Logan Martin faced a quandary as he pursued his college football future.
The quarterback-turned-wide receiver finished his junior season at Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft with 31 touchdowns, scoring once every 4.8 times he touched the ball.
Stats like that impress college coaches, but COVID-19’s arrival soon left Martin unsure how to market himself. He had no senior-year highlight video to showcase his skills after the 2020 tackle football season was canceled.
“The pandemic kind of messed things up because I didn’t know my junior year was going to be my last season of high school football,” Martin said. “Later on, knowing that I might not have a senior season I thought, ‘Where do I go from here?’”
With high school sports schedules canceled or reduced during the pandemic and few on-campus recruiting visits allowed, prospective college athletes and the coaches who recruit them have altered their approaches. They often have relied on technology to overcome the lack of in-person contact.
“Even though it’s a little different — and maybe little’s not the right word because there’s been some shifts in how we’ve had to do it — the process is still the same,” Husson University men’s basketball coach Warren Caruso said.
Martin ultimately sent out a video that highlighted his play as a junior to between 80 and 100 colleges.
“Most of them never saw it because they get hundreds of emails a day,” he admitted.
But the video and follow-up virtual contacts with coaches led Martin to receive two full scholarship offers before opting to join the University of Maine football program as a recruited non-scholarship player.
“Every set of circumstances presents an opportunity, it’s really how you look at things,” UMaine women’s soccer coach Scott Atherley said. “It’s a reflection of your attitude and your outlook. The things we’ve been able to do by just trying to figure things out and working a bit outside our comfort zone has been a bright spot in a really challenging time.”
The Zoom era
Phone calls and email continue to be primary recruiting tools, but video options such as Skype and Zoom have filled gaps created by the lack of face-to-face contact.
Bangor High School junior Colton Trisch verbally accepted a partial athletic scholarship to pitch at Division I George Washington University without visiting the campus in Washington, D.C.
But Trisch’s familiarity with GW’s offerings already was well established.
“A lot of the research I did was online. A big thing for me was their academics, as well as baseball, and George Washington gave me both,” said Trisch, who plans to study electrical engineering.
Trisch generated interest with a web-based recruiting profile featuring his vital statistics and baseball skills such as the left-hander’s 86 mph fastball. Also included were videos from individual workouts that showed him hitting, running pitching. Different angles of his delivery, ball movement and velocity were displayed on an iPad in the clips.
Pitching coach Rick Oliveri made GW’s initial contact with Trisch, and subsequent conversations led to a campus visit via Zoom that concluded with the scholarship offer.
“Since a coach can’t see you right now during COVID, getting your video out there is one of the biggest parts of being recruited,” said Trisch, who heard from seven or eight Division I schools.
Maine college coaches also have relied on video conferences to attract in-state prospects.
“In today’s world the internet shrinks everything, so the in-person visit is something we like to do but at the same time not necessary in order to evaluate or support the guys we’re recruiting,” Caruso said.
Another technological advance aiding recruiting is the increased livestreaming of high school and club games. Coaches can use the footage to evaluate the players’ skills without traveling.
“This has actually allowed me to see even more players,” University of Maine at Presque Isle women’s basketball coach Gavin Kane said. “It wasn’t uncommon for me to have my two computers and my phone going at the same time with three different games on.”
Kane normally spends many winter nights traveling to games to foster direct relationships with recruits. That was not possible this year because of gathering limits that essentially eliminated anyone but players, coaches and game personnel from attending the contests.
“I definitely think the livestreaming helped,” said Sophia McVicar, a Calais High School senior who will play basketball at Husson. “Calais is a trip from anywhere, really, so I think having those games available was one positive that came from this.”
The numbers game
Also factoring into this year’s recruiting process is an NCAA waiver that allows anyone playing college sports under its umbrella during the pandemic to gain an extra year of eligibility — student-athletes normally have five years to complete four years of a sport.
That means potentially fewer roster spots for incoming freshmen next fall.
“I was a little nervous at first about the number of spots on the team, just because it meant guys could take advantage of that while going on for their master’s degrees,” said Caribou High School senior Sawyer Deprey, who will play basketball at Thomas College in Waterville.
The Husson men’s basketball roster this season has 18 players but only two seniors and both plan to return to play next winter while pursuing master’s degrees.
That has prompted Caruso to adjust his recruiting efforts for next season.
“We’ve probably cut the number of prospects we’ve approached by more than half,” he said. “To us the biggest question we’ve asked ourselves is, do we have space and, if so, what are our needs and really defining our needs because we want to be true to the guys we have.”
Fewer roster departures because of the NCAA waiver also affects the number of athletic scholarships available at the Division I and II levels.
“It’s really changed the needs and the scholarships cycles,” Atherley said of the unprecedented situation. “So there’s that real sense among the current recruits of, ‘It’s my window and it’s quickly passing. Am I going to have an opportunity?’”
Andrew Szwez, a senior basketball player at Bangor High, had expected to know his next educational destination by now. He is still considering his options, which include prep school and Division III programs.
“I had hoped to get a little more buzz with recruiting, but I think it’s been just an uphill battle in terms of getting your name out there and getting recruited by coaches that you really want to play for,” said Szwez, who hopes to make a decision by the beginning of May.
“With how this past year has gone you just have to roll with the punches and make the best of the situation,” he said.
Like most other top high school basketball players in the state, Szwez normally would have played AAU basketball last summer and fall. But with those opportunities severely limited by the coronavirus, he’s been left to forge relationships with coaches largely through emails and phone calls.
“There was definitely a lot of advocating for yourself and trying to get coaches to buy in on you as a player and a prospect,” he said of finding and contacting coaches at desirable programs.
Szwez understands the challenges coaches have faced in recruiting without the typical face-to-face contact and with roster sizes expected to swell because of the additional eligibility offered to current college athletes.
“In some cases there are just too many players and not enough spots and a lot of kids are getting sold short on recruitment for this year,” he said.
Szwez, who plans to study economics, has contacted approximately 10 schools and is optimistic he’ll find a destination in line with his academic and athletic goals.
“Nobody could have anticipated this happening, so you’ve just got to take it for what it is,” he said.
For senior student-athletes still mulling their college futures, Martin has some words of advice.
“For a while I wasn’t getting that much attention from schools I dreamed of playing at on the Division I level, but thank God I stayed patient and made the best decision for me,” he said.