Created:Saturday, March 9, 2013 11:50 p.m.CDT
Updated:Wednesday, March 13, 2013 12:09 a.m.CDT

An avalanche of attention

Shane Evans, a junior offensive lineman at Prarie Ridge, is perhaps our area's most sought after high school recruit. Here, he is surrounded by hundreds of letters from about 40 different schools showing interest. So far, five of those schools have made a full-ride offer to Evans. (Monica Maschak -

Shane Evans arrives home each day from school to find a large stack of mail waiting for him.

The letters, packed inside envelopes emblazoned with college logos, are shipped from campuses across the country, expressing interest in the Prairie Ridge junior offensive lineman’s football services.

The daily mail call comes at the end of a school day when Evans’ phone constantly buzzes with indications that another Facebook message has reached his inbox from any one of the college football coaches who remain in regular contact with Evans.

In January, the NCAA board of directors approved 25 of 26 proposals designed to eliminate many of the recruiting restrictions on the methods and frequency coaches can communicate with recruits either by phone or social media.

But last week, the NCAA announced it would reconsider its decision after an onslaught of criticism arrived from coaches, administrators and recruiters complaining the new guidelines create an open season on high school football players and cause an unfair playing field between college football’s haves and have-nots.

For Evans, who added the University of Wyoming to his growing list of scholarship offers last week, the attention he receives whether via the U.S. Postal Service or electronically is flattering. But he won’t allow it change who he is or the way he approaches a high school career that still has a year remaining.

“For me, I want to do really well my senior year and so I have my teammates in mind,” Evans said. “I’m not trying to focus more on college. I’d rather have a good senior year.”

But for recruits receiving serious Division I attention, remaining grounded isn’t always easy.

Jacobs quarterback Bret Mooney saw his recruiting stock rise after his junior season when he finished second in the area in passing yardage (2,046 yards) and completions (127) and third in touchdown passes (17).

Before the season, Mooney had only received recruiting interest from Purdue, his father’s alma mater. But within weeks of the end of the season, recruiters from Northwestern, Illinois, Toledo, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan started to contact him through Facebook.

While the average day only yields only a couple of private messages from coaches wanting to speak to him, Mooney said he’s received up to 25 Facebook messages in a day with four different coaches each messaging him five or six times.

“It’s definitely a cool experience and the dream (of playing college football) is starting to kick in a little bit,” Mooney said. “It’s not overwhelming, but it’s a lot to figure out what I’m doing school-wise.”

That the majority of the attention is coming through social media has made the process easier for many recruits. While college coaches struggle to keep up, prep players appreciate being able to communicate with coaches through means they are comfortable with. Part of the complaint lodged to the NCAA included concerns that the nation’s top programs could hire staffers whose lone job would be to reach out to recruits through Facebook and Twitter.

Mooney, who set up his Facebook page when he was in the sixth grade, said his pending college decision is the only reason he keeps it.

“My Facebook would have been deleted a long time ago,” Mooney said. “I started it for social networking, but now, it’s just for recruiting.”

Evans recently set up a Twitter account, but still relies on Facebook – where he has 1,261 friends. Most of his recruiting attention are alerts with coaches wanting to set up phone conversations with him.

As easy as communicating electronically has become, Evans still appreciates more old-school methods. He looks forward to his daily mail haul, which varies from hand-written notes to promotional materials to photos.

Among Evans’ favorites came from the University of Illinois, which sent Evans a photo displaying his face on the Memorial Stadium scoreboard while an Illini football game is being played.

The message on the scoreboard is an open invitation to come join the Illinois program.

But Evans still prefers to speak to coaches on the phone. Five calls have resulted in scholarship offers, including four from Mid-American Conference schools. Evans uses the communications to learn just how serious programs are about him.

“Usually, I can tell what kind of people they are just by talking to them over the phone,” Evans said.

Marian Central junior running back Ephraim Lee is just starting to experience what recruiting is all about.

Lee received his first offer last week from Yale, which reached out offering to cover all of his college costs in exchange for him being part of the Bulldogs’ football program.

Although other recruiting mail has come from Harvard, Penn and Northwestern, the Yale letter stands out to Lee. Marian assistant Dirk Stanger had told Lee he could expect to hear from the Ivy League school, but never expected the letter to include a full-ride offer.

“It was shocking,” Lee said.

Now that Yale has offered Lee, Hurricanes coach Ed Brucker expects it won’t be long before more recruiting attention arrives for Lee. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound running back ran for 1,323 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior –numbers that have put him on recruiters’ radars.

Lee already has been to an Illinois day-long football camp and said Friday that he planned to spend Saturday in Champaign, as well. Northwestern invited Lee to attend one of its spring football practices as have a few of the Ivy League programs that have expressed interest.

For Lee, who is only 16 years old, the attention can sometimes be a lot to take in.

“It’s kind of weird here and there transitioning to college and seeing all these colleges and getting all these letters,” Lee said. “But it’s also pretty cool to go to these campuses and see what they have to offer.”

Lee watched as former Marian quarterback Chris Streveler received a host of recruiting attention before committing last summer to Minnesota, where soon he’ll start spring football practices with the Golden Gophers.

As Streveler went through the recruiting process, Lee pictured himself in similar scenarios, anxious to continue his football playing career in college.

But unlike most other recruits, Lee does not have a Facebook or Twitter account. Much of his recruiting interest has come through emails, letters and phone calls, opening Lee up to a whole new phase of life.

“I was always hoping this would happen,” Lee said. “But now that it’s starting, I’m still trying to get used to it.”

National recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said adjusting to a barrage of recruiting interest can be a lot to handle for some players. Lemming, who has been covering college football recruiting for more than three decades, said social media has ushered in a new era of how coaches can reach out to players, often causing recruits’ heads to swell because of the attention they’re receiving.

“It could really work against a player with all the attention,” Lemming said. “But if they’re mature enough and have enough parental guidance and guidance from a coach, then it shouldn’t affect them much.”

Players like Lee, Evans and Mooney are determined not to allow the attention to impact their preparations for their final year of high school football.

Lee said despite the attention, he wants to keep his focus on having fun with his teammates and winning games. He said he feels if he works hard and contributes the most he can to his team, the scholarship offers will take care of themselves.

Mooney admits that he’s more aware that college programs are interested in him, especially with the way that recruiting sites such as track the scholarship offers players receive.

Despite the attention he’s received from several schools, Mooney has yet to receive an official offer, motivating him to keep working toward finishing his career strong at a quarterback position where there’s plenty of competition for scholarships.

“I know who other schools are interested in,” Mooney said. “So there’s definitely a little bit of pressure when you see a school offers a different person at your position a scholarship, you wonder, ‘Why didn’t they offer me one?’

“So it definitely gets you a little motivated, but it’s better than not having [the attention] at all.”