For better or worse, this offseason of high school football has been memorable. Let’s just hope it’s not remembered for being the end of the sport as we know it.
Transfers upon transfers, including the gathering of talent to build a mega-team at Grayson and two of Gwinnett’s best rising seniors going to Florida power IMG Academy, have made for some of the most interesting off-the-field months in recent memory.
Football, for the bulk of my 37 years in Gwinnett and nearly 20 at the Daily Post, was the one sport that side-stepped the influence of club programs, like AAU basketball, and avoided mass transfers from school to school. The sport’s pinnacle at the youth level revolved around the high school teams, and players grew up in the local parks that fed into those programs, creating a sense of loyalty. Football players shifting from high school to high school was a rarity, even while the school-switching grew in other sports, like basketball with its AAU influences.
Building powerhouse teams full of transfers in basketball has gone on forever, but now it’s reaching into football, at both the local and national level.
Grayson has been the beneficiary in recent months, including four notable move-ins from other Gwinnett schools who are among ESPN’s top 300 recruits nationally — DeAngelo Gibbs (No. 10) and Breon Dixon (No. 144) from Peachtree Ridge, Jamyest Williams (No. 47) from Archer and Tony Gray (No. 39) from Central Gwinnett. Michigan running back commitment Kurt Taylor, previously at Newton, and highly touted defensive tackle Tru Thompson from Griffin also have joined the Rams recently.
Meanwhile, a sports factory in Bradenton, Fla., has been successful in luring Gwinnett prospects away for their senior years. IMG recruits nationally and offers financial aid to some players (a must when tuition is more than $70,000 per year), offering a college preparatory atmosphere and a talent-laden football team that many schools refuse to play. The school landed Buford’s Isaac Nauta last year, as well as Archer’s Isaiah Pryor and Norcross’ Robert Beal this offseason.
IMG is free to pursue athletes from all over — it is an independent member of the Florida High School Athletic Association that doesn’t compete for state titles in Florida — but Georgia High School Association schools, like Grayson, can’t attract athletes via undue influence. But if athletes make what the organization calls a “bonafide” move into a school district, they are eligible to play at the new school immediately.
This rankles the coaches, fans and athletes who wish high school football could get control of the transfer issue. They want a solution, perhaps having a player who transfers sit out a year or play junior varsity for a year. They are dismayed by third-party coaches or trainers steering youngsters to certain places.
Others say the teenagers and their parents are just working within the system, finding a way to play high school football with their friends, who also just happen to be elite players. And a blanket rule of sitting out a year with a transfer would penalize someone who moves because their parents switched jobs, rather than targeting someone who moved to win a championship.
It will be intriguing to see how Grayson’s loaded high school team fares this season, but even more of note will be where the future of high school football goes from here.
Will this offseason of transferring be a trend, or just a one-year phenomenon?
Will Hammock can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Thursdays.