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June 30, 2011

Recruits hit the road to earn offers

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Chris Bivins Sr. works seven days a week for Walmart. His job requires that he sits a lot, not at a desk but behind the steering wheel of a semi truck.

Bivins is on the road anywhere from seven to 12 hours a day, making deliveries mostly to towns within two-and-a-half hours of Gainesville. Oftentimes, he works the midnight-to-noon shift.

"He's usually pretty wiped out when he gets home," said Bivins' son, Chris Bivins Jr. "He'll usually tell us not to bother him, and then he'll close the door."

The last thing the elder Bivins wants to do is drive when he's not on the clock. But during the past two years, he has been in the car a ton on weekends. That's because his son, a rising senior at Gainesville High, is a high-quality cornerback recruit. Also, Chris' twin sister, Kayla, is a standout volleyball player.

The elder Bivins, who describes himself as being lower-middle class, has shuttled his son from Atlanta to Miami (and many points in between) to boost his profile, better his chances of earning more scholarship offers and allow him to get a good look at a variety of college campuses.

Admittedly, the extra driving "puts a lot of stress on your body," Bivins said.

Not to mention his wallet.

The trips not only have sapped Bivins of energy and taken a big chunk out of his off time, but have cost a small fortune.

"During the last two years, I know for sure I've spent over $10,000," Bivins said.

Recruiting has evolved dramatically in recent years. The utilization of social networking by college coaches and prospects comes to mind, but according to many the rise in the number of unofficial visits being taken by prospects is of equal noteworthiness.

"Nowadays, [college coaches] really want you to come to their camp and campuses to solidify an offer," said Memphis (Tenn.) Whitehaven coach Rodney Saulsberry. "They want to see you on campus with their coaches, which means you've got to visit more schools."

That, of course, means more travel, more money spent, more time invested in the process.

"It's completely changed," said Will Weaver, coach at Madisonville (Ky.) North Hopkins. "Colleges used to do recruiting mostly on tape, maybe some word of mouth and some video. Now, colleges recruit kids a year or two ahead and they basically want to see them on their campus."

One of Weaver's top players, safety Jeremy Clark, was virtually unknown until attending camp at Ohio State earlier this month. Not long after it ended, one offer came. Then another. And another. Earlier this week, he committed to Michigan.

"What's crazy is that Jeremy might still not have an offer if he hadn't been to these camps," Weaver said.

To promote his players, Weaver has hit the road often this summer.

This month alone, he has driven athletes to Austin Peay, Cincinnati, Furman, Eastern Kentucky, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan, Murray State and Ohio State.

"We went to Michigan, then Illinois, came home, dropped two off, picked up two more and went down to Furman. I was home maybe an hour and a half. I talked to Michigan on a Monday at about noon. They wanted to see Jeremy (Clark) in camp. I called Jeremy. I told him, 'Get your stuff and get going.' By 1 p.m., we were in the car going seven-and-a-half hours."

According to Weaver, the program's quarterback club helps pay for these recruiting trips. But, he added, it's not uncommon for him to chip in some money.

"Over 50 percent of our kids come from single-parent homes and they don't have a lot," Weaver said. "We have to get out and raise our money to help these kids or they won't have these opportunities. The one thing we've always told the kids in our program is if they do everything they can for us, as coaches we'll do everything we can for them. We've had 23 kids have the opportunity to play college ball in the last four years."

At Whitehaven, Saulsberry's players have either visited or camped in places such as Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., and Oxford, Miss., this year. Two weekends ago, more than two dozen of the program's athletes attended camp in Georgia. The charter bus alone cost more than $3,000.

"It's a combination of things [that pay for the trips]," Saulsberry said. "It can definitely get expensive. We've got a great group. Parents help, boosters help, and also myself and the coaching staff. It all works together."

For Saulsberry, there is another sacrifice.

"Time is the biggest thing," he said. "But I've been the head coach seven years and we've had over 10 or more [earn scholarships] each year."

Ed Printz, father of standout 2013 quarterback Eddie Printz of Marietta (Ga.) Lassiter, said he began taking his son to visit colleges when he was a sixth-grader so his child could get a feel for the environment. At last check, the younger Printz had visited 26 schools, some as far as 10 hours (drive) from home. On most of those visits, father has accompanied son, pulling him away from his job.

"If I don't work, I don't make money," said Printz, who owns an Internet-based company. "That's the biggest issue for me, being able to still accommodate my customers. I take a laptop. I recently had to buy one of those iPads. I'm using that a lot more now."

Printz estimated that each trip costs about $600 "when you figure in gas, food, hotels and that doesn't include any time off from work. Fortunately, you get to write off the mileage."

Why go through it?

"You're ruled out immediately if you don't," Printz said. "They're going to stop recruiting you if you don't come to their school. When you don't go, you're saying to them, 'We're not interested in your school.' I've had others say, 'If you come to camp, we'll give you an offer.'"

Despite the mounting expenses, Printz has enjoyed the experience.

"I wouldn't trade it for the world," he said. "It's the best one-on-one time with my son."

Bivins Sr., like his son, played high school football. But after finishing up at North Shore High in West Palm Beach in the 1980s, he didn't have the opportunity to compete in college.

"I got five scholarship offers," he said. "But we had some family issues. My dad really couldn't get me to school."

Determined to make sure his children had opportunities he didn't, Bivins' bank account, health and personal time have taken a backseat to their futures.

"Last week, I took my son and some other kids [from Gainesville High] with me to South Florida for a camp," he said. "I bought all their lunches. I just feel like, I'm taking mine already so I might as well take more. I don't ask for no money from other parents."

For the elder Bivins, the payoff finally came last weekend in a big way when his son committed to USF. Just days earlier, his daughter Kayla, a middle blocker, pledged to the Bulls volleyball program.

"He's real happy," Bivins Jr. said. "Knowing that we both have full rides, I think he sleeps better."

Keith Niebuhr can be reached at kneebs01@aol.com. You can follow him on Twitter @KeithRIVALS.



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