It's a cold Tuesday evening at the Sanford Memorial Stadium just north of Orlando, where more than 40 of the area's best high school football players are practicing for the Central Florida All-Star Game.
A smattering of parents line the well-lit field, watching their sons smack pads and listening to coaches yell typical sports motivation.
On one side of the field, scouts and coaches from college football programs across the country chuckle between plays. A man in a navy and baby-blue jacket is from the University of Rhode Island; another in a black leather jacket is from Georgia Tech University. Illinois State, West Virginia, Charleston Southern and Florida Atlantic are also here. In all, there are 10 college scouts ringing the field looking for players.
Mingling among the coaches and the parents is Chip Humble, Central Florida director for Collegiate Sports of America, a national recruiting service that aims to help high school athletes get connected with collegiate programs.
Parents pay between $1,000 and $2,500 to have Humble make calls, write e-mails and send highlight videos to prospective colleges in a kind of direct marketing campaign to get their kid a scholarship.
Standing in a crowd of parents watching the practice is Mike Kirby, the parks and recreation director for the city of Sanford. His eyes follow a player with a navy helmet as he sidesteps pads laid out on the field. Kirby signed with CSA hoping his son, Kyle (the player in the navy helmet), will have a better chance of signing with a good school.
"There's an awful lot of good kids out there," Kirby said earlier in the day. "Anything you can do to promote these kids is good."
That's where Humble comes in, like a Jerry Maguire for high schoolers. His service he runs it with his brother Bill Zimmerman and services like his draw thousands of athletes each year in what is becoming a booming high-school recruiting industry.
There are magazines such as Prep Star, put out by CSA, that tout the next up-and-coming stars, many of whom are just 16 or 17 years old. Websites such as www.studentsports.com do the same thing on the Internet. The National Scouting Report, the country's first recruiting service targeted to high school athletes, began in 1980. The industry has bloomed since.
Collegiate Sports of America has about 2,500 prospects in its system this year from more than 80 recruiters around the world. College Prospects of America, another recruiting service, is promoting more than 1,500 athletes in its system this year and has clients in more than nine countries outside the United States. Most recruiters cater to all sports, but football is their meal ticket.
CPOA has 380 football players currently listed on its site, nearly 300 more than the next biggest sport, boys' basketball. CSA currently lists 1,008 football players, which constitutes half of the athletes in its database. And here in Central Florida, in a state where football is king, more than 70 percent of Humble's athletes are football players.
Go to www.csaprepstar.com, CSA's website, and click on "prospect directory." If you type in the name Chris Krack, you'll find a profile of the senior Winter Springs guard.
There's a picture of Krack in his number 72 purple uniform. The page paints a statistical picture of Krack: height, 6 feet 3 inches; weight, 270 pounds; GPA, 3.6; bench press, 400 pounds; squat, 725 pounds; 40-yard dash, 4.93 seconds. There's also a grainy 10-minute-long video of Krack's better plays. In one clip, you clearly see No. 72 cut across the offensive line and flatten a red-jerseyed opponent.
"He has some beautiful blocks," says Rick Krack, Chris's father.
Rick paid Humble $1,500 for a package that included the video.
It's here on the Internet that recruiting services thrive, says Jack Wright, vice president of CSA. Now coaches have access to thousands of players' stats at any time of day, and players get exposure nationwide.
"It's all about getting a kid's info in front of as many coaches as we can," Wright says.
Yeah, but is hiring someone to do it for you money well-spent?
"If a coach does his job and actually cares about his kids, he'll contact the same colleges as these services," says Mike Powers, athletic director for Seminole High School. "I always discourage kids from paying money to the services."
Rick Krack says letters started pouring in for his son soon after he signed with Humble.
But, he notes, that was about the same time most colleges started recruiting anyway.
"I'm not sure how much what `Humble` has done and how much what we've done has helped," he says.
Krack says Mitch Ware from Georgia Southern University is one of the recruiters who began calling after he signed with CSA. Ware who, along with the entire Georgia Southern coaching staff, was recently fired says he can't comment specifically on athletes; he will say that he doesn't pay much attention to packages from recruiting services.
"The guys I was recruiting, all of them I found through high school coaches," Ware says.
Nate Brazill says he got his kid interviewed the old-fashioned way.
Brazill is sitting in the stands at Sanford Memorial Stadium, waiting to watch his son practice for an upcoming all-star game. Nate and Doug just interviewed with Florida Atlantic University, without a promoter.
"I send out information," he says. "And I taped every one of his games myself. We're getting his name out there."
Kurt Van Valkenburgh, assistant head coach at Florida Atlantic, says his school does its own recruiting.
"For the most part, if a kid's good, we'll have already heard about him," he says. "We don't like to trust anyone's opinion but our own."
PEACE OF MIND
Of course, there are parents out there who swear that Humble, or promoters like him, got their kid a scholarship; people like Theresa Cirelli from Daytona Beach. Cirelli signed with Humble in her son's junior year. "Goose" Cirelli was an all-star lineman and was looking for a small Ivy-League type of school.
"Chip was great at bringing in the colleges," she says. "I'd say we had about 20 schools talking to us, and many of those offered some sort of package."
Goose ultimately chose a school outside of Minneapolis, St. Olaf College, a Division III school that offered him a package worth about $35,000 per year.
"We never would have known about this school," Cirelli says. "It was all Chip and Bill's doing."
It's the small schools where Humble has the most success.
"A lot of kids come to me wanting to play for the Seminoles or the Gators," Humble says. "That's a hard level to play at, but many Division I-AA and Division II schools offer a lot of scholarships."
Gaylen Scott is one of the coaches watching the practice in Sanford. He's from Illinois State University, a Division I-AA school. As his eyes dart from player to player, he says, "`Recruiting services` are definitely a good place to start. Besides, in recruiting, there's always someone who's overlooked."
Humble is doing his best at the practice to make sure Kyle Kirby is not overlooked. He grips four manila envelopes, all with "Kyle Kirby" written on them, in his right hand. Kirby is the 6-foot, 2-inch, 230-pound defensive end from Lake Brantley High School who Humble is pushing to some of the college coaches at the practice.
In the envelope is a copy of the August 2005 issue of Prep Star. This issue has page after page listing the top recruits from each region, one of whom is Kirby.
The description lists his stats "65 tackles, 51 solo tackles, 10 tackles for loss" and his GPA and SAT score 3.5 and 1110 respectively. The blurb ends by saying, "A strong senior season should land him some offers and see him sign with a Division I program."
"A lot of people say, 'Why can't parents just do this?'" Humble says. "I tell them they could if they want to put in 20, 30, 40 hours a week. But I'm out here all the time."
He spends the mornings scanning the sports section for new talent. He enters names into databases and contacts high school coaches to get an idea about the coachability of players. In the evenings he attends games. During football season Humble and his two brothers will see games every Friday night among them.
Humble whips out his cell phone and scrolls down to the Cs in his phone book. "Coach Elrod" pops up. Elrod is an assistant coach at Wake Forest University.
"I know how to get the word out about these kids," he says.
He says last year more than 90 percent of his athletes went on to play intercollegiate sports and the average scholarship was worth $8,000 per year.
After practice one night, Chris Krack got a call from Youngstown State University in Ohio, a perennial top-25 team in Division I-AA. But a week later, Rick Krack still isn't sure if it's Humble's work or his own that is eliciting the calls. Krack, however, doesn't mind paying Humble.
He remembers one of Chris's fellow players last year, a kid who was talented but nonetheless was overlooked in the recruiting world; $1,150 is a fair price to avoid the same fate.
"It's just peace of mind that I'm doing everything to help my kid out."firstname.lastname@example.org