national signing day:

Las Vegas recruits find college spots scarce as coaches focus on transfer portal

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Wade Vandervort

Las Vegas High quarterback Ja’Shawn Scroggins trains, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.

Wed, Feb 3, 2021 (2 a.m.)

Ja’Shawn Scroggins should be signing a national letter of intent today.

The Las Vegas High School quarterback has a proven body of work, passing for 2,700 yards and 39 touchdowns with just five interceptions in 2019. He also passes the eye test, standing 6-foot-3, weighing 185 pounds and projecting to add significant bulk to his frame when developing in a college weight room.

But he’s one of the many lightly recruited prospects nationally who will be settling for a junior college roster spot or partial scholarship money at a lower-tier program because Division I schools have mostly shifted their recruiting to more established players in the NCAA transfer portal.

The sure-thing Division I prep prospects nationally mostly signed in December during the early signing period, leaving leftover recruits like Scroggins on hold for the traditional signing day on the first Wednesday of February.

But many Division I schools aren’t interested in high school recruits — it’s all about a quick-fix with a player in the portal.

In years past, players looking to transfer from one college program to the next had to sit out a year. But with the pandemic, the NCAA determined that transfers would be immediately eligible at their new university. And, because of the pandemic, anyone who played last fall doesn’t lose a year of eligibility, meaning many of these transfers have two or three years of eligibility.

College coaches have pressure to win immediately or risk being replaced, and so they opt to populate their roster with proven college players who can fill a pressing void instead of granting one of their limited scholarships to an unproven prospect from the high school class of 2021.

And at some schools, players are using the pandemic year to stay for another season, which takes a scholarship spot that would have otherwise been available for 2021 graduates.

“I was talking to a coach yesterday and he told me they are essentially filling out their roster with transfer portal kids,” said Liberty coach Rich Muraco, who is head of the Clark County Football Coaches Association. “A lot of the time, high school kids are getting recruited off projections. You have a kid who is 6-5 and maybe only 235 pounds, and maybe not that good of a high school player. But coaches feel if they get him into the weight room, they can make him into something. Now, they aren’t having to project (with the portal) because they have the benefit of seeing a kid grow for two or three more years.”

The pandemic prevented high school football from being played in the fall in the Las Vegas area, meaning seniors didn’t get a chance to show their stuff on game film to send to recruiters. They also have no stats. About 35 other states played, meaning there is a more established body of work in other cities.

When coaches are splitting hairs on which players will get their final spot, the lack of film is a significant problem. Many Southern Nevada kids participated in 7-on-7 passing leagues, but most colleges want to see how a prospect performs in pads, facing full contact.

Bishop Gorman usually sees the most college recruiters of any team in the area, during any cycle. The coaches are showing up — but to start building relationships with prospects for the graduation classes of 2022 and beyond.

Needless to say, the 2021 recruits are feeling frustrated and cheated, coach Brent Browner said.

“You have kids who didn’t get a chance to show their skills and who are deserving of a scholarship,” Browner said.

Recruiters told Scroggins they needed to see him in person before offering a scholarship. But his summer plans of attending camps and visiting colleges got shelved by the pandemic. Same for his senior season. Instead, he’ll settle for a spot at Highland Community College in Kansas.

“With coronavirus, I didn’t have that opportunity for coaches to come to my school,” Scroggins said. “They said I have great film, but they wanted to see it in person.”

Just don’t expect Scroggins to hang his head. He refuses to complain or feel sorry for himself, and those intangibles are what separates him from other recruits, Las Vegas coach Erick Capetillo said.

“He’s going to JUCO to gamble on himself. That’s a great decision,” Capetillo said. “He’s going to show that he’s a guy to lead a program.”

Click to enlarge photo

Las Vegas High quarterback Ja’Shawn Scroggins trains, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.

Scroggins draws inspiration from a pair of NFL quarterbacks — Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers — who each were also lightly recruited out of high school. Allen had just one Division I offer out of junior college, landing at Wyoming and eventually being selected in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Bills.

“There’s always going to be adversity,” Scroggins said. “Not everything is going to go your way. But (Allen and Rodgers) show there’s opportunity. That’s all I need is one opportunity.”

But junior college isn’t for every player.

For every Rhamondre Stevenson, who went from Centennial High to Cerritos Junior College to Oklahoma and, in April is expected to be drafted by an NFL team, there’s a long list of players who never see the field and fizzle out. Junior colleges typically overstock their rosters.

Muraco takes time with each player at Liberty to explore their options, especially in the scholarship-pinch brought about by COVID-19. For Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu, going to junior college was a no-brainer, as he didn’t qualify academically for Division I. He’s now a starter on the offensive line at Oregon.

For others, taking partial scholarship money to a lower-tier program is a safer option.

“That is a tough question for many families to answer,” Muraco said. “A lot of people want to pursue their dreams and not give up (on a Division I program), but the smarter move is getting into a college and pursuing a four-year degree.”

The low limits on scholarship opportunities will also force the hand of prospects to more quickly accept scholarship offers. Instead of accumulating offers and taking visits, they’ll commit with urgency, knowing someone else could take their spot if they dawdle.

Scroggins initially had offers from Howard and Southern, but other players committed while he was still weighing his options — and unable to make a campus visit.

“It sits on your mind a lot, not knowing what will happen,” he said.

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