The Prospector: Offers to 8th graders, like LSU to Tyreke Johnson, will become norm

Tyreke Johnson, 8th grader at Jacksonville Trinity Christian

Tyreke Johnson, an 8th-grader at Jacksonville's Trinity Christian, received his sixth scholarship off from LSU on Tuesday. (CHRIS HAYS/ORLANDO SENTINEL)

Tyreke Johnson expects the attention now, so when LSU offered the Jacksonville Trinity Christian eighth-grader a scholarship Tuesday, it was exciting, but not really unusual for the young star.

It's also not unusual for LSU, which offered a scholarship to eighth-grader Dylan Moses of hometown Baton Rouge (La.) University Lab last year.

Johnson has always wanted to embrace challenges. Even when his older brother, 2015 Florida State quarterback commit De'Andre Johnson, was starting to get all his attention, little brother was trying to steal the limelight, saying he would be better than his older sibling. That was when Tyreke was 12; a sixth-grader.

De'Andre's first college offer did not come until he was 15 years old and a freshman at Jacksonville First Coast, the same year he led the Bucs to the state championship game. Fourteen-year-old Tyreke already has six offers, the others from Vanderbilt, FAU, USF, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.

Florida State is already said to be in the eighth-grader's corner, but Jimbo Fisher has decided not to join the public melee of vultures just yet.

"It's a little surprising and it's probably a little bit ahead of schedule ... we were probably thinking that next year would be the year," Johnson said of Tyreke's upcoming freshman year. "Tyreke has just thrown a monkey wrench into the plan because with him taking off we're kinda stretched like a rubber band now with all of the different things that have to do with De'Andre.

"I kind of wanted to get De'Andre out of the way, and then focus on Tyreke, but he's not allowing that to happen. But it's nice. It doesn't really mean much ... quick as they come, quick as they go."

There are many who have issues with the recruiting process stretching into the junior-high age group. NCAA rules prohibit players from receiving official scholarship offers until Sept. 1, of their junior year. That doesn't stop coaches from extending the "verbal" offers.

It can be viewed as detrimental to the development of young athletes and their abilities to handle things from a mental standpoint. Teenagers already enter their difficult formative years with an attitude of greatness. When a college football coach comes in with promises of grandeur, reality starts to lose out in the realm of perspective.

As the NCAA explores new rules that will likely allow an early signing period for football, the recruiting process will be forced to start even earlier. If a player can sign earlier, then the player will need to take official visits earlier, so if they are taking official visits earlier, then they'll have to be recruited earlier, and if they are being recruited earlier, well ... the NCAA is going to have to step in somehow.

But how? There is no way to police the contact coaches have with parents. If Nick Saban tells Earl Johnson he wants to offer 14-year-old Tyreke a scholarship, whose to stop him?

Actually, football is late to the party. The New York Times ran a story this past weekend about college coaches at a youth soccer tournament in Sanford that involved several elite national club teams. There were 13-,  14- and 15-year-old girls being courted by college coaches from all over the country. Basketball coaches have eyed junior high players for years; likewise with baseball.

Not every kid will have trouble dealing with such attention and the Johnson and Moses families are certainly an exceptions to the rule. Earl Johnson's children are well grounded individuals and the support circle is deep.

"Tyreke is such a humble, grounded young man and he's always been around older competition and I don't think any of this overwhelms him," said dad. "He expects it. He has high goals and he plans on trying to reach them. This is just the beginning stage."

Tyreke's exposure has been expedited by his ability to play varsity football at such a young age via the confined structure of a private-school setting. The Florida High School Athletics Association rules allow for players to compete on varsity teams beginning in the sixth grade if the students of the school are all on one campus.

It can be argued that the FHSAA should change its rules allowing for such early participation. But why should limits be placed upon those who excel? Students can perform at an accelerated academic pace, so why not athletes, as well?

There is no right answer to any of the process and the rules will be skirted and loopholes will be found no matter what steps are taken to put limits in place.

The irony of the process is that Trinity Christian coaches have been careful not to bring their young star along too quickly. He's a gifted offensive player, but he only plays defense for the two-time defending Florida Class 2A state champion. His progression to other positions could come later, but for now he's a safety.

While his high school coaches are holding him back, sort of, the college coaches are coming full steam.

"He's always wanted to embrace the challenge," Earl Johnson said. "He's put the work in. There wasn't a training session that De'Andre had that Tyreke didn't reap the benefits of ... he's worked hard for this."

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