Recruiting is illegal in high school sports — except when a coach is trying to convince a student from his own school to try a different sport.
Manuel Douglas, the football coach at Harbor City Narbonne, went to watch some of his football players playing basketball two years ago when he noticed a tall, slender player on the bench.
"Who's this kid?" Douglas asked. "They tell me, 'It's Alex Akingbulu. He doesn't play much.'"
Douglas was intrigued by the 6-foot-6 sophomore with quick feet and active hands.
"I approached him after the game and asked, 'Hey, you ever play football?'" Douglas said.
So began the wooing of Alex Akingbulu.
"You're a perfect-sized left tackle and if you play football, I think we can get you to college," Douglas told him. "The rest is history."
Akingbulu started 14 games at offensive tackle for City Section Division I champion Narbonne last season as a junior. By the off-season, he had more than a dozen scholarship offers.
College recruiters like the idea that Akingbulu can easily add weight and strength.
"That's the excitement," Akingbulu said. "I'm seeing how far I can go. ... I'm just trying to test myself, seeing how high I can go."
He enters this season as a 6-6, 245-pound high school standout with the potential to be even better. Akingbulu, whose parents came from Nigeria, has proved to be a quick learner.
"A lot of recruiters say he's like soft clay," Douglas said. "They can mold him the way they need him to be."
Akingbulu still plays basketball, but it wasn't difficult to recruit him for football.
"People were always saying, 'You should try it out,'" he said. "I never thought about it. He convinced me at a basketball game. I love it. It's a great, different feeling than basketball. It has a lot of adrenaline. It's fun. It's been a journey. I learn stuff fast. I'm used to listening to Coach and doing what he tells me."
Akingbulu has spent the summer hanging out in the weight room trying to gain strength.
"It's very important," he said. "I feel I already have the footwork and quickness. As soon as I get the weight up, that's going to take me to another level."
With constant lessons from his coaches, Akingbulu understands now what his role is supposed to be.
"Stay in front of the guy," he said. "Don't get pushed back. That's what I live by. Stay in front, hold my ground."