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Because of the pandemic, junior colleges are about to have an amazing football recruiting year

Jim Fenwick (right) with sons Casey and Tyler.
Jim Fenwick, right, with sons Casey, left, and Tyler. Fenwick, athletic director at Valley College, says junior college could help high school players who have lost out on recruiting during the pandemic.
(Fenwick family)

With the COVID-19 pandemic surging in California and college sports recruiters banned from leaving their campuses until April at the earliest, some high school athletes and their parents are in panic mode as opportunities to earn a sports scholarship fade. Add to that the fact that the NCAA is allowing all 2020 football and basketball players an extra year of college eligibility. Simply put, there’s going to be a supply problem for the 2021 sports year.

What’s a high school athlete from the class of 2021 supposed to do? It’s clear that junior college is about to have its greatest recruiting year in decades.

“The number of kids I’ve had reach out to me is 10 times the normal rate,” College of the Canyons football coach Ted Iacenda said Tuesday. “We’re going to provide a valuable service. They’re lost. They have no options. There’s nobody recruiting them. We’re going to provide guidance and get them on their path. They don’t have film. The way they get film is by participating.”

If high school athletes are late bloomers or sincerely believe they are good enough to play college football, junior college could be the best option.

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A coronavirus surge causes Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Austin Beutner to close campuses effective Thursday.

“Everywhere, there’s a backlog,” Valley College athletic director Jim Fenwick said.

Most junior colleges don’t expect to play football this spring. Canyons has already announced it will not play until next fall.

One option could be grayshirting, which is enrolling as a part-time student in the fall of 2021, not playing, and preserving a year of NCAA eligibility while waiting for the glut of returning seniors to finally exhaust their eligibility in 2022.

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“If they’re not in the two-deep chart, don’t redshirt. Grayshirt,” Iacenda said. “The number of grayshirts we’ve had get to the next level and had success is too long to count.”

Fenwick said taking 11 units in a semester (12 units is full time) would allow the student to be part time and to grayshirt. But there is a downside. Only full-time students can participate in the Los Angeles College Promise program, which provides free tuition.

And Iacenda warns that those being recruited from the class of 2022 could face obstacles when college football rosters are expected to return to 85 and college coaches don’t know how many scholarships they will have available.

“There has to be demand,” Iacenda said. “It’s not as simple as holding everyone back. You’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. If you’re a fantastic football player but the universities are allowed to keep their linebackers because the season doesn’t count, they don’t need to recruit junior college for linebackers. We’re going to see a slowing of the recruiting process. Then after the 2021 season, there’s more movement.”

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So junior college could be a viable option for those wanting the chance to play college sports while waiting for recruiting to return to normal.

“Disappointment is understandable,” Iacenda said, “but there’s absolutely a light at the end of the tunnel if they get with a good junior college.”


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