Cloudy summer: Coronavirus wipes out key recruiting time for Upstate high school football players

Geoff Preston
Greenville News

Eastside High School football quarterback Marshall Skoloff's spring and summer looked very busy only a few months ago.

The junior has six offers to play college football and visits lined up to 20 colleges, and was going to throw at 30 camps to give himself the most exposure possible.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the United States, halting American life.

Camps were canceled, college campuses closed. The NCAA canceled its spring sports season. The South Carolina High School League followed suit April 22.

There has been no decision from the SCHSL if football and other fall sports will start on time.

It left members of the Class of 2021 with a daunting question ahead of the biggest summer for getting offers in their high school career: What do we do now?

"We were going to get out and make the trips around the country to the schools that wanted to see him," Eric Skoloff, Marshall Skoloff's father, said. "It’s a maze of mess that kids can get involved in. We work on it every day, but it’s a really complex game to figure out who’s interested and who’s just trying to bring you over to have numbers on their campus."

Marshall Skoloff has offers from Albany State (Georgia), Alabama State, Stetson, the University of Rochester (N.Y.) and Culver-Stockton.

Eastside's Marshall Skoloff (6) throws the ball during their game against Southside Friday, Aug. 23, 2019.

Although Marshall Skoloff already has those offers, the goal of every high school athlete is to gather as many as possible to make the best decision possible about where to play next.

There is also money on the line, depending on the level from which a player can secure an offer. At the NCAA Division III level, athletic scholarships aren't offered. At the Division II level, there are some partial scholarships available, and the FCS level provides some partial and some full scholarships. The FBS programs offer full scholarships.

What might've been:Seniors, families lament loss of high school spring sports season

A change in level could mean the difference between going to college for free or graduating with debt.

Those camps and campus visits were where he thought his college choice would become clearer as he entered his senior year. Now, that picture is as cloudy as ever.

"It’s stressful, but there‘s nothing the athletes can do about it because it’s not our choice," he said. "We just have to keep working hard and try not to stress about not being in front of the coaches."

The most important summer

Greenville coach Greg Porter has sent quite a few players to the next level during his time as a high school coach. Before leading the Red Raiders, he was the coach of Hillcrest, where he won a Class AAAA state championship in 2014.

Last season his top defensive back, Jalen Tate, signed with Georgia State.

He said the real journey to landing a scholarship begins academically during a player's freshman year, but the junior year season is where most of the college coaches start paying attention.

Greenville head coach Greg Porter.

The summer between a prospect's junior and senior seasons is where they can use that momentum to land the big-time offer. That entire process has been turned on its side, and Porter said now the coaching staff becomes even more important to the recruiting process.

"The honesty and integrity of the coach is very important. You’re really marketing the kid," he said. "They can’t come to the campus to see the kid, so they’re really relying on you as a coach to be honest when they call you about a kid.

"If a coach wants you, they’re going to see your film, because right now they’re studying film. They have to rely on that now more than ever. You just have to be patient during the process."

Porter said a college usually knows by a player's junior season if he can play in its program. The high school coaches' job at that point, Porter said, is to be honest with the college about what kind of person they are getting and if they're going to represent the school well.

More:Rivals take to Twitter to show support for Greer coach Travis Perry

Without as many chances to meet in person, that job has become even more vital as juniors enter the summer that can make or break their recruitment.

"The college coaches want to come and perform the eye test, so you have to be as precise as you can as a coach in giving the correct information about the kids," he said. "I have to spend more time really getting to know my players so when the schools come and ask questions about them I’m ready to give the answers."

It's something Greenville linebacker Riggs Faulkenberry said Porter has mastered, and he cares about what's next for his players.

Faulkenberry is a junior who has an offer from NCAA Division III's Rochester, and he said he has talked with numerous other schools who haven't offered yet.

"It’s a big part of what he does. He’ll get me in contact with a lot of coaches, and he advocates for us a lot," he said of Porter. "Not only for me, but for all my teammates that have gotten a lot of offers or are getting a lot of looks. I don’t think that would be possible without him."

The Skoloffs have tried to be patient throughout the process, but Eric Skoloff knows the opportunity that will be missed if his son isn't able to throw at camps this summer.

Many of the Division I FCS schools offer one quarterback per graduating class and don't usually offer before their coaches see a quarterback throw live.

More:Many high school seniors still want an in-person graduation, even if it means waiting

Spring practices, which were scheduled to begin May 1 but have been postponed, would have given Marshall Skoloff the opportunity to impress in front of coaches from multiple colleges. Camps would have also given him that opportunity, but now he has to wait for his opportunity to show college coaches what he can do.

"It really puts a significant challenge, unless you're national recruit, it changes the whole game," Eric Skoloff said. "Going from 20 visits to none puts you in a position where all your communication has to be done through Twitter or over the phone."

Changing communication

Faulkenberry was excited when he got a bench and a bar to lift weights in his home as a Christmas present.

With the pandemic closing gyms across the state and country, that Christmas gift has been getting a lot of use.

Faulkenberry also had trips to numerous camps planned for the summer, all of which have been canceled.

He's making the most of it, he said. When he's not lifting, he does linebacker drills in his backyard and sends the video to coaches.

"Camps are their time to see you do that kind of stuff, to actually play football," he said. "When they can’t see you do that anymore, that’s my way of showing them."

Blue Ridge hosted Eastside in Upstate high school football week 8 on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.

He said although it's an obstacle, he is trying to embrace the challenges of the situation. He thinks it'll make him stronger mentally wherever he plays college football.

"It’s hard, but I’m not the kind of person to see something like that and get down about it. I see all the stuff going on with the Coronavirus, and it’s not ideal for us as juniors, but I just try to do everything I can to make it work," he said. "It’s some adversity that we’ll look back on one day, and I’ll probably be glad it happened to me because I’ll have a better story than another college football player."

Marshall Skoloff has used Twitter to keep coaches informed about how he's working out when he can't meet up with his Eastside teammates. He alternates between throwing workouts and lifting weights, and posts the videos on Twitter to let coaches know that he is not taking the time off.

He also keeps up with coaches through text messaging and the video conferencing service Zoom. He said it doesn't matter the level of school that gets in contact with him, he responds and keeps in contact with every coach who reaches out.

More:SC schools to remain closed for the rest of the school year

"That’s the only way to communicate with them," he said. "Twitter is a huge deal. My goal is to play college football for free, and a lot of athletes want the same thing. So it’s about being as active as possible."

Colleges also would be having  their "Junior Day" in the spring and summer. Programs would have invited members of the Class of 2021 to visit and meet with the coaching staffs.

With the campuses closed, many schools have had a "Virtual Junior Day" on Zoom. Eric Skoloff said it's a different experience, but the schools and the athletes are making the most of it.

He also said Marshall Skoloff has had numerous Zoom calls with coaching staffs, and a way he's seen schools show more interest is to include the parents in the Zoom call.

"What we’ve learned in this process is there’s a good move for any of these kids that want to play football and are competitive high school athletes," he said.

Things haven't been easy for the college coaches, either, with the upcoming college football season up in the air. Eric Skoloff said a lot of coaches are wondering not only about their recruiting classes, but what their summer training and fall game schedule will look like.

In normal times, recruiting can be a stressful process, and this summer is far from normal. Porter said he tells his athletes to be patient and trust the process, and that's the same thing Eric Skoloff said college coaches are telling him and his son.

It's a small comfort, in a world turned upside down by a pandemic.

"Everyone says the same thing: 'Just be patient because we’re trying to figure out our process, too, in all of this,'" he said. "I think that’s what causes the most stress for Marshall. He feels like he’s skilled enough to have (more) offers and he probably would have them by now if we were able to make the spring visits, meet the staff and he’d been able to throw."