The Prospector: College football recruiting offers to eighth-graders now fair game

Tyreke Johnson, Peter Hayes-Patrick

College football scholarship offers, like for Jacksonville Trinity Christian's Tyreke Johnson, now a freshman, and Avalon Pop Warner star Peter Hayes-Patrick, an eighth grader, are becoming more frequent. (CHRIS HAYS / ORLANDO SENTINEL)

There has been plenty of scuttlebutt recently about Orlando Avalon Middle School eighth-grader Peter Hayes-Patrick receiving college football scholarship offers from Ohio State and Florida State.

As always, we rush to judgment, decrying the actions as being another example of negligent, over-zealous recruiting tactics in a world tainted by those who bend the rules and use smarmy maneuvers to get into the heads of young athletes.

I, too, have often voiced concern over the early-offer tactics, but what we must realize is that these early promises of future scholarships mean absolutely nothing. The players know it, although they often do not act as if they know it.

A verbal offer simply shows interest. It does not even come from the coaches of the schools in question. There are rules regarding such contact and/or relationships with potential recruits.

The standing scholarship offer to Peter Hayes-Patrick was made through his older brother Jacques Patrick, the Orlando Timber Creek running back phenom who is ranked among the top three players in the nation at his position for the Class of 2015.

Many see the action as an approach to winning favoritism from Patrick. Coaches tell Jacques, “Tell your little brother he also has a scholarship waiting for him,” and then they hope that helps sway the older brother.

More than 50 Football Bowl Subdivision schools have offered scholarships to Patrick, but at this point, almost exactly two months to the day that Patrick has said he will announce his college decision — Oct. 27, Peter’s 15th birthday — any late attempts to sway him are likely fruitless. His top two schools are currently FSU and Alabama.

Hayes-Patrick, of course, will not graduate until 2019. With the way the revolving doors of football coach’s offices swing these days, it’s doubtful that the coaching staffs of Urban Myer or Jimbo Fisher will even be in place at that time.

The main question is about the age of Hayes-Patrick and others who have been promised opportunities of future scholarships. It comes up every year. Relationships with players can start early. Coaches get to know the players when they come to campus for summer camps.

Last year it was Jacksonville Trinity Christian defensive back Tyreke Johnson, the younger brother Jacksonville First Coast quarterback De’Andre Johnson, who is committed to FSU 2015 recruiting class. He’ll be a freshman this year and already has 13 verbal scholarship offers.

Two years ago it was LSU, notorious for early offers, extending a verbal promise to Baton Rouge (La.) athlete Dylan Moses. Earlier this year, Texas eighth-grade quarterback Zadock Dinkelmann even committed to LSU a few months after receiving a verbal offer from the Tigers.

The older Patrick, the No. 2-ranked player in the Sentinel's 2015 Central Florida Super60 and No. 9 player in the Sentinel's 2015 Florida Top 100,  received his first offer when he was a 15-year-old freshman and he sees no problem with the early offers.

“A lot of kids don’t get offered until their junior year in high school, so that only gives them a year to get to know coaches and make a decision, and that’s really not enough,” he said. “When you get offered early, like I did, you can build a relationship with coaches … that’s part of the reason my recruiting process has been smooth, because of how long I have known these coaches.”

Whether it’s too early is really something that has to be determined on a case-by-case basis. Hayes-Patrick is a well rounded individual both on the football field and in the classroom. He’s an A-B student who has the fortunate situation of being able to watch — both from a football and recruiting perspective — all of the things that his older brothers have gone through. Oldest sibling Javonte Seabury is a freshman receiver at Western Michigan.

Yasmeen Patrick, the mother of all three boys, does not see a problem with the early attention.

“It’s fine with me. Jacques got his first offer when he was a freshman in high school,” Yasmeen Patrick said. “I don’t think he’s too young. He’s humble and he’s focused in school, so I don’t think it will affect anything. It won’t make or break him. It won’t affect him at all.”

The kids obviously have no problem with the early attention.

“He enjoys it, of course,” Yasmeen Patrick said. “He’s really already used to it. He and Jacques hang out a lot.”

Hayes-Patrick, who plays quarterback and running back for the Avalon Wolves Pop Warner team — he had 100-plus yards and three touchdowns against Umatilla in a 42-0 rout Saturday — hangs out at Timber Creek practices, goes on college visits with Jacques and sees the attention his older brother receives.

“I wasn’t really surprised. At the stage that Peter is now, he’s actually better than what the other boys were when they were his age,” Yasmeen Patrick said. “He gets to experience more things compared to what a normal child might experience being that Jacques is in the spotlight. Peter basically has the same type of personality as Jacques, so I think he will handle it fine.”

We can probably expect this to be even more of a trend in the future. The NCAA will likely create an early signing period for football, much like all other NCAA sports, during which athletes can declare their intentions early in their senior year. This will, in turn, speed up the timetable for coaches and players, alike.

The bottom line, however, is the legitimacy of the offers. Official offers, in writing, cannot be extended until Aug. 1 of a player’s senior year. So anything verbal is really nothing more than a promise. We know what they say about promises.

Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at chays@tribune.com. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting, and on Instagram at os_recruiting.

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