TARPON SPRINGS — Louis Pappas can improvise.
He can dissect defenses.
And he can flat-out throw a football.
What the Tarpon Springs senior cannot do is dodge the computer-printout prejudices colleges have when evaluating quarterbacks. After all, college programs measure quarterbacks not only by how many yards they can throw but by increments of height.
That is where Pappas falls short. He is just under 6 feet 1. His height hangs over him like a dark cloud because colleges treat short quarterbacks like they have a virus.
This spring Pappas lived in maddening limbo, wondering whether a college would take a chance on him. None came through with a scholarship.
So Pappas decided to go to them.
He has been on a whirlwind tour over the summer, visiting as many Division I-AA schools as possible to show off his skills at camps. There were stops at Eastern Kentucky, Middle Tennessee State and Western Kentucky. There were camps at Charleston Southern, Furman, Presbyterian and Wofford. There are trips planned for Sanford and Troy, as well as North Texas and Oklahoma State.
"I think this is something that will help me in the long run," Pappas said. "I can send a tape out and I might look great on film, but coaches always want to see what you look like in person."
In today's high-pressure world of college football, potential recruits try to gain an edge by mailing letters, sending out a DVD of highlights or investing in recruiting services.
Pappas chose to be more proactive. To market himself to schools, he wanted to attend as many camps as possible to be under the coaches' chins. But this was not a mad summer scramble to gain exposure. Pappas and his father, Louis Jack Pappas, went through a detailed game plan. They were touring only schools that already showed interest and focused on ones that operated out of a spread offense.
"We sat down and mapped things out," Louis Jack Pappas said. "We wanted to get on the road so coaches could physically see him. That was our main motive."
Louis Jack Pappas, 51, was a standout linebacker for Tarpon Springs from 1975-78. He earned a football scholarship to Florida, playing tackle three seasons before blowing out a knee.
His recruiting process was quite different from his son's.
"I knew things had changed, but I had no idea it would be this hectic," Louis Jack Pappas said. "Recruiting was pretty vanilla back then. There were no verbal offers or kids committing early. You had three big schools that might look at you, and they would send a guy to watch a game your senior year. You would visit a school after your senior season and make a commitment then.
"It's a wild ride now. And it's not a cheap process. We've spent about $2,000 this summer going to all these schools and camps. But Louis has got to see a lot of campuses, and it's a one-time deal in his life."
Showcase camps are essentially job interviews. Pappas attempts to impress coaches and scouts by scoring well on a battery of physical tests. A poor performance at one camp could result in scratching that school off his potential suitors. A strong performance in another could boost his stock, resulting in a scholarship.
With so much at stake, Pappas has sharpened his combine-test skills such as proper footwork and mechanics by working with former Maryland and Arena Football League quarterback John Kaleo since January.
"There's a lot of pressure that comes with doing well at these camps," Kaleo said. "A bad day at a camp or a combine and you've wasted a trip at that school. This is a position that's all about transparency. Everyone gets to see the good and the bad.
"Everyone wants to be a quarterback, and you'll have a thousand hands raised by kids saying they want to be one. When you tell them what being a quarterback entails, about 95 percent can't handle it. Louis has demonstrated that he can. He has thick skin."
Kaleo understands Pappas' frustrations about his size. The 6-foot Kaleo was passed over by major programs and had to prove himself at Montgomery-Rockville College in Maryland, where he was the 1990 National Junior College Athletic Association player of the year and led the nation in every passing category. He went on to break passing records at Maryland and played 14 seasons in the AFL.
"A lot of schools out there are looking for that 6-4 guy," Kaleo said. "It's hard, but I think colleges recognize that Louis is a passer. He'll get the opportunities to show what he can do."
Sometimes even a strong performance is not enough to sway coaches. Pappas said he did well at a camp at Western Kentucky, but the coaches said he did not have the size they were looking for in a quarterback.
"It's tough at times because I know I have the ability and there are other guys who are getting offers or committing to schools," Pappas said. "But I know that putting in the work will eventually pay off."
Pappas has not received a scholarship offer. Many of the schools he visited typically give offers later in the year.
For Pappas, there are still schools to visit, 7-on-7 tournaments to attend and workouts with the Spongers.
"The thing I'm most amazed with is there is no down time for kids anymore," Louis Jack Pappas said. "Football is 12 months a year. It's grueling. But we think the reward will be there at the end."