Sign Me Up! Everett Football Recruits Find a Tough Road in COVID Times

Everett High School (EHS) has produced any number of college football players over the years despite Massachusetts not necessarily being a hot-bed nationally for college football talent.

That said, the hidden gem of a high school program has gained great notoriety lately and typically in December, January and February coaches locally and from around the country begin coming to EHS to pay visits to prospective players, to visit with coaches and to see how players are doing in the classroom. On the flip side, players are often heading off for campus visits, perhaps they’ve even attended a game or two last fall at their prospective college program, and they’ve built in-person relationships with coaches over the months.

Football recruiting in Everett this year has been more difficult than ever due to COVID-19 and not having a season. In October, Junior Ish Zamor committed early to Boston College because not having a season, he feared that spots would be taken quickly and he wanted to have a spot at a school he liked. So, he jumped early based on an existing relationship with the school. Other schools might have offered him had there been a fall season, but there was just no way to know and it was too risky.
Senior Samy Lamothe had been one of the top defensive backs in the state uncommitted to a school before landing at Princeton University last week. He said COVID-19 reinforced his interest in academics as well as football. He has learned through the pandemic that football can be gone in seconds.

None of that has been possible under COVID-19, and without a football season last fall or recruitment camps last summer, many Everett High players are not getting the looks they might have normally gotten, and are having to figure out alternative ways to grab the attention – or keep the attention – of college coaches. Also, with fewer college scholarships available this year due to existing NCAA players being able to return, the competition is fierce to land scholarships that are now few and far between.

Assistant Coach Greg Bluestein said it has been very hard to get kids the “looks” from coaches that they deserve. With a very talented team that would have played last fall (and hopefully will get a few games in April), it would have been expected to be a very busy time right now getting coaches in the door and helping student-athletes at EHS line up an increasing number of scholarship offers.

“It’s definitely harder to get all the kids the looks they deserve,” he said. “Usually around this time of year, we have an influx of coaches coming to the school and we get the transcripts and film and visits lined up. Now, instead of them coming to us, it’s become us going to them. We are trying very hard to show them the great kids we have in Everett.”

One of the major complications for kids in Everett – who are also competing with other players around the country that did get to play a season last fall and with that have a body of work and film to show coaches – is that there are fewer scholarships this year to go around. While the NCAA granted eligibility for existing players to return and continue to use their scholarships, they didn’t grant more scholarships for high school players coming in.

“That’s been tough because they’ve become a little more selective in offering some kids,” he said.

Many of the kids at EHS are now leveraging the relationships they built before COVID-19 hit, and have been working those relationships all through the pandemic despite not having a fall season or being able to visit campus. Last week, Senior Defensive Back Samy Lamothe committed to play football at Princeton University, which was a school he had been building a relationship with before COVID-19. Meanwhile, Junior Wide Receiver Ismael ‘Ish’ Zamor committed to Boston College in October based on relationships he’s had there since 8th grade – perhaps forgoing offers from other Division 1 schools that might have come in what is known as the “jump year” between sophomore and junior football seasons.

“The pandemic was a reason I committed so early,” said Zamor this week. “Spots were being filled up and I didn’t want to lose the opportunity for a scholarship. I believe it’s been very tough because of not being able to play. The junior year is really important because it’s the jump year where coaches can look at your progress. I’m putting in the work, but I was planning on having a great junior year last fall. I just hope we can get a few GBL games this spring and guys can get some time on the field and have some film to send coaches.”

Zamor said he chose BC because he had been on their radar since he attended a camp there in the 8th grade. When the coaches changed this year, he said they became very interested in him as a player and a person. That made the difference to him, and with things so radically uncertain in the world, he felt it was the time to commit early.

Still, one has to wonder what other opportunities might have come his way had there been no COVID-19, and had there been a fall football season. A recruit on the national radar screen, he said many coaches had wanted to see what he could do his junior year.

“There were schools that wanted to see me play this year and the leap that I made from sophomore to junior year,” he said. “If they liked what they saw, they would have offered me, but I didn’t get to play and do that.”

Lamothe, who had been named as one of the state’s top uncommitted defensive backs before last week’s news, said he had always been looking at Princeton because he wanted a top-flight Ivy League education for when football wasn’t there. Having football and everything else disappear so suddenly with the pandemic, his decision to focus on life outside of football was only more cemented in his choice.

“COVID changed my outlook on everything,” he said. “Football could be over in a matter of seconds. The cases went up here and football was gone. I was able to actually spend time with my family and appreciate waking up and experiencing the day whether good or bad. It shed a light on a lot this year about the college process…I wanted to go to Princeton because I wanted a school with academics and athletics. Even if football doesn’t work out I have something to fall back on. My plan B is going to get me far.”

Lamothe had been talking with the Princeton coaches since his sophomore year, and they were very interested. But this year was confusing and without a season, it was hard to keep their attention. Once confident he would get there, he said he was considering a post-graduate year in order to figure out things like the cancellation of the SAT test, and the lack of scholarships available to incoming freshmen. With so many unknowns, he said he was resigned to that until Princeton recently called with an offer.

“I was signing up to do a post-graduate year, but I stayed patient and hopeful,” he said. “Then coach called and said they would give me the last spot. It made things so much easier. We do have a football season and I can have some peace because the college process is done.”

Zamor said he’s grateful for the opportunity to play at BC, and to have a scholarship offer and solid relationships that were already in place. However, he said a lot of his teammates have found it very difficult to build those relationships on Twitter, over the phone and with Zoom calls.

“It’s definitely tough on them because they’re getting more and more competition and they don’t have the film for the coaches to look at,” he said. “I feel for those guys. Junior and Senior year can be a big year. Others find their spots are filled up. Some of my teammates had offers they lost because the scholarship they had was taken away for returning players. They go to accept the offer, and they’re told, ‘Oh, you don’t have a spot’ and they’re left with nothing.”

Bluestein said it has been a bit intense for the student-athletes – another level of stress to deal with – and it’s been tough on the college coaches too. He said they have been working hard to help kids along, to send out film and be pro-active.

“It is taking a toll on them because they don’t understand the process and really no one does – including the colleges,” he said. “It’s figuring this all out on the fly. They’re definitely vouching for themselves on film. I’m encouraging kids to e-mail and contact coaches on Twitter. We have a great staff in Everett and they’re doing everything they can to help them as well.”

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