Colby College Head Coach Damien Strahorn argues a call during a January 2018 at Bowdoin College in Brunswick. Strahorn is one of many college coaches struggling with trying to recruit players while the coronavirus has crippled high school sports seasons.  Kennebec Journal file photo by Joe Phelan

This is normally around the time when Damien Strahorn would be starting to venture out to find the next wave of Colby men’s basketball players.

Instead, the Mules coach is at home like everyone else, while recruiting is stuck at what is essentially a standstill.

“I think we’re all living and learning right now,” Strahorn said. “And trying to figure this thing out.”

It’s been a month since the coronavirus outbreak first began disrupting the sports world, and college recruiting has been affected as well. The NCAA has extended its dead period through May in efforts to limit interactions while the virus spreads, which, along with canceled sports seasons, has kept coaches from finding talented prospects and seeing them play.

“I’d be trying to make contact and see any juniors playing,” University of Maine at Farmington softball coach Kat McKay said. “Obviously, that’s not happening, and I’ve had a lot of juniors reach out and say ‘Hey, the plan was to have you come to a game this year. Can I send you video?’ And, of course, video’s great, but you can’t really evaluate a player on 30 seconds of video.  You wish you could see them live.”

It’s not just coaches. The athletes are in a tough position, as the coronavirus restrictions have made it tougher to get in front of a coach and therefore onto his or her radar. Seniors mostly have their plans figured out, but for juniors, who’d be arriving on campus in the fall of 2021, these next few months are crucial.

Colby College head football coach Jack Cosgrove watches his team work out during an August 2019 practice at Colby College in Waterville. Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

“This is when everyone looks at you, and not having this (season) is kind of making things more difficult,” said Cony’s Kyle Douin, a pitcher on the baseball team. “I’m quite concerned and worried. No one knows what to expect. From where we were a month ago to where we are now, it’s just a whole different thing.”

For college coaches in spring sports, once they finished their seasons in late April and early May, the focus would have shifted to seeing high school regular season and tournament games, as well as club and AAU competitions, to build their list of targets for the class of 2021.

“We’re not missing a lot of scouting opportunities right now,” St. Joseph’s College baseball coach Will Sanborn said. “But as we start to get into mid-May and into June, you won’t have the high school playoff games and the All-Star games. That’s a huge part of what we do.”

Even out-of-season sports rely heavily on the spring. The AAU basketball season would normally be playing right now, and college coaches would be at those tournaments. If the dead period extends into the summer, fall coaches will be hampered significantly as well. Colby football has already seen its May prospect camp called off, and coach Jack Cosgrove said the team will do a lot of its work at the Harvard camps, where around 200 Division I FCS hopefuls with high academic profiles will be in attendance from mid-June to mid-July.

“We can go evaluate at camps, we can go evaluate at games. But our location makes it more difficult than if you’re Tufts,” Cosgrove said. “It’s certainly something that makes it more challenging if you lose out on those summer evaluations.”

So with a chance to see athletes up close unavailable for the next several weeks, coaches are finding other avenues to both find players, then connect with them.

“It’s going to come down to relationships,” Strahorn said. “A lot of this going to be just trying to cast your net through your coaches and areas (where) you’ve recruited before and had relationships with.”

Coaches are also leaning on the internet as a way to keep up communication with potential players.

“God willing, we’ll still be able to have those summer tournaments,” St. Joseph’s men’s lacrosse coach Bill Cosentino said. “But if not, this is going to continue to be how we do things. Reaching out to kids via email, phone calls, Zoom meetings, virtual campus tours. If they’re saying we can’t have people come to campus, then you have no other way for your prospects to see the school.”

Coaches have to be creative. But so do the players.

“We’re planning on creating some letters and getting some game film and some of my highlights out to college coaches,” said Cash McClure, a junior on the Maranacook boys basketball team. “I think there’s got to be a happy medium. You’ve got to do your part, the coaches will do their part. … I’ve been trying to keep on top of that.”

“This really makes you realize that you’ve got to let coaches know who you are,” Cony’s Douin said, “and have your coach or have someone talk to them and tell them how you play, how good you are. … Just like us, they’re going to have limited time to look at players.”

Academics are tricky as well — spring SATs have been canceled, and virtual learning has disrupted the normal grading system — but coaches don’t expect that to be a back-breaker. Juniors can re-take SATs in the fall, and many schools have de-emphasized standardized tests. Colby and UMF, for example, are test-optional.

“Schools are going to be looking at this with a very open mind,” Cosentino said. “The colleges are going to kind of work to accommodate, because this is outside of everyone’s control.”

Most coaches aren’t too worried just yet. A hindered spring doesn’t make anything easier, but the inconveniences will be manageable.

“That’s recoverable,” Cosgrove said. “The thing about this is everyone’s on the same level playing field.”

“People are going to figure out ways to continue to improve their program,” Sanborn said. “It depends how long it lasts. But from my standpoint, as a coach, we’re always asking our players to adjust. When we have a little bit of adversity, something we haven’t experienced before, that’s a learning opportunity.”

If the virus forces the dead period to last into the summer and beyond, however, the story will change.

“There will still be time to really be able to have that depth and interaction,” Strahorn said. “If we get to a scenario where things haven’t returned to normal in late summer or early fall, then at least for us you’re going to have to really re-think where you’re at and what you’re doing.”


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