There's a pandemic wreaking havoc on CFB recruiting -- and it isn't the coronavirus
Asking 17 and 18-year-old athletes to move away from home is a lot to ask, both for the athlete and his or her parents.
But that’s the world of recruiting.
Recruits are allowed to have five “official visits”, meaning everything is paid for by the university, and an unlimited number of “unofficial visits”, where the family is financially responsible for the trip.
If you had five opportunities in your junior and senior years of high school to travel the country on someone else’s dime, arrive at your destination and have someone at your beck and call, wouldn’t you do it?
Of course you would.
Moving forward, there has to be an expectation that every recruit will utilize all five of their official visits. And that’s nothing to fret over.
And while recruiting, especially in college football, often helps give the phrase “expect the unexpected” a new meaning, what if nothing is all that unexpected to begin with?
At 18-years-old, I moved just an hour away to college. I returned home every weekend. I then spent a couple months back home before getting an apartment just 35 minutes north of my childhood home.
And now, as I pen this story, my family and I are actively looking at homes for me to buy back in my hometown.
Homesickness is a very real ailment.
Since the rise of the transfer portal, how many times have we seen athletes leave one program, for another closer to their family back home?
Take Chris Steele’s situation, for example. As muddy as that was, there’s a wide belief that the California native was homesick -- hence his transfer to USC.
And now, it seems that Dan Mullen and the Gators have fallen victim to homesickness once again.
After narrowing down his list of schools to Florida, Miami and North Carolina, the four-star offensive lineman committed to the Gators following the Auburn game in early October.
On December 18, Walker signed in the early signing period and enrolled as an early enrollee.
But on May 4, Al.com’s Matt Zenitz reported that the freshman had entered his name into the transfer portal.
Walker’s decision to transfer out of Gainesville came in the midst of a global pandemic. Thanks to the coronavirus, Walker had spent seven weeks back home in South Florida with his family.
And according to Gators recruiting freelancer Olivia Granaiola, “it looked like he missed being home.”
Just five days after entering the ominous transfer portal, Walker announced on his Twitter that he would be transferring to Miami to play for Manny Diaz and the Hurricanes.
“I’m staying home,” Walker wrote.
And unfortunately for the Gators, the homesick-bug didn’t just infect Walker.
To visualize the recruitment of Zach Evans, imagine a pinball machine.
The five-star running back could have undoubtedly gone to any program he desired.
Though, back in December, it seemed as though Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs had done just enough to reel in the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Houston native.
After silently signing his National Letter of Intent with Georgia in the early signing period, Evans was eventually released from his contract after being suspended twice in his senior season — including being sent home by coaches ahead of the Texas High School Football State Championships.
While the Texan was fully released from Georgia, this now meant he was racing with the clock.
“I know he was really close with a couple Gators who were working to get him on campus,” Granaiola told GatorBait. “But after the whole pandemic pushed SEC activities back to April 15 and then to May 31, Evans needed to enroll by May 1 to be considered eligible to play FBS this year.”
Though Granaiola admits that Evans was “tight lipped” when it came to speaking with the media, it was widely expected that Florida and Tennessee were in the running for the No. 1 running back in the country.
However, both SEC East schools came up empty handed as it was announced on May 11 that Evans had enrolled at TCU, a program that was linked to Evans very late in his recruitment.
“TCU was kinda popping up around that May 1 deadline,” Granaiola told GatorBait. “He’s a Houston kid and obviously TCU being in the Dallas-Fort Worth area isn’t too far away.”
However, unlike Walker’s decision, Granaiola feels that the Covid-19 pandemic had little to do with Evans’ decision.
“I think his decision had less to do with the pandemic and more with the fact that he’s a Texas legend and being TCU’s first five-star ever,” Granaiola said.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE GATORS
Dan Mullen and his staff were widely criticized after the handling of the Chris Steele “episode”. And while perhaps Steele did have issues on campus, his final destination and the speed in which it was decided is glaring.
It has also become a trend.
The situation with Issiah Walker is eerily similar, — minus the dramatic confusion. Both left Gainesville before ever playing a down in the orange and blue.
In Walker’s case, you can’t help but wonder if the transfer would have happened if not for the coronavirus pandemic. Some even believe his mother was slated to take a job in Gainesville, but the pandemic caused it to fall through.
But on the other hand, maybe there’s a much bigger pandemic sweeping through college football recruiting. And that’s homesickness.
Obviously this isn't the case for all recruits. If it were, we’d be living in a very different competitive landscape.
However, losing out on a couple of kids each year to the closest Power Five school to their hometown shouldn’t deem uprisings against the staff.
In recruiting, they say to “expect the unexpected”, but perhaps the “unexpected” is right under our noses to begin with.