2009 High School Football Preview
2009 High School Football Preview: Better Talent, Coaches With Local Connections Has Turned Washington Area Into Recruiting Hotbed
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Arie Kouandjio squeezed his 6-foot-6, 310-pound frame into the middle seat for a cross-country flight at the beginning of summer. The DeMatha offensive lineman had a scholarship offer from the University of California, and he figured he'd make the trip on his own, not part of any official recruiting visit.
"I wanted to see how things on the West Coast would be," Kouandjio said.
The people at Cal weren't necessarily expecting him that June day, but he had long been on their radar as one of the top players from an area that has established itself as a football recruiting hotbed in recent years.
Colleges from every corner of the nation are scouring schools inside and around the Beltway, looking for potential players. The talent level in the area has improved, and the number of coaches with connections to the Washington area has grown. The result is that the District and its suburbs are producing more college football players than ever. Last year, more than 120 high school seniors from the area accepted college football scholarships from schools in 21 states.
"Guys who maybe recruited this area at one time or another have made a contact or relationship and feel it's worth the effort to come into D.C.," DeMatha Coach Bill McGregor said. "Another thing is people realize it is a transient area. There are so many people not from the D.C. area who live here and work here now. Because of that, the kids will go away from home."
Kouandjio, for instance, had no hesitation about going online and making his own travel arrangements. Everything seemed perfectly normal for the 17-year-old who received his first college scholarship offer, from Maryland, shortly after last season ended.
"I was just trying to see as many places as I can," Kouandjio said, noting several other West Coast schools have since offered scholarships.
"The volume of people in that little geographic area, the amount of people [in the Washington area], it's amazing," said New Mexico Coach Mike Locksley, one of the people given credit for helping local athletes become better known during his stops as an assistant coach. "It's one-stop shopping. Fly into BWI or National and drive an hour, and you can hit 50 schools easily. It's an area that is continuing to grow and will continue to grow in terms of being a major player in division I football."
Paving the Way for Recruiters
A 1987 graduate of Ballou in Southeast Washington, Locksley believed many of his classmates had the ability to succeed at higher levels of college football if given the chance. Throughout his career -- including assistant coaching stops at Maryland, Florida and Illinois -- he has made a point of hitting inner-city areas searching for players.
An assistant at Maryland from 1997 to 2002, Locksley was well-regarded by many high school coaches for his recruiting ability. And when he went to perennial title contender Florida, he kept that affinity for the Washington area, wooing future NFL first-round pick Derrick Harvey of Eleanor Roosevelt to play for the Gators.
Locksley then moved with Coach Ron Zook to the University of Illinois, where he continued to recruit area players. The Illini have 10 Washington area products on this season's roster, including Dunbar alum Arrelious Benn, a wide receiver who could be a top draft pick next spring.
Many coaches believe the success of local players at Penn State and Illinois has prompted other Big Ten programs to place more of an emphasis on recruiting area players. Local coaches noted Minnesota and Iowa in particular have had more of a presence recently.