Ethan Schmidt
ASU Student Journalist

Recruiting and its impact on Mesa High

December 7, 2017 by Ethan Schmidt , Arizona State University

For some high schools, it is routine to have several players receive NCAA Division I offers. For others, it is a homegrown process.

The recruiting show of high school athletes has become wackier than ever. Top colleges across America continue to come up with unique adaptations to recruiting because of the non-stop growth of social media.

It used to be much different when the coaches of Mesa High football went through the spin cycle of recruiting.

“I don’t think it was as crazy as it is today just because of the use of social media,” coach Kapi Sikahema said. “There’s so much social media with Twitter, Facebook, and even texting.”

Junior Taylor explained: “It’s night-and-day different now. With the social media aspect, coaches come in and one of the first things they ask players is if you have a Twitter account, Facebook, social media accounts that they can contact you through and meet.”

Coaches immediately understand the difference time makes, even when they are decades apart in age.

Sikahema was a defensive back, who played from 1988-92 at Brigham Young University. He played running back at Mesa, where he graduated in 1985.

“Back in my day, coaches would just come to your house, talk to you, and then you would decide if you want to commit or not depending on how many colleges would come to your home and tell you face-to-face that they really want you,” Sikahema said. “It’s such a different time in recruiting now.”

Taylor graduated from Mesa High in 2001. UCLA, USC, Notre Dame and many other schools across the country presented an offer to Taylor. He played wide receiver at UCLA from 2002-06.

“When I was going through everything, a handwritten letter was the most valuable thing you could get,” Taylor said. “When you got a handwritten letter that means it was authentic and real. That was a big thing when I was being recruited.”

The options are almost unlimited now for athletes coming out of high school. Nonetheless, it is still difficult to be recruited by a Power Five conference team in NCAA Division I.

Mesa High has had several players come off the historic ground of the school to reach for new heights at the next level. Names like Vai Sikahema, Deuce Lutui, Robert Holcombe, Orlando McKay and even Kyler Fackrell, who is a linebacker for the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.

But it all starts the same for the players who go on to play college football. It becomes the wild ride of being under the microscope of numerous people wanting them because of their outstanding athleticism.

Now, kids are being placed into databases and labeled by numbers. Sites like Hudl, MaxPreps, Scout and Rivals are making the process quicker for coaches and teams across the nation.

“Coaches are not hitting the recruiting trail as hard because they can watch the tape,” Taylor said. “They may come by and make a couple of site visits but now you can just jump on Hudl and look at the top 25 receivers in the country and decide whether you even want to use your time to go see them. In a logistics aspect, it is nice for college coaches not to have to travel as much. But it does kind of take away from the whole recruiting process.”

Mesa football has one player who has received an offer to play at the Division I level. Running back Kris Jackson is the one getting to experience the latest methods of recruiting and what it’s like to be judged for talent.

“Schools will come in and say hi all the time because they are in the area,” Jackson said. “I would go to camps during the summer to try to get more exposure. My coaches would help me too with getting exposure.”

Jackson’s D-I offer comes from Weber State, a relatively small school in northern Utah that is a part of the Football Championship Subdivision. After a couple of big games, Jackson received contact from the Wildcats for a week until the program offered him a full ride.

However, Jackson says he has encountered some awkward recruiting tactics.

“That one was Glendale Community (College),” Jackson said. “They honestly just called me. It was so random and unexpected. One of them followed my twitter account and then asked for my phone number. They called me that day and offered me a full ride there.”

Jackson says he is still waiting to see if anything else comes in or not. He wants to weigh out his options to see which decision will best fit his lifestyle.

“I want to make sure it’s a full offer,” Jackson said. “I want to have everything paid for and not have to worry about everything.

“On top of that, I want to be happy while I’m there. I don’t want to go to a school where it’s just going to be miserable and just regret it because I’ll be there for at least four years. I want to look for the opportunity where I’ll be happy and can compete.”

When it comes to jumping to the next level, there are items that colleges are shopping for. Think of it as making a grocery list and checking things off the list.

“On the collegiate level, I think the first check mark is academics,” Sikahema said. “If they don’t have academics in high school, they can’t go and receive those scholarship offers. And then they look at your athleticism, based on your size, height, weight, depending on the position you played. Sometimes they look at your stats, how good your stats are.”

Fortunately, it is agreed upon that top colleges find academics important just as much as physical attributes.

“Number one is academics,” Taylor emphasized. “And after academics, it’s going to be the size and potential.”

Most schools are going to require a 3.0 GPA (grade point average) minimum to receive a scholarship. However, schools can make exceptions if they really want an athlete.

The NCAA has specific requirements for athletes attempting to go play Division I sports. Students who enroll at a Division I school must complete 16 core courses, earn at least a 2.3 GPA in those courses, earn an SAT combined score or ACT sum score matching their core-course GPA on the Division I sliding scale, which balances their test score and core-course GPA.

If students have a low test score, they will need a higher core-course GPA to be eligible. If they have a low core-course GPA, they will need a higher test score to be eligible.

The athletic director also has a big role in helping high school athletes get into collegiate athletics. David Huffine is the AD at Mesa High.

“It’s a community effort,” Huffine said. “All of us must play our part in helping assist these guys in getting them to the next spot. Counselors are extremely important because if the kids don’t have the grades, we are wasting our time.”

Mesa High continues to compete with other schools in the Valley when it comes to bringing quality players into its sports programs.

“Our growth and demographic over the years has changed, and we don’t get all the new income like Chandler and Hamilton,” Taylor said. “Those schools have created a niche where they are getting the top players across the state to come there.”

The Jackrabbits coaches do find that producing a Division I athlete like Jackson every two to three years is a success. It is a statement that the program is doing well considering the conditions of high school football in the state of Arizona.

“We want to attract kids that would want to come back to Mesa and rebuild the traditions,” Sikahema said. “I love the challenge.”