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January 28, 2012

A 'family affair'

Tim Long chuckles that the football recruiting process is certainly a lot different than when he signed with the Memphis Tigers some 30-plus years ago.

There was no fanfare, no army of recruiting writers calling all hours of the night for the latest scoop, no worries about the ramifications of improper behavior from college coaches trying to "close the deal."

Nope, there was none of that.

"Oh God, my parents had never even been to Memphis before I signed. I got on a plane and flew over there - the first time I'd ever been on a plane - flew over there, committed, got it all done in one day," Long said. "Of course, I didn't have a lot going on; I didn't have a lot of big offers so I just did it on the spot."

Oh, but how times of changed.

Recruiting is now a big business, for the schools that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to recruit the top players, to the various recruiting outlets like Rivals.com. Most recently there's been the impact of the social media to consider, which has added an entire new - and sometimes disturbing dimension - to the recruiting scene.

In other words, the recruiting process isn't what it used to be. For some parents of recruits, it's become a scary proposition, sifting through the craziness that was once the simple task of selecting a school.

A parent has to be on guard more than ever before.

To discuss the matter, five parents of recruits agreed to speak with UGASports about their experiences on the recruiting front.

Tim Long has two sons - Austin and Hunter - who are currently members of the Georgia Bulldogs. Another, Paul Theus, is the father of five-star commitment John Theus and Bulldog freshman Nathan Theus; while Sonya Matthews, is the mother of 2013 UGA verbal commitment Tray Matthews. Others include Ronald Jenkins, the father of four-star commitment Jordan Jenkins and Cliff Dawson, the father of four-star recruit Josh Dawson. Each spoke about their experiences, and why it's been important for them to play an integral role in their sons' recruitment, something that until just recently with recruits, has not always been the case.

All in the family

The way Sonya Matthews sees it, the days of parents standing idly by while their sons trek off alone to college campus before making their decisions are history.

These days, choosing the right school is without question a family affair.

"I do. Especially with us going to some of the different Game Days, you're seeing more parents than you'd see in the beginning or that you thought you'd see. I think that's a good thing because parents need to be involved," she said. "Ultimately it is the child's decision what school he wants to attend, but the parents need to be involved in the process because they need to know some of the things that these people are saying to their kids."

A wise parent will also have a specific plan.

Take the Theus clan.

Like Long, come September, Paul Theus will have two sons playing for the Bulldogs in long-snapper Nathan and John, a five-star offensive tackle.

"I get parents who call me - parents of juniors and seniors - asking 'How did you do this, how did you do that?'" Theus said. "You have to go at it like you're buying a house or buying a car. You've got to research your schools, see where you think your kids fits; see what the talent level is."

For Nathan and John, their roads to Athens took different paths.

At 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, John Theus has had basically every school in the country beating down his door. That wasn't the case for older brother Nathan, who at 6-3 and 260 pounds is by no means small, but still slight by today's standards to play offensive line on the major college level.

Fortunately for Nathan, at a young age he began perfecting his skills as a long-snapper, taking part in numerous camps and became so proficient that he eventually earned an offer from the Bulldogs.

"With Nathan being a specialist, we had to make a decision. Nathan played center at Bolles, was a great high school center, a very good high school offensive lineman," Paul Theus said. "But we knew he wasn't big enough or had talent enough to play major D-I on the offensive line but he was very fortunate at a young age to master the long-snapping part of it, so we had to identify, do you want to try and go to a major school or do you want to go to a small Division I or Division II to play offensive line?"

Being willing to take your sons to camps doesn't hurt, either. So is putting together a list of potential schools to have an early idea of what each one has to offer.

"I started early with building a file. We sat down, made a list of bigger Division I schools, smaller Division I schools, Division II schools and I'd contact them," Paul Theus said. "Are you looking for this; are you looking for that? Here's the film, these are my kids and that's really how we got started with that. "You can't go to every camp and you can't go to every school, so you've got to do it by what your kid's talent level is and try to get started with it."

Ronald Jenkins said he and his family began a similar path after it became apparent, that even as an eighth grader, younger Jordan was going to be something special.

"In his eighth grade year he was like a man among boys. We knew that he was going to have an opportunity to play in college, there was just no way, it seemed to us, that he would not, so early on we came up with a plan," the elder Jenkins said. "We did this all on our own. We got him into camps, and combines. Every camp and combine he went to he just kept winning awards and would get a write-up for being the top something."

It wasn't long after Jordan Jenkins began playing ball for Harris County, that colleges soon started taking notice.

That was the point when the Jenkins' family really started to hit the road.

"He had offers coming from the end of his sophomore year so we started visiting all those places. We were on the road year round, between Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Georgia Tech and Alabama hitting those places over and over so we could see those schools, get different views, during the day time, during the nighttime, during the weekend, during when school was in, when school was out," said Jenkins, who played collegiately at Colorado State. "But it started getting a little hectic toward the end. It was difficult. People don't understand how difficult the process was. I went through the process, I played at Colorado State, but it was nothing like it was for Jordan."

Clifford and Wanda Dawson, however, took a somewhat different approach.

Unlike the Theus and Jenkins clan, the Dawsons didn't send their son to many individual camps, instead letting his work with Tucker High - one of the state's premier programs - speak for itself.

"We just let Josh sit back and enjoy the process. He's got a good head on his shoulders," Dawson said. "He wanted to play in the SEC. It's a joy. There are so many kids who wish they were in his shoes."

Getting their son prepared for the invariable interview requests is part of the plan for the Matthews family.

"Our first concern was to prep him for interviews when you guys call of how he should speak, what he should say and what he probably shouldn't say," she said. "We'd just prepare him. Sometimes we would be riding down the road and just out of the blue ask him questions, and he was like 'I don't want to answer them right now' but I told him you're going to need to, because one day somebody might just walk right up to you and ask you questions.

"We would just talk about how he needed to be prepared, how he needed to stay humble and stay focused. Staying focused was probably our main concern in the beginning because now it's (the attention) getting worse."

Making the right decision

Josh Dawson - who technically is still verbally committed to the Commodores, will choose between Georgia and Vanderbilt Wednesday morning at Tucker High.

"Both schools have done a great job. They have not really put any pressure on him, they talked with him, shown him things and they've made it difficult," Cliff Dawson said. "They put on a nice production for him and showing that they want him. The thing about Josh is he's an easy-going guy, so wherever he goes to school he will be fine."

Jenkins found himself in a similar dilemma as Dawson.

Ronald Jenkins readily admits Alabama appeared to be his son's collegiate destination with serious consideration given to Florida before the Bulldogs made their late run to secure his commitment two weeks ago.

"With Coach (Todd) Grantham, when we sat down with him more, we looked at what he's done with Justin Houston, Jarvis Jones, and we felt good," he said. "We felt good with what Coach (Mark) Richt stood for, his contract extension made a big difference."

Earlier, there were other concerns.

"Initially, the kind of players Georgia recruited, in our opinion early on, we had some issues with some of the players who got in trouble," Jenkins said. "But then they started recruited the Sterling Baileys, they started recruiting the Ray Drews. You start recruiting those types of kids; we played against Ray Drew so we knew what he stood for. That facilitated it (Jenkins committing to Georgia) as well."

Unlike Jenkins who favored Alabama, Tray Matthews has loved the Bulldogs his entire life.

He grew up idolizing Georgia players, and dreaming of the day he too would be playing in Sanford Stadium.

Matthews committed to Georgia over the summer, although that hasn't kept other schools from trying to get him to change his mind.

Could the young safety possible flip, especially since best friend Reuben Foster is currently a commitment to the Crimson Tide?

"No, I don't think so, not with Georgia. Now, he'll throw out Alabama, simply because of the relationship he has with Reuben," she said. "But he's always wanted to go to Georgia."

Clifford Dawson expects to have a decision from his son at some point this weekend before making it official during a press conference Wednesday morning at Tucker High.

"It will be his decision. When he sits down this weekend and says, 'dad, this is what I've decided,' that's when I'm going to put in my two cents - give my pros and cons of both schools," he said. "If I was in his shoes, it would be hard for me."

Walking the line

Sometimes recruiters will say anything to convince a player to sign.

According to Long, there was one incident during a trip he took with Austin that raised his eyebrows.

"I took him on one in particular, where it was a little greasy, there was a little snake-oil salesman going on," Long laughed. "It was funny because I thought Austin would take it hook, line and sinker but he saw through it. I was like he's done, 'he's going to go under right here.' But after we got in the car and I asked what he thought and he said he didn't like it. I said, 'Really? They offered you the moon; they acted like they really wanted you. But he said, nah, it wasn't real and I was like all right!"

Sonya Matthews said she and her husband haven't noticed anything that might be misconstrued as illegal.

"I do feel most of them have been honest. As far as my husband and I, we really haven't talked with a lot of them, but there were a couple of them who were promising stuff that we knew wasn't going to happen his freshman year, with the depth chart that they have now and with the kids they have coming in," she said. "But the ones that he's really interested in have been very honest."

But not all follow the rules.

According to Theus, he and his son John ran across some schools that were willing to push the proverbial envelope.

"John had so many choices, so he was blessed that he could eliminate schools for different reasons. We did find out there were some schools that tend to maybe bend the rules here or there or maybe the appearance of a rules violation, something minor, therefore those schools we felt like - you know what - if they'll do that, they may do that, this or that," he said. "But there are some schools that really ride the lines. We would get phone calls when we're not supposed to get phone calls, things like that."

Can improvements be made?

Almost all of the parents spoken with had ideas on how the NCAA could make the recruiting process a better one for all parties involved.

For Ronald Jenkins, the ability to speak with coaches during visits to watch their sons play would be a good start.

"You should be able to talk with them during the game, because you might want to hear what they have to say about what's going on during the game, you might want to get their opinion of how your kid is playing and what your kid can do potentially during the game," he said. "I think that would give families more insight if you could talk to them during the game, see what he likes about the kid, what the kid can do better or what he can do to help your kid do better."

Theus goes much further than that.

"What I would change is when a kid commits he should sign his letter of intent. I think that would be a good idea. People say, 'well, what if a kid doesn't know for sure'. Well, I can guarantee you this. If he knows he's going to sign, he'll make sure it's the right place to be," he said. "You can put clauses in there saying if the coach gets fired, family emergency, the same as the transfer rules. I think that would be a great idea."

Theus said if recruits had the opportunity to sign at the time of their commitment, it might also eliminate some of the questionable practices regarding offers that some schools currently employ. "It would keep these early offers from flying out," Theus said. "That would save that, and it would also stop the kids who commit and then de-commit because that's not fair to the coaching staffs."

Theus is also a proponent of allowing high school student athletes to take official visits during their junior years.

"You should be able to start your official visits as a junior in high school," he said. "Say you're a late bloomer; you have to get all five of your official visits in so when you're a senior and trying to play your senior season of high school football. There's just not enough time to make a true evaluation."



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