The effects of COVID-19 are far reaching. One area that has been particularly impacted is the athletics recruiting process. Briarwood Christian School’s athletics director and quarterback coach Jay Mathews recently reflected on the June football evaluation camp experience and how the process has changed as Briarwood’s Christopher Vizzina accepted invitations to come to camp and has received a number of offers from Power 5 schools.
So you ended up going on two long prospect camp trips with the family of your class of ’23 quarterback, Christopher Vizzina, and his parents. What was the purpose of going, where did you go, and what have you learned?
I have done this before with QBs in the past, it is such a unique college position. But it was even more important to me because of the impact the transfer portal and even the COVID year is having on that. College coaches did not get to see prospects live at all last year and none of them are going to sign a QB unless they see them, talk to them, and watch how they handle themselves, especially the big guys. More people will know the name of a backup QB at some large school than they do the governor. A school can’t afford to miss on that pick, and the transfer portal has depleted the depth chart at some of these schools.
So, for us, it was a fact-gathering odyssey. We met with the family and laid out a plan and then Coach (Matthew) Forester and I divided up the travel.
What was the general impressions you came away with and what benefit did the process serve?
I personally could not be happier with the last two weeks. All of the visits were great. CV threw really well and the interaction with the coaches was impressive. I learned a lot in the process that will help me be a better AD and coach.
Every school we went to was incredible with great people working there. What a great time to be a college football player if you approach it with the right set of core values and a work ethic.
There are multiple offers for rising juniors out there. Are these real offers or just ‘hey we are REALLY interested’ offers?
So that is important for the parents and players to know. Some offers are real, ‘I can take it today’ offers and some are what I call ‘match offers’ where a school matches an offer based on a competitor or same level for the prospect. Schools don’t know if they are going to get their top choice, so they have to keep evaluating and watching these players develop.
And you don’t know sometimes if it is a legit offer or not, unless you got on the phone and said, “OK, coach, I am coming.” Then you find out quick based on their reaction.
That is why we stress relationships with the coaches, candid conversations, and let them know up front our purpose in the process.
If this is just about ‘shopping offers,’ it will be a very hard and sad process, especially for the parents.
How do you balance this recruiting process and getting your QB ready for the upcoming season?
We are fortunate that Coach Forester has the best summer workout schedule I have ever seen. It allows us to work extremely hard and efficient. Because of this, we only missed one workout. Then I monitored every throw CV made and we kept up with his pitch count. This allows me to be the bad guy if I shut it down. But I never did, these college coaches are smart with their valued recruits. I think the toughest thing a kid has to do is let a coach know that he is close to a hamstring tweak or has a tired arm, etc. But in the long run, a player has to protect especially a throwing arm … it can mess up a career.
Does the increased attention on this process impact the reaction of others?
We are fortunate that we have a great atmosphere at BCS where the team gets it. And it is super important that our guys getting attention showcase humility, service, and hard work when they rejoin the ranks. But CV went from 1,000 Instagram followers to 5,000 in just the Mississippi State offer, so it creates some misunderstanding and consternation with that. But we expect it and plan for it, even before it hits.
What has changed in the process since you guys last had a quarterback that was a projected Power 5 player?
Everything! Social media and the instant analysis by recruiting services in football has made this a full separate sport. I’m still getting used to the photo shoots in uniform and Twitter world, and have talked to the college coaches about their thoughts on it.
Also, we have changed in how we treat the outside QB coach and 7-on-7 team. With CV, we ended up embracing that and meeting with Ben Neill of QB Country. Our former QBs love him and he is a great resource to us. Everything has to be ‘what is best for the player and his family.’ The colleges are doing the same thing in offseason work. Since it is a reality, why don’t we all just work together? Now, every part of the team, school coaches, technique coach, and 7-on-7 team pulls for the kid. We are fortunate that our collaboration has the same shared values. And that isn’t always the case.
I personally feel good that with Ben and the other college QB coaches, we all teach the same stuff. It makes me feel good when one of my QBs hears a top college coach teaching a drill or read the same way we do it. When it is different, we talk about it.
What is your primary role in this process?
Early on, I knew CV was going to check all of the Power 5 boxes — height, athleticism, arm talent, mental game, leadership, academic performance, competitive toughness, and coachability. I had been with Coach (David) Cutcliffe long enough to know the metrics. You have to have ALL of those to just get in the process. CV also had early on the field varsity success. I love coaching high school quarterbacks and we win a lot of games with guys who don’t check all of these… but the reality is what it is. We embrace it as a blessing and get ahead of the process.
So, we met with the parents early on to talk about the potential for all of this and our advice on how to walk through the process. The family has been wonderful to work with. Ultimately, they are willing to trust the Lord to guide the whole thing- “God has a plan for your plan.”
What advice do you have for parents and players who desire to play at the next level?
I get sad when I see so many athletes chasing a college scholarship as a validation of their worth. My advice is work hard, build a network and relationships, get honest evaluation, enjoy high school and then if you want to play, you can… it may be that the school isn’t going to pay much for that opportunity and that is OK. Want to guarantee money for college? Save early and work hard in the classroom.
You can overdo this process and underdo it… but there is a question that a lot of college coaches ask me today that they didn’t ask 10 years ago, “How are the parents?” And sadly, they will pass on a kid if the parent hasn’t been easy to get along with or in over involved in the process. Thankfully, I am able to give great reports on our parents.
I am super proud of our players and this family. I am just grateful to be at a school that loves kids and celebrates success. We have such a great team culture here between players, coaches and parents. We have multiple-sport athletes and happy hallways. It is never perfect, but I work in a special place. It was an amazing June and our QB has garnered a lot of offers. This created value for himself, but we all benefit from it. If we handle this with perspective, humility, and trust the Lord — it will be awesome. In the end, I have to put my work hat on and get grinding again. In the end, these opportunities come only by an unbelievable effort to ‘work heartily, as unto the Lord.’ Also, we have the best coaching staff I have ever seen in every single sport here. I am a blessed man.
Coach Jay Mathews’ Decision Grid/Process for Parents of High-Profile Recruits:
Here is what I recommend…
THIS IS YOUR PROCESS AND CHOICE– I want to be a help and not a hindrance
 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
 Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
or it will not stay near you. (ESV)
Facing a big decision?
Let’s start with how we typically decide after a lot of fretting and turmoil-
1) In making big decisions, we basically choose what we want to do. Even our prayers often are a covering of manipulation.
2) In making big decisions, what our peers think is usually more important than what God thinks.
3) When making big decisions, we often pick a position of power and pride over humility and service. Prestige over practicality.
4) When making big decisions, our tentacles are up to catch the information that supports our presuppositions, and we are not dissuaded by countering arguments.
 Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart. (ESV)
In the case of a QB and deciding offers- there are some preliminary thoughts and questions.
Embrace the process, let it be a blessing and not a curse.
THIS IS A ‘WE’ THING…. NOT A ‘ME’ THING
This is about much more than football, in fact, there has to be something bigger than football in your life to complete this process in a healthy way.
It CAN”T be all consuming and you HAVE to keep the boundaries of your life in check.
Those who transgress boundaries in their all-consuming life search for knowledge, riches, power, and prowess will overreach themselves until their pact with the devil destroys them. (Os Guinness)
Pre- Commitment– Gathering info/ engaging interest and collecting offers in prospect camps.
Take the high road- even if others negatively recruit
Be thankful and gracious
Build relationships and contacts
Treat everyone well including other recruits- be willing to be seen as the good guy
social media- yes- but be restrained… no need to juice the hype
When you get an offer, call loved ones first…. then post
Don’t sacrifice your HS team or relationships with your friends
Let them see you working- promote them- take them with you- stay humble
Be wise- be willing to tell a coach ‘no’ while communicating you are still interested
Be honest and don’t be afraid to ask them questions, opinions
Don’t be surprised if you experience jealousy of friends- keep positive and prayerful
It is quite OK to market yourself and shop for offers, but there has to be a realistic evaluation of ability.
NARROWING THE FIELD
At some point- with wisdom- you start eliminating schools that you know you are not interested in them- and they will thank you- THIS IS HARD- BE CAREFUL
Who in your life is an expert AND is honest? Be careful here, don’t take one person’s word on it.
Questions (none of these should be taken as a single decision maker).
What coach/coaches do I look forward to speaking with each week? Are there any you dread?
Who seems real and who seems like a used car salesman?
What do their core values look like?
Are they keeping NCAA rules or ‘winking’ at them?
Do they win at all costs or are they more motivated to help their players?
Do they speak poorly of their current players?
Do they seem to coach the entire room or just the starter?
Will it be easy or hard for my mom/dad to see me play?
Have you looked at the team’s schedule for the years of your eligibility? Does it excite you?
What is the weather like there — harsh summers or winters?
Do they seem organized?
Have you looked at the style of their offense? Does it fit your skill set?
How are you seeing their culture of character and winning? There are no guarantees, so what about the players who are considering offers there as well?
What do the guys think of their strength coach? Do they like being with him and under his program?
What do the guys think of their trainer and training staff?
What does their QB room look like? Do you think some of them might be portal guys?
Does the school have a degree program you like? A graduate school you like?
Is there a local church you like? A community of believers?
Is this a place you think you could get up and enjoy coming to work?
The Elites and QBs
Big dogs play close to the vest
The vetting process… more detailed
Know the difference between twitter offers and real offers
Be careful of the fan hype or message boards
‘DECISION GRID’ One that YOU can pray over AS A FAMILY.
Search Biblical passages for HIS GENERAL WILL and the boundaries.
1) God’s WORD is my authority.
2) It sets my motive- To Please God by:
a- spending time in prayer
b-reading the Bible
d-practicing discipline which honors God
e- the priority of loving others (especially family)
1 Thessalonians 4:10–12
 But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more,  and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you,  so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. (ESV)
Some bigger questions
- IS IT LOVING?
- WILL I BE A GIVER OR A TAKER?
- CAN I PROCLAIM and LIVE OUT THE GOSPEL?
- DOES IT PROMOTE ME OR GOD?
- IS IT RESPONSIBLE?
- WILL IT CREATE A DEPENDENCE ON OTHERS?
- WHAT DO MY PARENTS THINK?
- DOES IT CHALLENGE ME?
- WILL I GROW?
- WILL I BE ABLE TO SERVE AND BUILD GOD’S KINGDOM?
after the choice- social media should almost go to nothing– read, like, but no need to post about you- the hype is over and the work begins
When you sign- COMMIT:
I’m going to earn a degree
I’m going to work hard
I’m going to lift up a team
I’m going to contribute to a healthy team culture
I’m going to stay UNLESS there is a well thought out plan and supported by wise counselors – and that will be done at proper moments