This Division I football prospect watched his stock rise as the pandemic changed recruiting

Dan Sostek
Chambersburg Public Opinion

At a time when sports, and the world in general, had come to a screeching halt, perhaps the most consequential process of Anthony Smith's athletic life was accelerating at a rapid pace.

The Shippensburg star defensive end received his first Division I scholarship offer from Bowling Green on March 7, 2020. Then, in the coming weeks, coronavirus shut down everything; everything, that is, except the interest in his talents.

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Three weeks later, he received an offer from Iowa State. Three days later, Nebraska. Then, the big one came 17 days later in Penn State. That week, Pitt, UConn and West Virginia all offered, and the quiet before the storm was over. All in the middle of a pandemic that has totally changed recruiting everywhere.

Shippensburg's Anthony Smith (middle) has seen his stock rise dramatically in recruiting since last March, when the pandemic began.

But for Smith, there's been one benefit of the new normal: it's eased him in to what would usually be a stress-filled process of choosing which of the blue-chip college programs he is going to play for in 2022.

The 6-foot-6 junior is getting to know big-time coaches that he usually sees on ESPN via Zoom and phone calls at first, rather than in a stadium filled with 100,000 fans.

"When I first started talking to coaches, it was a lot," Smith said. "But it was also really nice because I felt like it would have been a little more awkward just having to meet in front of them for the first time. [The process] definitely helped me get used to the coaching and everyone that talks to me. So when I meet them in person, I feel like I'll be a lot more laid back, because I know them now."

Smith said that since the pandemic began all of his communication in his recruitment, has been virtual, via Zoom calls or the phone. 

And since most of his recruitment blew up during the pandemic he hasn't had a chance to visit any of the offered schools, except for Penn State, whose gameday he had attended before COVID-19, and Bowling Green, who offered him on a visit in March right before the pandemic began.

Rivals.com recruiting analyst Adam Friedman said that the deluge of offers coming for a player after the first one comes in is in line with the norm. But he also notes that the pandemic has made it tougher for "off-the-beaten path" recruits to get that first offer, due to the lack of in-person interaction which allows for "true" measurements.

"It's been very difficult for these underclassmen to get their recruitment started as early as the previous classes because colleges just don't have enough information on these guys to really go on scholarship offers," Friedman said. "There are a lot of schools that I've talked to that have guys basically listed as we want to offer these guys once we get verified measurements. And that stuff usually happens during their college camps or other events they trust." 

The NCAA has strict regulations in place currently against official campus visits due to the pandemic.

Smith said the calls have, at least partially, tried to substitute for those campus visits.

"[The Zoom meetings] have kind of been a mixed bag of stuff," Smith said. "Everything from just normal conversations to showing me things on campus."

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Smith, who currently rates as a three-star recruit on Rivals.com, didn't have college coaches attend his games in person; they had to settle for film. 

"They can't come to the games, so it probably can't help them the same [scouting-wise] because they can't see [the whole field]," Smith said. "At the same time, it helps them even seeing the good things I do on film. And they can still see the entire game."

The 2020 season marked the first one for Smith where he had the label of a blue-chip recruit. He made good, earning First-Team Mid-Penn All-Conference honors and helping push the Greyhounds to four straight victories to end the year after an 0-3 start.

But Smith still maintains that through all of this he just wants to be a part of the machine.

"I'm just another guy, just another teammate," Smith said. "Every time that me and my brothers stepped on the field, our goal is to win. I don't feel like I'm better than the next person that's coming off the bench or the next person that's on the field."

Still, decision time is starting to inch closer for Smith. That process might get murky with a continued lack of face-to-face interactions with the programs, as the NCAA extended its dead period for recruiting to May 31, using the time to "plan the transition to in-person recruiting activities." 

Now that the familiarity with the teams has been established, the nerves are gone, and Smith and his family are anxiously awaiting the chance see these places in person.

And after that, it might be time to make the big choice.

"I have a good family by me, and I feel pretty confident that we have a game plan of when I want to do, or when I want to come out with like a top ten or five or three," Smith said. "We have a game plan, and I think we're pretty good on that."