Despite COVID-19, Oaks Christian celebrated Athletic Distinction with a socially distanced National Signing Day event in the Dallas Athletic Facility. The ceremony recognized 19 athletes in attendance. Surrounded by family, friends, coaches and staff, the students signed their Letters of Intent to play their sport in college.
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The annual ceremony is always a celebration of the athletes’ hard-won recognition of their ability to compete collegiately, but this year’s crop of athletes is especially to be commended. Recruiters typically look closely at an athlete’s junior season, but for this year’s seniors, COVID-19 severely reduce or eliminated that opportunity.
“It was definitely difficult to showcase myself when the baseball season was shut down because I had a lot of coaches that were interested in recruiting me. They wanted to come out and watch me play, but that did not happen,” said Gianni Horvat who signed to play shortstop with University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Years before the pandemic, much of the recruiting process had already moved online with athletes posting resumes, game videos, and highlight reels. However, those platforms are more supplementary: recruiters still like to see athletes perform in person, assessing the high and lows of their skill set, split second decisions made on the field or court, and their interaction with teammates. Also, the fit needs to be right for both player and school, something that is hard to determine solely online.
"The biggest loss is the comfort level in person- the coach with the recruit, the recruit with the coach, the recruit with the campus and community and other coaches…You're relying on digital correspondence, but the in-person evaluation is just as important. For the recruit- does the campus look like it did on my computer screen? Do I feel comfortable in the community or town? That is why many recruits went and scouted out schools on their own- just to make sure it was the right fit across the board," said Brandon Huffman, National Recruiting Editor for 247Sports.
Last year, the OCS baseball team played seven non-league games before the CIF-Southern Section shut down spring sports. Without practices and games, Horvat used the time to get in the gym and keep conditioning. But he also got creativity and used social media to keep a presence in front of recruiters, a recommendation made by several sports associations in addition to updating or creating a personal sport website.
“Twitter and Instagram really helped me out tremendously. I started posting on these platforms every three days and made sure that I was consistent with posting baseball content,” he shared. “This allowed for coaches to make an assessment on me as a player because I was providing them with the information they needed to recruit me into their program.”
He admits doing so was stressful though, and now that he has signed feels relieved and thankful for his coaches and family that got him to signing day.
Senior Brooklyn Courtnall will be playing both soccer and running track and field for the University of Southern California. College soccer recruits earlier than track, but she shared, “because of the pandemic coaches really have to take a chance and trust your developing well on your own without games.” She sent them clips from her junior year, and they have been watching her play club since her freshman year.
Track and field completely shut down last year, so she had no junior year record. Because she was not running her events – the 400 meter print, 200 meter sprint, 4 X1 relay and 4 X 4 relay -coaches had to look at her personal bests from the 2018-19 season, which she felt weren’t ideal. However, getting on the USC teams more than made up for that.
“I’m extremely thankful I get to sign even though the spring season got cancelled. This is a tough time for all athletes, and it’s caused a lot of adversity. To be able to be a college athlete is something I’ve dreamed of since I was seven,” she said.
In addressing the athletes at the signing ceremony, OCS Head of Athletics Jan Hethcock acknowledged the extenuating circumstances they faced.
“What a past year this has been! None of us could have imaged the events we have been through.” he said. “I commend you for hanging in there and not giving up on your dreams…committing yourself to late night, early morning workouts and weekend study sessions, and not missing practices. Now your dream of playing college sports is becoming a reality.”
(CLICK HERE to view Signing Day Video)