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Sarasota Herald Tribune (Florida)
DOUG FERNANDES

John Peacock spoke about it as might someone recalling the time before television.

Remember the VCR?

When the Venice High head football coach was a player at Cardinal Mooney, preparing his highlight reel for prospective colleges, the VCR was a close companion.

Both of them. Peacock would play one and pause the other in order to compile his highlights. "It was a tedious process," he said. "It took just as long to copy that film as it did to watch it."

Eventually, the VCR was replaced by the DVD, then the multiple DVD burner that made it possible to record up to eight DVDs. "But you still had to mail them out," Peacock said.

The growth of college football has mirrored the technological advances used to scout and recruit its players, to the point that coaches and colleges everywhere now use a software-based program called HUDL.

"HUDL has changed the landscape of recruiting tremendously," Peacock said. "Up to about three years ago, I was copying DVDs and sending hundreds and hundreds of DVDs out of the kids.

"Now, all I do is sit in my office, get the email from the coach and email them these clips. It's that easy. I probably sent out 600-900 emails (last) year with clips of kids to coaches through HUDL."

Through the Internet and Twitter, the players can promote themselves, posting highlight videos on YouTube, or tweeting links to their HUDL clips.

But the advent of social media can lead to its own specific problems.

"You're seeing secondary violations," said Joshua Wilson, who operates floridahsfootball.com, a site dedicated to Florida high school football. "You see it on Twitter all the time -- fans trying to encourage kids to go to their particular school.

"You could end up jeopardizing the school and the player. But they don't see it that way."

For fans of college football and the high school players who will play there, an endless publicize these future stars.

For Wilson, who studied communications at Flagler College and says he regularly devotes 60 hours a week to his site, he targets players not necessarily tagged as "blue-chippers."

"We give those who are not getting a look, a push out there," he said. Whatever the formula, it seems to be working. Wilson's site received a million page views in December, a first.

"You have to listen to the fans," he said. "That's the biggest thing. If you don't listen to them, they're going to turn away and go somewhere else."

Because whether it's Wilson's, 247sports.com, Scout.com, or Rivals.com, the largest, longest in operation and, quite possibly, most well known of all these pay sites, it's all about the fans.

"Rivals is a fan-driven website," said Steve Berrey, who runs flavarsity.rivals.com, the Florida high school arm of Rivals. "We are doing a service for the fans who want to know who's the highest-rated player."

In Berrey's case, he says he has a network of full-time former NFL and college players who travel to events, watch games and film, invite players to challenges and combines, then make their evaluations.

"I will have a former linebacker look at film and evaluate the player and based on what he says, I will do my report," Berrey said.

"The fans want it, and that's why Rivals has experienced such growth, even while other sites have struggled."

As Berrey said, these sites are fan-driven. While college recruiters might check out how highly they have a particular player rated, they won't use them for anything more.

Or even that, said Peacock.

"As far as I'm aware of, the colleges do not use MaxPreps, 247sports or any of those websites, and neither do I. They go off film and talking to the coach.

"They don't care about the (ranking) stars and all that stuff. I have yet to meet a coach that says anything about Rivals or 247sports or any recruiting website."

Said Berrey, "The college recruiting coordinator is more plugged in than any Rivals publisher. That's his full-time job, to find people who are going to benefit their school.

"Do they go to Rivals and say, 'What's this kid rated?' Probably. They also go to 247sports and Scout. They're going to look for it and compare notes."

Berrey said Rivals gets about a million page views a month. He works in the ministry of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and also substitute teaches.

"I do this because I love the game of high school football," he said.

As do many more, meaning Berrey's "labor of love" will continue getting the attention it needs.

 

February 5, 2014

 

 
 

 

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