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Opinion: Let kids be kids and stop recruiting middle schoolers

titan-lacaden-hawaii-offer-fifth-grade
Fifth grade quarterback Titan Lacaden (22) was just offered a scholarship to the University of Hawaii. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

By Zach Goins

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Titan Lacaden was ecstatic to receive his first Division I football scholarship. But there’s only one problem — the quarterback from Hawaii won’t be able to hit the college gridiron any time soon. Not because of an injury or any off the field issues, but because Lacaden won’t graduate high school until 2024.

At some point, you’ve got to be able to realize when the line has been crossed. Nowadays kids are picking up scholarship offers from FBS programs in middle school, but the University of Hawaii was the first to take it to the next level by extending a scholarship offer to a fifth grader.

When will colleges finally step up and decide enough is enough?

The little guy is 11 years old and people are already banking on him becoming the next Tom Brady. He’s probably 100 pounds soaking wet and he won’t even graduate high school for another seven years. That sounds to me like a big gamble for a coach, and not to mention the effects on the playground superstars.

When I was in fifth grade I thought deciding between football and basketball at recess was the hardest choice I’d face, not entertaining college scholarship offers.

The NCAA already controls its athletes’ lives for long enough. It’s time to lets kids be kids and limit college recruiting to high school students.

After being recruited for four years of my life during high school, I can go ahead and tell you, it’s not a fun process.

Sure, it’s exciting meeting coaches, visiting campuses and checking out games, but the stress that goes along with it is crippling.

I can remember countless sleepless nights lying in bed pondering my future until the wee hours of the morning, wondering where I’d end up. Was I making the right decision? Was there anything I should do differently?

And that’s for someone who only had three offers! I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like for someone with double-digit offers, not to mention while you’re still watching cartoons and going through puberty.

There’s no need to start that process any earlier and struggle through it for an additional four years.

Not only do these early offers impact the kids, but they can have harmful long-term impacts on the programs themselves.

If I were a betting man, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet to say that Hawaii’s coaching staff will turn over at some point in the next seven years before Lacaden even gets there. New coaches like to bring in their own recruits, not the players committed to the previous staff.

But even if the coaches remain constant, who knows what will happen with the players? What if he decides, like most little boys tend to do, that he wants to change his career aspirations? What if he switches sports? What if he stops growing and is stuck at 5-foot-2 for the rest of his life?

I doubt the Rainbow Warriors want a munchkin starting under center come 2024.

In its defense, the University of Hawaii isn’t the only team extending these ridiculous offers. The University of Illinois recently offered a 10-year-old, while a month later the University of Nevada decided to one up them by offering a nine-year-old.

But perhaps the most notorious middle school scout is the newly hired Florida Atlantic University head coach, Lane Kiffin. During his time at Southern Cal, Kiffin offered a seventh grader, and since moving to FAU has offered both seventh and sixth graders.

Now, most coaches are aware of the risks associated with offering these youngsters, but they’re also aware of something else — these offers are virtually meaningless.

Verbal scholarship offers have absolutely no value until National Signing Day in February of a prospect’s senior year of high school. Until then, athletes are free to flip and flop between schools, while schools are able to hang once committed players out to dry by signing someone else instead.

But at this point, college recruiting has become so competitive that coaches are looking for anything that might give them an advantage on the recruiting trail, including ridiculous headlines.

As the old adage says, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. So Kiffin at FAU and the staff at Hawaii, both lesser known schools have to do whatever it takes to get their programs’ names out to the public.

But at some point, this recruiting madness goes too far. Realistically, offering a high school freshman is a big enough gamble for a program. Offering elementary and middle school players should diminish a coach’s reputation when it comes to scouting.

It’s time college coaches step back and take a look at the bigger picture.

It’s time to protect players who are still developing from unnecessary pressure and regain some credibility as a recruiter.

Zach Goins View All

Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Charlotte, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.

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