Leesville Road fielded one of the best high school football teams in the state in 2012, but youd never guess how good they were judging by the interest shown to Pride players by college football recruiters.
The program has lost only two games in the past two years, but coach Chad Smothers doesnt expect any of his players to sign national letters of intent Wednesday during the first day of the signing period.
Leesville and Garner were undefeated when they met in the quarterfinals of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA quarterfinals last season.
But the two schools have produced only two football scholarship seniors, Garner offensive lineman Anthony Galavotti, who is signing with Western Carolina, and Garner two-way star Terry Gilman, who is headed to Bridgewater (Va.) College.
Bridgewater is an NCAA Division II school that doesnt offer football scholarships.
Ours are academic scholarships, said Tim Leister, the Bridgewater sports information director.
Gilmans play as a defensive end and tight end opened the door at Bridgewater, but his academics got him inside.
The same is true for Middle Creek quarterback David Salmon, who passed for 3,183 yards and 36 touchdowns last fall. He already has enrolled at Campbell University, which is a member of the NCAA Division I FCS, but as a member of the Pioneer League doesnt give football scholarships.
Campbell offers its football recruits a financial aid package that is the equivalent of an athletic scholarship, but its football players will not sign national letters of intent.
Football scholarships of any description are even more scarce at Leesville Road (12-1), which ripped through the Cap Eight 4A undefeated the past two seasons and whose only two losses during the last two years were deep in the playoffs to Garner, and at Wake Forest-Rolesville, which finished 9-3.
Leesville is known for producing college players such as the University of North Carolinas Pete Mangum and N.C. States Taylor Gentry and Zach Gentry. Wake Forest has a reputation for physical, fast players.
But college recruiters havent been offering.
I think it is a joke that the kids at Leesville, Wake Forest and Garner arent getting college offers, Smothers said.
Leesville has been a dominant program, but since 2006 has had only three Division I scholarship winners as seniors Thomas Wilson, Elon; Zack Greene, Duke; and Brandon Pittman, N.C. State. Six other players earned scholarships after going to school as walk-on non-scholarship players.
The roster at Matthews Butler, the NCHSAA 4AA champion, was filled with NCAA Division I scholarship winners, but the Bulldogs are the exception.
I learned a long time ago that I dont know what college recruiters are looking for, said former Garner coach Nelson Smith. I tell recruiters that a kid could help them, could play for them, but they dont think so.
Smith said he is mystified that 2011 Southeast Raleigh quarterback David Washington, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound athlete who eventually signed with Old Dominion, wasnt heavily recruited by Division I in-state schools. ODU is an NCAA Division I FCS school.
Washington was one of the best players Ive ever seen in high school, Smith said. I cant understand why every major college in the state was not after him.
Garners Kameron Smith, who was the CIAA offensive football player of the year in 2012, wasnt a hot recruiting commodity when he was a senior either. He signed with the Naval Academy and later transferred to Winston-Salem State.
Retiring Clayton coach Gary Fowler said he has learned through the years he doesnt know what college recruiters are looking for, either. He had had only two Division I football scholarship winners in 30 years at the school before East Carolina offered Demage Bailey (6-4, 245 ) this year.
I went through it as a parent, Fowler said. The colleges around here were not interested in my son Drew because he wasnt quick enough. I understand that. But he was quick enough to start at the Air Force Academy for four years.
Youd like to think that colleges would be looking for players who have had success. There is usually a reason that some teams are successful. The successful teams usually have good kids with good character. But colleges are trying to project who will be able to play in three, four, five years. They are looking at potential, not achievement.
Combines and college-sponsored camps are becoming more important in the recruiting process than high school competition.
Im sick of hearing about combines, Garners Smith said.
College recruiters are more likely to offer a 6-5, 300-pound player who has good speed but limited experience than a smaller player who is a high school standout.
I think thats one reason you see so many recruits who dont make it in college, Fowler said. Colleges are looking for potential and a lot of people dont ever reach their potential.