Beginning June 1 — just two weeks from now — college football programs will move closer to normalcy when the NCAA allows recruiting prospects to make official campus visits.
“It’s one more step toward what we’re used to,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said this week. “The interactions and the conversations. Shake somebody’s hand — it’s a big deal. Everybody misses that.”
It’s been 14 months since COVID-19 changed everything, including college football recruiting.
College coaches typically would spend time in the offseason evaluating high school juniors and arranging for them to come to campus. High school football in California was canceled in the fall and played on a more limited basis this spring.
College coaches have not been permitted to attend those games. They rely on videotape and second-hand evaluations they trust, including on information such as heights and weights.
Wilcox said Cal currently has 27 official campus visits lined up for June, a group that figures to include four-star quarterback Justyn Martin of Inglewood and three-star defensive tackle Damonic Williams of Mission Hills, the only two prospects who currently have given Cal public commitments.
Others Cal reportedly is pursuing include Curlee Thomas, a defensive end from Fort Worth, Texas, and Brodie Tagaloa, a tight end from De La Salle High in Concord.
Wilcox and his staff will be thrilled to meet all of the potential future Golden Bears who come to Berkeley with their parents to check out the campus and the facilities.
But he stressed that confirming heights and weights is not the priority.
“The one-on-one, the conversations, the non-verbal communications . . . how they interact with our own players or how they interact with their family members. It just all matters.” Wilcox said. "They’re doing the same with us.”
One of Wilcox’s favorite phrases throughout the pandemic has been “keeping our knees bent,” which refers to staying ready in a changing landscape.
He acknowledges the recruiting aspect of football has especially been challenging, with different sets of rules and protocols from state to state, and even day to day at times.
And he knows it’s at least as difficult for high school prospects who are making the biggest decisions of their young lives so far.
“You kind of take it all and do the best you can with what you have available,” he said. “Are there certain leaps of faith everybody’s taking? Sure.
“The players are doing the same, especially if they haven’t been on your campus. It’s probably not the most comfortable thing to commit to a school when you’ve never been there.”
Cal’s current incoming class of players faced that, with some mid-year enrollees seeing the campus for the first time when they arrived in January.
Zoom video calls have been invaluable, Wilcox said, and the staff plans to continue using the technology even after the pandemic is behind us.
“But nothing would replace in-person engagement when it comes to creating a bond or a relationship,” Wilcox said.
That familiar process begins anew on June 1.
Cover photo of Memorial Stadium courtesy of Cal Athletics
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo