COVID-19 hampers recruiting for local football players
By Greg Bates
BROWN COUNTY – Several local high school football players are feeling the crunch with recruiting because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Notre Dame senior Will Zellner, who was the team’s No. 2 running back last season, opened eyes by carrying the ball 23 times for 290 yards and three touchdowns.
“I’ve had past teammates that have been Division 1-level athletes,” said Zellner. “Watching them get recruited, having coaches come to practices and seeing them go to campuses has been cool. Now that COVID-19 hit and you can’t get as much in-person access, it’s disappointing. You’ve got to deal with what’s given to you.”
Zellner has been receiving interest from Division III schools from around the state – most notably, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and St. Norbert – but his coaches at Notre Dame believe he can be a Division II-caliber running back.
Other than being able to travel to Eau Claire, tour the campus and meet with coaches in early September, Zellner hasn’t been able to do much on the recruiting front.
Notre Dame began playing during the fall, but a positive COVID-19 test within the team contributed to the school deciding to move football to the spring.
“It’s been different,” Zellner said. “Coaches have still been reaching out, but it’s been difficult.”
Mike Rader is the head coach at Notre Dame.
“The whole world is weird right now, and the small aspect of college football recruiting is one bit of their overall lives that is different,” he said. “As everything has been adjusted, the kids are resilient and can figure out their new normal. Everybody, for the most part, is going through the same stuff.”
Rader said players around the country are in a holding pattern for recruiting, whether they are playing in the fall or the spring.
“I don’t know if there’s an advantage of playing in the fall versus spring, because I think the colleges are going to want to see everybody before they make decisions on where they’re going to go,” he said. “Everybody needs to be patient.”
Hudl is a popular method of getting players’ names out to college coaches.
“Anything you can put out on video is a good thing because it’s an opportunity for players to get publicity,” Rader said.
Bay Port’s Nate Forystek watched his brother, Daniel, go through the recruiting process.
Daniel, a 2020 Bay Port graduate, attended football camps and toured college campuses in the Midwest before signing with Division I Illinois State University.
Nate Forystek, a junior this year, hasn’t been able to enjoy the full recruiting spectrum.
“I was hoping to do the same, but it’s lots harder, and I had to make a different choice,” he said.
The younger Forystek is attracting Division I looks from Illinois State and North Dakota State, among others.
Bay Port was one of the local schools that opted to shift its football schedule to the spring.
“It would have been different if we were playing this fall,” said Forystek, who at 6-foot-7, 220 pounds, is a good size for tight ends at Division I programs. “It’s challenging with us not playing. I’m confident opportunities will come later in the season. I almost feel like it will be better off for some athletes having more time to prepare for the season.”
Forystek isn’t the only Bay Port player getting college looks.
“We have no control over this,” said Bay Port head coach Gary Westerman. “The only things we can control are to wake up every day, work hard, improve ourselves physically and mentally and be ready to play when we have the opportunity.”
High schools in Wisconsin were granted 15 contact days to use between the fall and when football practice starts in the spring.
“That will give us the ability to get some movement and pad film – obviously, not in any game situations but controlled practice situations,” Westerman said.
Westerman said he’s planning on splitting those contact days up – getting more reps in during the fall before adding some practices before the regular season in the spring.
Rader, who played offensive line at the University of Wisconsin in the mid-1990s, said he’s helping his athletes as much as possible.
“Starting back in the summer, the biggest differences are the exposure camps and the times you could go and spend on a campus, weren’t there,” he said. “For those who wanted to measure themselves against others, you didn’t get that in-person view of what the competition looks like.”
Rader said he’s also taking more of a hands-on approach this year because his son, Max, is starting to get college looks.
Last season as a sophomore, Max played tight end, but his dad moved him to tackle this season.
Max Rader is currently 6-foot-6-1/2.
“We were banking on him going to camps and seeing what we can do out there,” said Mike Rader, whose son has attracted interest from Northern Illinois and Northern Iowa. “He played as a sophomore, but he played in a different position than he was going to play this year. The film doesn’t necessarily tell the story on him.”
When it was announced Bay Port wouldn’t be playing football this fall, Forystek said he was disappointed.
However, his views have shifted.
“After looking at it, I also came around to find the benefits of it,” Forystek said. “With us not playing right away, we can come together as a team, work out and get bigger, stronger and faster. When the time comes, we’ll have the opportunity to make the most of it.”