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RECRUITING: Coaching changes complicate choices

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When Chris Holmes learned N.C. State football coach Tom O’Brien had been fired, he was taken aback.

Holmes became attached to O’Brien and his coaching staff as he sorted through 11 scholarship offers from Division I programs.

The Chancellor High School senior defensive back orally committed to the Wolfpack in July 2012 and never wavered on his decision—until O’Brien was dismissed in November following a 7–5 regular season.

“I was really shocked,” Holmes said. “It caught me off-guard.”

Holmes backed out of his commitment to N.C. State after he met new Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren and Duke University began recruiting him.

He switched his pledge to the Blue Devils in late December, and will sign a national letter of intent with them today on National Signing Day.

Chancellor assistant coach Chris Lam, who handles recruiting for the school, said he and head coach Bob Oliver typically discourage their players from decommitting. But Lam said college coaching changes are dramatic shifts that should allow recruits to reassess their options.

“This, to me, is one of the times where it kind of opens the door back up,” Lam said. “The coaching staff that he was recruited by is gone, so it gives Chris all the right and the green light to test the market and see what’s going on.”

Holmes isn’t the only Fredericksburg-area standout who has been affected by recent college coaching changes.

As a dozen area recruits finalize their plans to play for Division I schools today, many will do so with a new understanding of the big business of college football.

“It can be confusing,” Lam said. “It’s just one of those things where the kids have to do a lot of soul searching. It definitely throws a wrench in the whole process.”

A CULTURE CHANGE 

Holmes still wanted to play for the Wolfpack, but he needed assurance that the new coaching staff would be a good fit. So he visited N.C. State’s campus in December to meet with Doeren.

Holmes said it was a productive conversation, but he realized the culture at N.C. State was about to change.

“He was more worried about football and winning,” Holmes said of Doeren, who directed Northern Illinois to an Orange Bowl berth in 2012. “I wanted more than that.”

After talking with Doeren, Holmes visited Durham, N.C., to meet with Duke. On his initial trip, he arranged to take an official visit there in late December.

After that visit, Holmes knew he wanted to play for Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe. He then called Doeren and informed him of his decision.

“I guess it was mainly their character in my eyes,” Holmes said of the Blue Devils. “They were just better people that I knew I wanted to be around.”

Duke’s coaching staff was aware of Holmes because he attended their camp as a sophomore, but the Blue Devils didn’t offer him a scholarship until O’Brien was fired.

Lam said Clemson, Michigan and North Carolina also increased their recruiting efforts at that point.

“It was like sharks in the water,” Lam said. “They started preying on the kids committed to N.C. State.”

ASSISTANTS MATTER, TOO

Former Courtland offensive lineman Jonathan Burton remained committed to Syracuse after its head coach Doug Marrone departed for the same position with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

Burton spent last semester at Fork Union Military Academy in Fluvanna County and enrolled at Syracuse last month.

FUMA head coach John Shuman said Burton remained committed to the Orange because they promoted defensive coordinator Scott Shafer to head coach. The continuity made Burton’s decision easier.

But North Stafford senior wide receiver Brandon Ravenel struggled a bit when James Madison fired recruiting coordinator Chris Malone, with whom he had a two-year relationship.

“Brandon had a few reservations when it went down,” North Stafford coach Joe Mangano said. “I think it kind of rattled him. As a young kid he saw the realities of ‘This is big business.’

“Malone was here on a Thursday talking to him and the next day he was fired. It was crazy.”

Mangano said Ravenel remained committed to the Dukes because he’s loyal and “he could see himself at JMU even if football was taken away from him.”

Mangano said Ravenel “halfway looked around for a week or so” before deciding he would sign with JMU today.

“I think that was the first time he saw that this is not high school football,” Mangano said. “It’s not peewee football. It’s not middle school football. It’s not about fun. Unfortunately it’s about winning, and if you don’t win enough games there will be changes.”

A CLOSE CALL

Penn State had no issues with winning in 2012. Still, the Nittany Lions were in danger of losing their head coach, Bill O’Brien.

O’Brien was named Big Ten Coach of the Year after he guided Penn State to an 8–4 record in his first season.

Mountain View senior wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton was impressed with how O’Brien quickly established that Penn State can be successful despite adversity. The Lions lost several transfers and received a four-year NCAA bowl ban as the result of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

“They were able to change the view on Penn State,” said Hamilton, who will sign with the Nittany Lions Wednesday. “Penn State had a real big controversy about Sandusky and they were able to take some minds away from that and show people they’re still a top-tier football team.”

But Hamilton began questioning his commitment after O’Brien interviewed with the Cleveland Browns to become their head coach. O’Brien remained with the Nittany Lions, but the uncertainty frustrated Hamilton.

“The head coach is the main reason why kids decide to go to a school,” Hamilton said. “It’s not always about the football team or the academics. It’s about who’s there and who’s going to be your main instructor while you’re playing college football.”

Hamilton said Duke and Wake Forest immediately contacted him when O’Brien’s interview was reported.

O’Brien called Hamilton two days after the interview. Hamilton said the coach told him he never seriously considered leaving Penn State, but used the opportunity to provide more exposure to his program.

Hamilton said if O’Brien had left, it would’ve been “disappointing” because of the faith he and other recruits showed in a program on probation.

He understands O’Brien’s name could come up again for NFL openings, but he hopes to be established by then.

“I’m mainly worried about right now,” Hamilton said. “Since he’s staying right now, that’s the main reason I’m deciding to go there. If he leaves in the next year or so, hopefully I’ve already made a name for myself.”

IT'S NOT PERSONAL

Former Colonial Forge tight end Eric Frohnapfel can relate to what Holmes and others have gone through.

Frohnapfel orally committed to West Virginia in 2010. But at the end of that season, the Mountaineers hired Dana Holgorsen to be the new offensive coordinator and head coach in waiting.

Holgorsen was eventually hired to be the head coach for the following season, and Bill Stewart, the coach who recruited Frohnapfel, was fired.

The change meant the Mountaineers would no longer incorporate the traditional tight end in their offense. Holgorsen visited Frohnapfel at Colonial Forge and told him he would honor his scholarship, but he would have to play wide receiver.

“He basically told me, ‘If you want to be an every-down tight end, then you should look elsewhere because with my system that’s not how I’m going to use you,’” Frohnapfel recalled.

Frohnapfel said it was an easy decision to switch his commitment to Marshall because his twin brother, Blake, had already pledged to play quarterback there.

Frohnapfel said after initial disappointment, he's satisfied entering his junior season with the Thundering Herd. He said whether college coaches leave voluntarily or they’re dismissed, high school recruits shouldn’t take it personally.

“I think for a lot of high school kids they feel like they’re being let down by the coaches that recruited them,” Frohnapfel said. “The coaches are saying, ‘Come here, come here,’ and then they leave, so they feel let down.

“I kind of realize now so much of it is out of the coaches’ control. Unfortunately the recruits are the ones that get the shaft, but it’s not because they did anything wrong.”

Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

 

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