Taking everything into account

Learning the steps to the college football recruiting dance can be difficult for high school seniors dealing with the pressures of making decisions that could effect the rest of their lives.

So to help them navigate through the process, recruits rely on family members and coaches, who play every role from protector to promoter.

This Wednesday will be the first day that this year’s crop of college football prospects can sign with colleges. Prince William County features one player who has received as much attention as anyone in the nation from the Class of 2002 — Hylton linebacker Ahmad Brooks. It also includes Tennessee-bound cornerback Antwan Stewart and Virginia-bound defensive lineman Keenan Carter, who are classmates at Potomac. Gar-Field linebacker Jamar Atkinson, verbally committed to Syracuse, gives the area four major Division I-A recruits.

Carter was the first of those four to announce his choice. He decided on the Cavaliers last spring, but that didn’t stop college coaches from calling the Carters’ home.

“There have been a couple of letters, even recently — North Carolina, Tennessee and Maryland — they have still been sending letters,” said Tracy Carter, Keenan’s mother. “For a while they were still talking, but then we moved and our phone number changed.

“The people from those schools were still easy to deal with. I didn’t notice a change in how they acted. The thing is, he hasn’t signed. So it’s hard to blame them for trying.”

That helps explain how Stewart was earmarked for Virginia until last week, when he announced he was going to Tennessee instead. The Cavaliers didn’t lose Stewart for a lack of effort; they sent a contingent of coaches to Stewart’s house on Tuesday night to try to salvage the situation. He suggested to the Knoxville media that no matter how hard U.Va. tried, he wanted to join one of college football’s most proven winners.

“The level of football is what did it for me,” Stewart later said of the 2001 Southeastern Conference runner-up. “I just want to be part of it. I have no bad words for U.Va. I like U.Va. a lot. But with the athletes they have at Tennessee, I believe some of the things they do will rub off on me.”


Brooks also has kept Tennessee on his list of schools, a list that changed on Tuesday night. Penn State was essentially an afterthought for Brooks all along, but he finally narrowed his choices to the four schools he had already visited — Virginia Tech, Florida State, Virginia and Tennessee.

Brooks had already been to the campus back in the spring when he attended the Nike camp.

“He didn’t like the location,” Hylton coach Bill Brown said of Brooks’ decision to forego his Penn State trip. “He wasn’t interested in going to Pennsylvania. Being tired here at the end may have had some effect on his decision as well, but it wasn’t the major issue. He was certain he didn’t want to be in that part of the country in the first place and he said that in the first place.”

In his senior year, he has thrived despite all the distractions.

In January, he got the necessary ACT score to qualify to play Division I-A football next year. Atkinson, Carter and Stewart have not qualified yet. Brooks made the honor roll for this past semester, a semester in which he also made the all-state football team, played a little basketball, traveled to Texas for an all-star game, visited three colleges and fielded overtures from college coaches either in person or on the phone.

“I told him the other day how proud I was of him,” Brown said. “He’s been humble about it and been a class act with all the coaches and with everyone who has talked to him about it. He couldn’t have represented Hylton any better.”

Brown has made sure that Brooks’ schedule at school hasn’t been disrupted. From the start, he told the college coaches that Brooks would only be available once his school day was over after 12:30 p.m.

The only exception was Thursday when Brooks was pulled out of a class. Virginia assistant coaches stopped by in the morning as did Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer and four of his assistants later that day.

“The difference this time was that this would be the last time the coaches would be able to talk to him in person before the national signing date,” Brown said. “Plus, it was the start of the semester.”

Penn State’s Joe Paterno was also suppose to come in Thursday as well. Even though the Nittany Lions knew Brooks had already cancelled his visit, they still called Brown to see if they could come in and talk to him.

Hoping to make a last-ditch effort, the Nittany Lions scheduled a visit because Paterno was in Northern Virginia already. Paterno, who set the NCAA record for career coaching wins when his team beat Ohio State this year, made a speech at West Springfield High to the classmates of Penn State-bound punter Jeremy Kapinos. But he never showed up at Hylton. Brown said he had to leave messages with the Lions’ coaches to find out what happened.

Already out of the Brooks sweepstakes, Penn State apparently surrendered. The other four schools have done anything but give up.

Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden was at Hylton Wednesday, while Tennessee head coach Phil Fulmer came in the previous week. U.Va. football coach Al Groh had already made his visit to the school.

Although Brown has plenty of experience dealing with recruiting (he has had more than 40 of his players sign Division I scholarships), he’s never seen anything as intense as the recruitment of Brooks.

Still, Brooks has taken everything in stride.

“By now [Brooks] is used to everything,” said Brown, who expects Brooks to more than likely announce his choice Monday. “This week was the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re about to get this done so I told him to hang in there. Some days, he seems confused, especially going from staff to staff. This weekend will be really important.”

For Brooks, it has been beneficial to have a coach who has dealt with recruiters and a father who played at Southern and in the NFL for the Washington Redskins.

“Knowing that they’ve gone through this before, you know they got the experience,” Brooks said. “It’s good to have help and advice.”

The coaches stress the importance of qualifying academically and of handling the recruiting process with maturity. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Brooks is one of the fortunate ones whose main problem is to juggle his schedule. For 5-foot-9 Potomac defensive back/quarterback Gary Price, the problem is just the opposite.

Price was the Northwest Region’s offensive player of the year. He’s an elusive player and was the unquestioned leader on a Potomac team that went to a regional championship game. But no Division I-A schools have been bothering him, as much as he wishes they would. Among the Division I-AA colleges, VMI has been to his games and called frequently. The Keydets want to give him a football scholarship, but Richmond and William & Mary have apparently turned “maybe” into “no.”

“Coach [Ben Stutler] and I are trying,” Price said, with disappointment clearly in his voice. “We’ve sent tapes to a lot of people and called a lot of people.”


For the families of the most sought-after recruits, this can be a confusing time as well. It doesn’t help that NCAA rules don’t allow a school to pay for the parents’ transportation expenses in taking an official visit.

“The best place for some kids might be Seattle, Washington, but they’d never know that because they can’t go out there,” said Perry Brooks, Ahmad’s father.

Perry and his wife, Vergie, have paid to join Ahmad on each of his trips. They flew to Knoxville and Tallahassee, but drove to Blacksburg and Charlottesville. “Wherever he goes and plays, we look forward to it,” Perry Brooks said. “We’ll be able to afford it, so that’s exciting.”

While Brooks’ father says the time-consuming calls and letters haven’t bothered him, he added, “It’s a big deal, a big business. And it’s a big decision that can affect the rest of your life.”

In making that same decision, Stewart took visits to Tennessee, Syracuse (both flights) and U.Va. on his own. His mother, Joan, could tell as soon as he got home just what he thought of the schools. When he originally said he wanted to go to U.Va., Stewart said his mother fully supported that decision. He said last week that he used her input throughout the search, but that the decision was ultimately one he had to make.

“I took all the visits by myself. I’m going to be playing by myself,” Stewart said. “But the tough part is that time when you really can’t decide — when you get to a point when all three schools are right there and they’re telling you what they can do for you. You can’t stress over it, because you’re blessed to be in that situation.”

College recruiters are faced with the difficult balance of trying to persuade the recruit, his parents and his coach that their school is the best fit. Come Wednesday, many of those decisions will finally become official as players can sign their national letters of intent.

“I know it’s a big decision for Keenan — one of the biggest in his life, up there with maybe marriage,” said Tracy Carter, who will be a student along with the oldest of her four sons. She’s taking classes in information systems at Northern Virginia Community College. “It’s time for him to make this kind of decision, though. I tell him, I gave him his wings and now it’s time for him to fly off.”

Sports editor David Fawcett contributed to this report.

Similar Posts