South Florida football players finally enjoying college campus visits after COVID-19 shutdown

·3 min read

When the coronavirus pandemic started intensifying in the United States in March 2020, the NCAA instituted a recruiting dead period. That meant college coaches could no longer speak to prospective student-athletes in person — all communication had to be on the phone, digital or through the mail.

Coaches could not visit high-school campuses or watch a game in person, and athletes could not officially visit colleges.

The dead period was originally set to expire in April 2020, but as the pandemic continued, so did the dead period. It wiped out a crucial recruitment period for the Class of 2021 and threatened to do the same for this year’s seniors.

But as COVID-19 cases decreased and vaccines became more widespread, the NCAA decided to finally end the dead period. As of June 1, student-athletes were once again permitted to take visits to schools and speak to coaches.

“It feels amazing,” American Heritage wide receiver Santana Fleming said. “We’ve been locked up for over a year with no visits, no in-person recruiting, no nothing. It just feels good. ... We finally got the freedom again to roam the colleges and see what they have to offer us.”

Fleming, a rising junior, has taken advantage of his chance to visit college campuses. He has already been to Clemson, Georgia Tech and Miami.

“All of them had a lot of things I’ve never seen before at colleges,” Fleming said. “I’ve seen them on Facetime, but it’s a different feel in real life ... especially in the stadiums.”

Although Fleming has only talked to coaches over the phone for more than a year, he said it wasn’t awkward seeing them in person.

“I knew a lot of schools wanted me as a priority, so they made me feel like that,” Fleming said. “It wasn’t awkward at all. Like (no) dull moments. Straight laughs and just good vibes overall.”

Fleming, who is rated a four-star prospect and the No. 96 player in the 2023 class by 247Sports’ composite rankings, said he also wants to visit Florida, Florida State, Oregon, Rutgers, Oregon, TCU and USC.

Even if the dead period continued, Fleming would still have all of 2022 to make his college choice. Things were more urgent for the senior class. The summer is a crucial opportunity for rising seniors to visit campuses, meet coaches and attend camps before their final high school season begins.

St. Thomas Aquinas 2022 wide receiver Camden Brown was one player starting to get concerned about how his recruitment could play out, though he was hopeful he’d have his opportunities to visit schools.

“I was kind of worried,” Brown said. “But not too worried because I knew that they weren’t going to have it for too long.”

Brown, a 6-foot-3 wide receiver, had six catches for 97 yards and a touchdown in three games as a junior and is hoping to have a big senior year. He is rated a three-star prospect and the No. 79 wide receiver in his class. For him, getting to work out in front of college coaches presents a big opportunity to impress.

“I was very excited because coaches that didn’t believe in my size believe it now,” Brown said.

Since the dead period ended, Brown attended camps at Auburn — where he won the camp’s most valuable player award — Clemson and FIU. He also took an unofficial visit to UCF. The last 11 days have already been fruitful: Brown has received offers from Akron, UNC Charlotte and Ole Miss.

“(Visiting in person) helped a lot because I didn’t have much film this year,” Brown said. “But I overcame adversity and (fought) to get them to see me (play) better, and (it has) been going great so far.”

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