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High school football coaches who worry that their sport will one day mirror high school basketball with a high number of transfers are a little late. At the top level, it's already there.
Eighteen of the top 50 players in the 247Sports.com rankings for the class of 2018 are on their second school -- or, in some cases, their third.
While coaches in Texas and elsewhere are concerned IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) is scooping up all the top talent, only four of those top 18 players transferred to IMG. The rest often went from one good high school football team to another.
Parents across the country are demanding greater school choice, and increasingly open enrollment laws -- particularly in football hotbeds Southern California and Florida -- have allowed athletes to look for the best situations. States trying to make transfers more difficult often have a hard time passing more stringent rules.
Last winter, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association mandated a 30-day no-competition rule for transferring athletes, even for bona fide moves. Kimberly Harrington, New Jersey's acting commissioner of education, voided the rule in April.
That means four recent high-profile athletes who transferred to Paramus Catholic (Paramus, N.J.) will be able to play right away this fall: defensive end Dorian Hardy from state champion St. Joseph Regional (Montvale), along with Pope John XIII (Sparta) quarterback Trey Dawson, Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.) defensive back Jarrett Paul and DePaul Catholic (Wayne) quarterback-receiver Shelton Applewhite.
Grayson (Loganville, Ga.) won its state AAAAAAA football title last season, but the Rams garnered notoriety because they landed five of the state's top 100 players via transfer, just for their senior seasons, including running back Kurt Taylor. He transferred back to Newton High for his final semester after helping Grayson win the title.
A Georgia High School Association committee floated a rule this spring that would have required students to sit out half the season if their transfer was deemed to be for athletic reasons. The GHSA's executive committee defeated the proposal by a 62-2 vote.
IMG's football program was built on high-level transfers. The Ascenders, who will be playing their fifth season this fall, have graduated only one four-year player, Christian Pluchino.
Texas coach Tom Hermann, speaking at a Texas High School Coaches Association Convention, said he would discourage recruits from transferring to IMG.
IMG coach Kevin Wright points out the rise of football transfers is a national trend that began before IMG was playing varsity football.
"We live in a world of instant gratification," Wright said. "People want to play, and they want to play now. Even before this, when I was at Carmel in Indianapolis, parents would come to us with their kids in middle school and wanted an answer on where their kid would fit in at Carmel football. It's part of the sports culture, and football is no different."
Some top players are so well-traveled, their Hudl highlight accounts are full of video from former schools. American Family Insurance preseason All-USA defensive back Brendan "Bookie" Radley-Hiles grew up in Inglewood, Calif., but played his freshman year at Calabasas, Calif., his sophomore year at Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas), was back at Calabasas for his junior year and will be a senior at IMG this season.
Akeem Dent, one of the top cornerback-wide receivers in the 2019 class, is on his third school. He played at Royal Palm Beach (Fla.) as a freshman, helped lead Pahokee to a 1A Florida title it was ultimately stripped of for ineligible players last season and is at Palm Beach Central (Wellington, Fla.) this season.
Not surprisingly, the top teams in Texas -- like the top teams in other states -- often end up with the most talented transfers. Allen is the largest school in the state, and the Eagles, while compiling a 57-game winning streak that ended last season, relied on three quarterbacks who began their high school careers elsewhere: Kyler Murray, Seth Green and Mitchell Jonke.
Texas' 2017 6A-II champion, DeSoto, won its first title with quarterback Shawn Robinson, who was on his third school (he played at Chisholm Trail in Fort Worth as a freshman and Guyer in Denton as a sophomore and junior). He beat out quarterback Jaylin Nelson, who had transferred to DeSoto from First Baptist in Dallas. When Nelson lost the starting job to Robinson before the 2015 season, he transferred to Duncanville.
Andy Stefanelli is the new head coach at powerhouse Good Counsel (Olney, Md.), which plays in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference that includes traditional powers DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.) and St. John's and Gonzaga (both in Washington). Before becoming the Falcons head coach, he was an assistant for 10 years at Good Counsel to longtime coach Bob Milloy. He said position shopping by parents and poaching by high schools are factors in the rise of transfers.
"I was the recruiting coordinator here for eight of those 10 years, and I've been the guy helping Coach Milloy to talk some of our parents off the fence (from transferring)," Stefanelli said. "What's changed it is these institutions that have gotten super aggressive that have deep, deep pockets.
"The reason players are leaving is these kids are offered full scholarships to transfer to their schools. They are poaching kids out of good situations. IMG was one of the first ones to start it, and St. Frances (Baltimore) and St.John's are in that realm. The parents of kids are so caught up in getting them a Division I scholarship that they're willing to do just about anything to put their kid in a situation that will enhance their chance of getting a scholarship. I think that's the driver."
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