Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
PISCATAWAY, N.J. – The thundershowers had just turned to sunshine and Chris Melvin was standing on the turf at Rutgers Stadium surrounded by nearly 200 of the top high school football players on the East Coast.
Divided into position groups and wearing numbers to identify them, the players performed drills under the watchful eyes of high school coaches who barked out suggestions and directions.
NCAA regulations prevent college coaches from attending the Big Time Football Showcase, but Melvin says many are dying to know these elite-level players performed in the one-day event held May 7.
“There are a lot of coaches trying to find out what’s going on here,” said Melvin, a recruiting analyst for EliteRecruits.com who is in charge of inviting the players. “By the time nine o’clock [tonight] hits I guarantee you my phone is going to be ringing beyond its capability. I’m sort of like Barack Obama right now. Everyone’s calling me trying to be my best friend.”
A dozen players chosen in the recent NFL Draft participated in this event in past years, including linebacker Brian Cushing, running backs Knowshon Moreno and Donald Brown and offensive lineman Eugene Monroe.Up until two years ago, this event was known as the Elite College Combine and it wasn’t unusual to see Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis or Florida coach Urban Meyer roaming the sidelines looking for that next program-changing star.
But the NCAA clamped down on coaches attending combines and now the coaches must obtain their information in another way.
“Colleges can’t attend our event but there’s ways to go around that,” Melvin said. “Every college has a website and they have newspapers and they have guys out here covering our event. The Terrapin Times [an independent magazine and Website that covers Maryland athletics] is going to go back and the coaches are going to read about it on their site.”
Keith Cavanaugh, editor and publisher of Terrapin Times, said Maryland fans and coaches would indeed be interested in what occurred at the combine.
“We interviewed 25 Maryland recruiting targets, so for fans and for the coaches they’ll be wanting to know what the kids are saying, how they performed, what their 40 time was,” he said. “For example, Javarie Johnson, a 6-4, 210-pound outside linebacker from D.C. Dunbar High, ran a 4.52 40. That was his best recorded time ever so numbers like that will jump out at you.”
UConn coach Randy Edsall attended the old Elite College Combine, but now says he supports the legislation that prevents college coaches from attending events such as these.
“We don’t really try to find out what goes on with those events,” Edsall said. “We try to talk to the high school coaches and get the information from the high school coaches and then try to gather information from our own camps when we have them. We’re not a big proponent of those types of events. Some of this recruiting has gotten out of hand….I don’t think it’s good for 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds. They need to take some of these things a little bit further and let these kids understand that you have to have the academics first.”
Melvin agrees, pointing out that Rhodes scholar Myron Rolle of Florida State previously attended this event. Rolle would have been a top draft pick but is fulfilling his Rhodes scholar obligations instead.
Edsall also said the best way to evaluate a player is to see him in a high school game or on your own campus, as opposed to at a combine event:
“The thing is, you can go and get that stuff done by going and watching a kid or having a kid come here,” he said. “There’s more to it than what a kid runs or jumps. There’s still the film evaluation test. There’s the character test. There’s the work ethic test. What we’ve done as an association to outlaw those types of things is one of the best things we’ve ever put in place.”
The Big Time Showcase was held on the Rutgers campus, although Rutgers coaches were not permitted to attend.
Still, Edsall suggested it might be “a recruiting advantage for some schools and not for another.”
Despite the criticism, the players seemed to enjoy the event and saw it as an opportunity to gain exposure and land a scholarship.
Danny Sullivan, a linebacker/defensive end from Mannasquan (N.J.) High who earned the Linebacker MVP award, said it was more relaxing without college coaches on hand, but he was still hoping to impress.
“It’s good so nobody’s all nervous and tense and everything, but then again you gotta get it done,” he said. “I like it because it’s a chance for every kid to get out there and do their thing.”
Leslie Shepherd, who played in the NFL with several teams, said events like the Big Time Football Showcase are essential if you want your child to gain recognition.
Shepherd’s son, Khalek, is a running back/defensive back at Gwynn Park (Md.) High who attended the event and holds several Division I offers.
“If you want your child to be recognized as one of the best in the country, you have to take them to this stuff,” said Shepherd, the offensive coordinator at Gwynn Park.
Melvin, who works tirelessly getting to know the players by attending high school games and watching film, said he’s only out to help the kids and would never do anything to hurt them.
“I’m not out here for a kid to see their recruiting stock fall,” Melvin said. “If a kid has a bad [40-yard-dash] time, then we’ll scratch it….Our vision is to make sure every kid here gets seen.”
In fact, Melvin said, the Big Time Football Showcase only plans to get bigger.
“This event is going to escalate,” he said. “We have a huge vision and there’s no limit to it.”
BIG TIME SHOWCASE MVPs
Kicker/Punter MVP – Sean Baner (Kicker) – William Tennent, PA
QB MVP – Ricardo Young – HD Woodson, Washington DC (Young committed to Virginia Tech at the event).
RB MVP – George Stephens – Asbury Park
OL MVP – Frank Quartucci – Hamilton West, NJ
WR MVP – Joshua Ford – Calvin Coolidge, Washington DC
DB MVP – Antoine Johnson – Eleanor Roosevelt, MD
LB MVP – Danny Sullivan – Manasquan, NJ
DL MVP – Chris Woods – East Orange Campus, NJ
Fastest player – Jared Allison (Matawan, NJ – sophomore) 4.3 forty
Elite Recruit Award – Michael Pearson – Ballou, Washington DC.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.