DULUTH — The Touchdown Club of Gwinnett’s annual Recruiting Fair has become a must-attend event over the years, so much so that it has attracted more programs from outside the county (31) than even the 24 football-playing schools inside it.
Even schools as far away as Camden County, Tift County and Ware County have made the trek all the way across the state to be at the 2019 edition of the event Tuesday at the Infinite Energy Forum to meet with and show of some of their players to coaches from more than 100 college programs throughout the Southeast.
Of course, Camden County coach Bob Sphire has known for a long time the value of the fair, having been head coach at North Gwinnett 11 seasons before heading to the Southeast Georgia coast in 2017.
From his perspective, the benefits far exceed the expense and trouble of heading nearly five hours by car to attend.
“Obviously having been here, I know the recruiting traffic that goes through (Gwinnett County),” Sphire said. “Where we’re located, we don’t get any traffic hardly at all. … It’s almost like there’s an imaginary line on a map that people think they can’t cross, for whatever reason. I’m thinking the recruiters who have Florida should have us, but it’s like they draw that imaginary line. And for whoever (recruits the state of) Georgia, we’re like five hours away.”
“So this fall, I’ve had Georgia and Florida and Clemson and Alabama and LSU, all those guys, but that’s because of a five-star left tackle junior that we have. But the kids who kids who get recruited at this far from FCS, Division II and Division III schools, none of those schools are coming to our school. I knew I had to come to them to market our kids because if not, our kids don’t have any opportunities to get in front of anybody.”
That is also the case for local schools like Meadowcreek, which has had more players to show off in recent years by winning more game in the past three seasons (16) than it has in the previous 18 seasons (14) under head coach Jason Carrera.
But as much as on-field success has helped raise his program’s profile, building relationships he has with college coaches since he took the reins of the program in 2015 has been just as big a factor in helping give more Mustangs players a platform to get a look to play at the next level.
“I think it’s easier seeing the same faces,” Carrera said. “Consistency in coaching and consistency seeing my face and other faces coming around, you know guys, and at least they’re going to come by and ask if you’ve got anybody (to recruit). Consistency helps the most.”
Hebron Christian head coach Jeff Saturday has also learned the fair’s value in his three seasons as head coach, especially with the growing number of players in his program that are garnering attention from college recruiters.
Like a lot of programs in attendance, he pointed to a large stack of business cards from coaches what stopped by Tuesday alone that each represent chances for some of his players that might not otherwise get such an opportunity to be seen by a college coach.
“It’s great because it’s a one-stop shop,” Saturday said. “You’re sitting around and coaches filter through, and you get to share something about your kids and who would fit with what schools. You can really dive into details about what kid will fit at what university or what college. These are always beneficial.
“(Traffic has) been good (Tuesday). We’ve gotten, I don’t know how many that is, but that’s a lot of cards. So we’ve had that many, and I think we’ve had some kids placed in some places where they’ll at least take some visits and get in front of coaches and staffs. … And that’s really what you want to do — increase the frequency in which a kid gets contacted and understand what his ability and what his level can be.”
The scope and organization behind the fair is also one that continues to garner praise from the coaches in attendance, especially newcomers like Shiloh’s Tino Ierulli, who attended the fair for the first time Tuesday after guiding the Generals to their first playoff berth in 16 years during his inaugural season this fall.
While he has attended fairs like this in Florida, where he coached at Palm Beach Central before going to Shiloh last winter, he says the difference between those and the Gwinnett fair are night and day.
“Here, everything is set up great,” Ierulli said. “Everything is a lot more professional, in my opinion, and absolutely (more organized).”