Top local football recruits excited about early signing day

6 minute read

Bob Narang

To hear some of the area's top football recruits tell it, the institution of an early signing period is an unquestioned positive.

For years, basketball recruits have been able to chose between signing in November or April. Now, football players have two options as well.

Maine South running back Fotis Kokosioulis committed to Northern Illinois in April and plans to sign with the Huskies during a brief ceremony at the Park Ridge school on Wednesday.

"I'm so excited to go to NIU that I want to sign right away," Kokosioulis said. "My coaches said (a scholarship) is worth thousands of dollars, so it's like an early Christmas present. It's a good way to show that you are interested in the school, a good way to get the recruiting process done and over with and you can focus more on working hard to get to the next level."

Kokosioulis rushed for 1,626 yards and scored 29 touchdowns as a senior.

The traditional national signing day for football is on the first Wednesday in February, but in April the NCAA approved a new 72-hour signing period that went into effect this year, beginning on Wednesday and ending on Friday. Football recruits can still wait until the February signing period, but many recruits are opting for the first period.

Hinsdale Central senior tight end Matt Bjorson pledged a commitment to Indiana in June. He never wavered on his college selection and, like Kokosioulis, is excited to end his recruiting process. Bjorson plans to sign with Colgate-bound teammate Garrett Oakey at Hinsdale Central on Wednesday.

"I think it's great because if you know where you are already going at this time, why should you wait any longer?" Bjorson said. "The season is done already, so sign early and you can focus on your future team."

New Trier senior tight end Brian Kaiser joins the legion of recruits excited to seal his commitment. He is scheduled to take part in a signing ceremony at New Trier on Wednesday.

"I'm (happy) to be done with the entire recruiting process early," Kaiser said. "I don't see any (negatives)."

While top area recruits expressed no doubts that the early signing day is a positive development, New Trier coach Brian Doll views it with some trepidation.

The loss of seven weeks of evaluation moved up the recruiting timetable, causing coaches from all levels of college football to put more of an emphasis on a recruits' junior year of film. Thus, the possibility of a late-blooming recruit being overlooked increases.

"I don't think you can really totally evaluate a kid off junior film. A lot of players become stronger and better as seniors," Doll said. "Now, so much is based off junior film, but senior evaluation kids can be really good and they miss out on them."

Doll said that the early signing period has led to more sleepless nights for college coaches who have to prepare for a bowl game and contend with a condensed recruiting window.

"Everything is accelerated now before winter break," Doll said. "I see a lot of college coaches doing double duty and they look pretty tired."

Doll acknowledged the early signing period is beneficial for college coaches as it "helps turn the page earlier on the 2018 team and focus on the 2019 kids a little bit more earlier."

Chris Bowers, the director of player personnel for the Northwestern football team, said the new signing period is a good development.

"From Northwestern's perspective, it's a huge positive," said Bowers, adding, "It's great for Northwestern because so much of our class is committed before signing day. It changes your January quite a bit. The amount of obsessing, discussing and traveling was a lot in the past. It allows some of the nonsense to get out of the way, and gives us a better time for our coaches in January."

Bowers calls it "nonsense." Elmhurst College football coach Ron Planz has another word for it — "babysitting." In the past, college coaches had to make sure players didn't change their mind and verbally commit to a different program.

Planz has coached Elmhurst College, which as a Division III program can't offer athletic scholarships, for the last four seasons. Prior to that, he was an assistant coach at Minnesota State Mankato, a Division II program, for five seasons.

"Coaches (now) don't have to babysit guys all the way to February," Planz said. "Babysitting is a real thing. I think early signing date is exciting and good for college football and benefits the student-athlete more."

The old system was not without its benefits. If a player committed to a school and then the program underwent a coaching change, there was less pressure to find a new home if the desire, or need, arose before the signing day in February. Six SEC schools have changed coaches just this season.

Lake Forest College football coach Jim Catanzaro can't offer an athletic-based scholarship because the Foresters compete at the Division III level. Also, offers from Division III programs are non-binding.

By comparison Division II coaches can offer the equivalent of 36 full, football-specific scholarships, which can be broken up into partial scholarships for more players.

Catanzaro is encouraged by the new signing period. He moved up his calendar to offer kids after conferring with Lake Forest College's admission counselors and directors.

"I like it because you will see a number of kids commit earlier to Division II schools, and it will sort out the recruiting pool for us and be more efficient," he said. "It also affects us because kids want to have the ability to sign with all their buddies, so if the Division I kid is signing and the school's going to do an event at the high school, the smaller-level guys want to be a part of that."

Bob Narang is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.

Twitter @Pioneer_Press

Copyright © 2017, Chicago Tribune