Farmington High senior Jordan Turner sits surrounded by letters from college football programs all over the nation.  Turner received letters and text messages from coaches on almost a daily basis during his recruitment.

Farmington High senior Jordan Turner sits surrounded by letters from college football programs all over the nation. Turner received letters and text messages from coaches on almost a daily basis during his recruitment.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


On the trail: A dive into Michigan high school recruiting

By: Jacob Herbert | C&G Newspapers | Published August 28, 2019

 Madison Heights Bishop Foley senior Klayton Cornell runs routes during a recent summer practice. Cornell is working to get his play noticed by college coaches no matter the level.

Madison Heights Bishop Foley senior Klayton Cornell runs routes during a recent summer practice. Cornell is working to get his play noticed by college coaches no matter the level.

Photo by Patricia O'Blenes

 According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, in 2017 there were 1,036,842 high school football participants nationally. Of those athletes, 73,557 went on to play college football. In Michigan, 2.3% of all football players went on to play for a Division 1 school.

According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, in 2017 there were 1,036,842 high school football participants nationally. Of those athletes, 73,557 went on to play college football. In Michigan, 2.3% of all football players went on to play for a Division 1 school.

File photo by Patricia O'Blenes

METRO DETROIT — On a hot summer day toward the end of July, Jordan Turner sits at a table on the campus of Farmington High surrounded by a pile of letters from college football teams all over the nation. The recruiting process for Turner began his sophomore year.

A linebacker for the Falcons, Turner will be playing football for the University of Wisconsin starting next fall.

Turner received 30 offers from colleges. The overwhelming number of letters and visits made for a restricted amount of free time.

“Most of my Saturdays would be gone, because I would be traveling to a school,” Turner said. “So it’s been a lot of time just going up to schools and visiting to see if you would potentially go there.”

Turner said he received text messages from college coaches almost daily. The senior admitted that it was a lot to handle at first, but he became acclimated to the process in a few short weeks.

He visited Wisconsin June 7 and committed to play for coach Paul Chryst 17 days later.

Turner said he committed to Wisconsin because he felt it was the right fit.

“Wisconsin said if I get hurt, they still want me. That’s when I felt like I was wanted there,” Turner said. “That’s a good feeling for me for a school like that to still take me even if I had an injury, because most schools don’t do that.”

Roughly 20 minutes north of Farmington sits Cornell Wheeler, a linebacker heading into his senior year at West Bloomfield High. Wheeler has been committed to play for Jim Harbaugh at the University of Michigan since September of 2018.

Like Turner, Wheeler called the process overwhelming, but understood that coaches were just doing their jobs.

“Picking a school for the next four years of my life was definitely stressful. I’m blessed that I did that,” Wheeler said. “I still got other things I need to do for my high school, so I’m not satisfied yet.”

Though he is committed to play for a university that assured him his scholarship would not be pulled due to injury, Wheeler still feels the immense pressure of having to perform at a Division 1 level each and every play to assure his college coaches that they made the right choice.

“I definitely got to live up to that hype every play, every down,” Wheeler said. “If you mess up one rep, everybody talks, ‘He ain’t this; he ain’t that.’ Every rep, every play, I have to go hard.”


‘I just want to play the game’
Some 20 miles east of the blue chip recruits, Klayton Cornell sweats through a summer practice on the grass behind the baseball field at Madison Heights Bishop Foley.

Football has been a part of the Fraser resident’s life since he started playing at 7 years old. He’s had a dream to play in college.

The receiver/safety has had a different kind of recruitment process. At press time, he had one official visit to Baldwin Wallace, a D-3 school in Ohio.  

While Michigan and Michigan State aren’t knocking on Cornell’s door, the senior said he’s happy to be considered at any level.

“It is what it is,” Cornell said. “Obviously it would be great to play D-1 football, but I was taught to never overlook D-2 or D-3 or anything lower than that. Football is football. I just want to play the game.”

In order to help ensure that his playing days don’t end this fall, Cornell works to get the attention of different schools. He uploads his own videos and makes a highlight tape using the various social media avenues. He estimated that he’s sent out his own film to around 10 different programs.

For Cornell, the waiting game has been one of the difficult parts of his recruitment process.

“Just waiting for the coaches to reach out to me and come talk to me, it’s been stressful,” he said. “I just keep doing what I’m doing. I hit the weight room, come out here and put in work with the quarterbacks, and keep working on my craft.”


The talent seekers and evaluators
As Cornell uploads his tape to Hudl and other recruiting websites, he gives people like Isiah Dunning, a recruiting coordinator at Saginaw Valley State University, the chance to view it.

Dunning, a defensive line coach who joined the Cardinals staff earlier this year, said the prominence of social media in today’s society is just one of the ways he’s seen recruiting change.

“Coaches have much more access to many more recruits due to services such as Twitter, Hudl and the various recruiting databases,” Dunning said. “It’s a lot easier for players to get noticed nowadays.”

Dunning said off-the-field characteristics are just as important as on-field skills when it comes to his recruiting. He looks at family dynamics, academic performance, work ethic and character, among other things.

While online services have made players’ tapes more accessible to coaches across the nation, Albion College recruiting coordinator Justin Sweeney warned athletes, and other recruiters, of its pitfalls.

Sweeney believes that the services can make some recruiters lazy, or lead them to misevaluate a player because of a short highlight reel.

“Like all other social media platforms, people only post what they look good in,” said Sweeney, who has also coached at Central Michigan University and Ferris State University. “I believe some athletes get over-recruited because of this. A great evaluation doesn’t come from edited highlights or a few clips online. You need to speak with the high school coaches, meet with the player, watch them in person and do the background work to get an accurate evaluation.”


‘You better love football’
Scott Wooster, a recruiting coordinator and offensive line coach at Wayne State University, said social media can help those in his line of work get an early character evaluation on a player based on what they post.

The coach also noted that social media can hurt the evaluation of a player in more ways than one.

“Because of all this attention you can get on social media, I think some young men have fallen in love with recruiting and don’t necessarily love football,” he said. “You better love football, because you’re going to spend a lot of time with it at the college level.”

While there have been copious number of changes to recruiting over the years, one thing that has stayed constant in Wooster’s job is where he starts his evaluation of a high school player.

“To me it all starts with the coach,” Wooster said. “I think any program worth their salt, that’s how they’re going to operate too. For the kids, don’t just be the best player on your team — be the best young man on your team. … Do everything your coach says so that when we go in there, your coach says, ‘Yeah, that’s the guy.’”

Wooster said he makes contact with every coach in his recruiting area, which includes both Oakland and Macomb counties. He physically visits 80%-90% of the schools to make sure he and his staff aren’t relying on what they see on Twitter or recruiting databases.

Wooster said there are some myths when it comes to recruiting.

“I think one of them is you need a recruiting service to get recruited,” he said. “It all goes through the high school coach for us.”

Running hand in hand with recruiting services are recruiting combines, places where kids can go with hopes of getting more eyes from D-1 scouts. Wooster believes it’s best to stay away from those types of camps.

“Don’t waste your money on the combines and all that kind of stuff,” Wooster said. “Instead, have that honest conversation with your high school coach about what level they see you playing at. Then go to those camps, go to the camps; where that (college’s) staff is going to be there. That’s the way to get recruited.”


The point of contact
Clinton Township Chippewa Valley football coach Scott Merchant has been a high school coach for 21 years. He’s had his share of recruits from D-1 and down.

He said recruiting can be “ugly and disappointing.”

“I try to warn our players and parents as much. It’s not this super glamorous thing, despite how it’s portrayed in the media and on social media,” Merchant said. “It is extremely important to try to keep an even keel through the process, because there are a lot of ups and downs. … Until you sign those papers, nothing is for certain.”

So whether it’s a player getting a text or visit from a D-1 coach or a player working his hardest to get noticed, Merchant said that’s not the important part. What matters is that whatever school the athlete chooses, it’s the right one for him and his family.

“Will it help you be whatever you want to be after you graduate from college?” Merchant said. “Most guys aren’t going to the NFL, and even if they do, most have to work after they get out of the league, so your education and degree are very important.”

Sports Writers Jason Carmel Davis and Zachary Manning contributed to this story.