Quarterback Jack West had not yet taken a snap at Saraland High School when he received his first football scholarship offer. At that point, he also hadn’t taken his driver’s license test or begun shaving regularly, either.
West was not the product of pushy parents, a high school coach prone to hyperbole or a personal coach who believed in seeking that kind of attention for a player so young.
Yet, West’s talents as a precocious early-teen was so apparent that football recruiters from near (Alabama’s Nick Saban) and far (Stanford’s David Shaw) came offering him a chance to play quarterback at their schools.
West grew up as a dedicated fan of Alabama football, but he has also always been at home among a group of the most diverse, smartest people. So, during the summer of 2016 — two years after his first scholarship offer and two years before he could actually sign a scholarship — West committed to head to California to play for Stanford.
He red-shirted during his freshman year at Stanford, so his college story has yet to be written. But if West is like the majority of the other football prospects whose talents were recognized at such a young age, he is destined for success on the college level and beyond.
This month, sports fans were introduced to DeAndre Moore Jr. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t yet become familiar with the wide-receiver prospect. Maybe you can catch up on who he is next year when he enters the ninth grade.
The Las Vegas native is a member of the high school class of 2023. Within the last two weeks, both Alabama and Auburn have joined the college programs that have already made him a recruiting priority.
Moore is a late bloomer compared to Titan Lacaden, a football prodigy from Honolulu who was offered his first scholarship by the University of Hawaii as an 11 year old. His record may soon be broken by 7-year-old Dashaun “Flash” Morris II of Atlanta. Morris already has an alarmingly large number of social media followers who track his every workout and breakaway run.
On its surface, offering college scholarships to kids as young as 11 years old is ridiculous. But there has yet to be a case of one of these high-profile football prodigies not going on to be at least a good college player.
At Alabama, the best example is linebacker Dylan Moses, who was offered by the Tide as an eighth grader. Moses committed to play for LSU, moved from his hometown of Baton Rouge to Florida to attend IMG Academy and then eventually signed with Alabama. This fall, he will be the All-American leader of the Alabama defense. A year from now he will have signed his first NFL contract.
Quarterback Todd Marinovich and tennis player Jennifer Capriati are the two athletes most often cited as cautionary tales when it comes to young kids being thrust into the limelight long before they’re ready.
Marinovich was the starting quarterback at USC, was a first-round pick of the Oakland Raiders and because a millionaire athlete.
Capriati earned $10.2 million in her professional career, won three majors and reached No. 1 in the world in 2001.
It’s true that both Marinovich and Capriati had major struggles in their personal lives. There’s no way to know for sure, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that being in the spotlight at such a young age hurt the personal development of both athletes.
The same is certainly a danger with the young phenoms now getting increased attention. For that reason, there needs to be a rule change to help shield these young athletes from some of the pressure and spotlight. One way to accomplish this may sound counterintuitive. The NCAA should have no age limit on when a player can sign a scholarship.
If Saban can look at a 10-year-old and is sure that in eight years the kid will be good enough to play for Alabama, then he should be allowed to send him scholarship papers to sign. Of course, that would almost never happen. Even the best talent scouts know that predicting what a 10-year-old is going to become as an 18-year-old is a dicey situation.
The result of my proposed rule change would be that young prospects wouldn’t receive these fake offers. Under the current system, these scholarship offers mean nothing and accomplish nothing other than bringing attention to very young kids who should be allowed to play just for the joy of playing.
But if you’re interested in seeing a talented 7-year-old, check out young Flash Morris on YouTube. (He goes by DFlash2.0.) Yes, that’s his father wearing the Daddy Flash shirt.
And, yes, I wish I was making all this up.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.
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