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October 30, 2013

Family guidance can be key in recruiting

MORE: Numbers Crunch: Vandy needs on-field wins

It is a simple parenting lesson: Just because everyone else is doing it doesn't mean you should.

In the wake of numerous NCAA investigations as well as media reports about improper activity in college football, that lesson is being re-taught to high school football prospects across the country.

The reports of violations represent a small percentage of all student-athletes, but many parents and coaches are taking a proactive approach in trying to ensure their families are not tied to future findings.

In mid-October, Phoenix (Ariz.) Mountain Pointe wide receiver Jalen Brown sent a "Quack, Quack," tweet to announce his commitment to the Oregon Ducks. It was a decision that his mother, Sarah Barnes, signed off on even as the program remains on probation.

In 2011, the Yahoo! Sports investigative team uncovered Oregon's relationship with self-proclaimed scout Willie Lyles. Lyles was effectively selling players to the program -- namely current Baylor running back and Heisman Trophy hopeful, Lache Seastrunk.

Barnes said the situation didn't impact them and did not sway a decision to allow her son -- a four-star prospect, defending Gatorade Player of the Year in Arizona, and member of the Rivals250 presented by Under Armour -- to go to the Pac-12 power.

"That coach [Chip Kelly] is not even there anymore," she said, "and we are not overly concerned with the recruiting services aspect because that doesn't apply to us. The conversations have been had so he knows what the ramifications were and they don't pertain to him or call into question the integrity of the people that are still there. It doesn't give us any pause."

Brown was also considering other schools that have had recent controversy.

His final schools included Vanderbilt -- which dismissed four football players charged with aggravated rape in August -- as well as Wisconsin, Oregon State, Arizona, and at one point Ohio State, which was found by the NCAA to be lacking institutional control as its players traded memorabilia for tattoos and other gifts.

Barnes said Vanderbilt was one of the most active in putting its negative publicity to rest.

"The coaches at Vanderbilt reached out repeatedly to discuss it and they have been very open and honest about it," she said. "We didn't have concerns about that, either."

The attention coming to Brown started early and Barnes -- who is a lawyer -- started talking about what is and is not acceptable. She would not permit him to look at Miami due to the Hurricanes' history of violations and their current sanctions stemming from a Yahoo! Sports investigation that turned up evidence of booster involvement.

"Early on, he sort of cut out a couple of other programs that he thought didn't handle things professionally," Barnes said. "He prefers to be in situations that are by the book and not trying to get away with stuff."

Barnes said that while she hopes her son follows her advice that once he is out the door it will be on him to walk the line.

"I think my son is great and mature and I am so proud of him but he is also a 17 year-old kid," she said. "I won't pretend that when he goes off to college that there is no chance that he isn't going to a make choice because we see things like that happen.

"I don't want to sound like we are on a high horse because we are not and Jalen isn't on a pedestal, but I believe that the family circumstance is going to shape every kid and we have been communicative with him and tried instill good morals. He has a strong support system within our house as well as our extended family, but things can happen."

Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell agreed with Barnes, saying that the family model can help as prospects become college players.

"I may be old-school, and this may be oversimplifying the situation, but I think a good kid is going to be a good kid," Farrell said. "Parents get kids on the right track and they tend to stay there.

"There are some exceptions to this -- and I have seen some kids that were 'Yes, sir, and no, Mr. Farrell,'-type kids that wind up involved in all sorts of things -- but for the most part, what you see becomes what you get."

Farrell cited DeVier Posey and his involvement at Ohio State as a player who can get lost in the shuffle if a program promotes a system of disorder and added that he doesn't foresee Brown taking that path.

Farrell added that he thought more parents should start the conversation about recruiting violations and other impermissible benefits earlier.

Class of 2015 four-star linebacker Ricky DeBerry has heard every rule and regulation already. His father, Ricky Sr., made studying the NCAA rulebook as important as science homework.

"We talk about recruiting probably daily," the elder DeBerry said. "That started back in the ninth grade when we started to prep him.

"It is the business side of recruiting, making sure he does his part academically, making sure that he communicated properly with any reporters -- whether it is an interview on the phone or his actions on social media, we have rehearsed with him on what to say -- and we keep all the coaches abreast of all the things going on."

DeBerry said this started immediately after his son received his first offer from Virginia as a freshman. Now -- as an early identified member of the Rivals250 for next year -- the prospect from Richmond (Va.) St. Christopher's he has been hitting the road to see what colleges have to offer.

The family has been Purdue, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Tennessee, Michigan, Michigan State, Clemson, TCU, Baylor, and Vanderbilt. In November they plan on seeing Virginia Tech play Maryland, Penn State host Nebraska, and South Carolina take on Clemson.

DeBerry said that reading Sports Illustrated's five-part series on misdeeds at Oklahoma State and the Yahoo! Sports report that featured allegations against Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi State put the family on accusation overload.

"We try our best to stay away from the negative side now," he said. "We do our best to talk about what should and what should not happen. I always talk to him about how you can get caught up in legal things without realizing it. When we see different things on TV with athletes getting in trouble with other athletes I just tell him that you can't control what someone else does when you are in a group of guys so the best way to avoid it is to stay out of certain groups."

DeBerry is a former parole officer and currently works as a mental health professional. His wife is a physical therapist.

It is his history in dealing with troubled youth that makes DeBerry worry. He said that often times there will be an innocent kid that gets swept up with a bad crew.

"These guys come from a lot of different areas and just because they are great football players doesn't mean they are great people," the elder DeBerry said. "Some guys grow up in really tough areas and you'll find yourself hanging out with a guy that has been in a lot of trouble but you have no idea until that young man starts something and then you are in the middle of it.

"I am lucky that right now Ricky isn't into being out and running around. If you give him a good meal and a good movie to watch, he is set. More than that his mom is hard on checking his bookbag and making sure homework is done; we make sure to hold him accountable with how he looks and presents himself; we work on his diction and how he speaks, and we hold him accountable for his actions."

Farrell said the DeBerry approach is great and one that more parents should implement.

"I think those are things that should be told to every kid," he said. "Everything you do is important when you are taking center stage. Where you go, who you are with, and how you handle every situation can be scrutinized now and some kids get it while others don't.

"A lot of that is the support they have and some of that is just on them but each and every kid should at least hear that message."

DeBerry said parents need to be in control of the recruiting process from the outset.

"Parents don't know too much about this process and are waiting on their high school coach to handle the recruiting and that isn't right," he said. "People are being misinformed about when to start the process and sometimes it is too late. I know that not everyone has the same family structure but I think that each kid that is going to be recruited needs to hear these things."

At Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln High School the message is disseminated by the head coach, Yusuf Shakir.

Since 2002, Lincoln has had 71 players commit to FBS-level programs and the class of 2014 has a four-star defensive back, a three-star linebacker currently committed to Louisville and two other senior prospects. The class of 2015 will likely see another four players sign with FBS-level programs.

Shakir said that he hopes the family unit of each of those prospects addresses the many issues facing kids, but he does not believe that to be enough. His program has multiple recruiting seminars each year -- twice in the spring and twice in the summer -- to allow parents and players to be educated on the process.

Shakir asks his former head coach as well as parents of previous FBS and FCS-level recruits to come back and speak. He said he feels it is simply part of his job.

"I think you have to do your best work for your kids because you ask them to do their best work for you," he said. "On top of that, I think you owe it to the community to help out and make better people and not just good football players. So many people return home and having an educated and productive community comes back to you in time. If you help a kid get a college education -- a free college education -- and they can contribute to what you are doing locally when they return it will make everyone better and I think that is a special thing."

Shakir said he could not recall a player that left his program and found trouble at college. He also feels there are fewer issues than it seems because of excess media attention.

"There are 85 guys on scholarship at most schools and we have heard of about 15 cases in the last decade, so that is a really small number," he said. "The problem is that those guys that make the mistake can affect so many other people. The media picks up on those individual cases and makes it as big or as small as it wants to and while each situation is unique they probably all have some common issues and those are things we can all try to teach the kids."

Barnes said that she and her son have been able to share a laugh at the expense of some of the media reports -- and that has made some bridges easier to cross as she prepares to watch him go off to college.

"We have had a good laugh when we read about schools that have to hire girls for these guys who shouldn't have any trouble pulling chicks -- as they say," she said. "There are a lot of things that I don't think will ever pertain to Jalen but I know he is only 17 and susceptible to change, but I think I have a responsibility to talk to him about it. I didn't tell him what school to choose for college and I don't know what he will do when he gets there, but I have my fingers crossed that what we talked about will stick with him."

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