little different had he gone to a different school. But as far as he's concerned, he had everything he needed exactly where he was.

Wins don't mean as much, he said, when you've got other things to keep you on track.

"You have to have faith in God," he said, "and you have to stay on the right path and surround yourself with the right people in order to be where you want to be."

Contact Kelly Parsons at Follow @_kellyparsons.