This story was featured in the Winter/Spring 2017 issue of Gameday Magazine.
It was getting late, and Whitewater High School senior Isaiah Montgomery needed to make a decision. Tomorrow was National Signing Day, and in the morning, Montgomery would reveal to everyone at his school which college he would be playing football. The only problem is it was 9:30 p.m. and Montgomery and his family were still in the process of figuring out which college that would be.
Finally, near the 10’o’clock hour, Montgomery definitively chose University of the Cumberlands, deferring a late recruiting push from Urbana University. Montgomery said the decision wasn’t easy, especially since he only had a week to mull over the Urbana offer, but in the end, he felt it was right to go with the school that wanted him first.
Montgomery said his parents played an integral role in helping him feel confident in his decision.
“Without them, I would’ve chosen right then because they’re giving me points that I didn’t look at,” Montgomery said.
The recruiting process for high school athletes is exciting, but it can also often be stressful, especially when offers begin to stack up. The schools in Fayette County are used to producing top talent across all sports, and this season was no different. Among the five public schools in the county, 41 athletes signed, just on National Signing Day alone, to play at the college level.
Each player’s decision-making process during recruitment is different. Some, like Montgomery, run out the clock weighing every option before making it official. Others, like fellow Whitewater athlete Tyler Doanes, visit a place like Morgantown, West Virginia, and know right away it has everything he’s looking for.
For Doanes, a former shortstop on the Whitewater baseball team, it was important to attend a college that had a supportive coaching staff, a team that played in a competitive conference, and a campus and town he can enjoy being in for four years. Morgantown checked off all his requirements.
“The first time i talked to them was the end of my junior year,” Doanes said. “I love the town. I love the coaches out there.”
While choosing the right college wasn’t the hard part, deciding on which sport to stick with was a challenge for Doanes. As a multi-talented athlete, Doanes excelled in other areas outside of the baseball diamond.
In the end, Doanes couldn’t leave the game he’d be playing since he was 3 years old.
“Baseball is just a kid’s game,” Doanes said. “You can go have as much fun as you want to.”
At 6-foot-7, there was never any doubt that Fayette County senior Noah Gurley’s easiest route to being a college athlete was on the basketball court. Like Doanes, Gurley wanted to join a program that offered him an opportunity to show his talents on a big stage.
Despite other offers from mid-majors such as UNC-Greensboro and Wofford, Gurley chose Division-I Furman, who finished this season with a 21-10 regular season record. Part of the reason Gurley chose Furman was because its recruiting staff pursued him early and often, more so than any other school. Gurley felt that if Furman liked him that much during high school, the school will give him every chance to succeed once he arrives there.
Still, Gurley knows it will be a tough task making an early impact on a competitive team, but he embraces the challenge.
“I want to play against bigger names in order to get my name out there,” Gurley said. “I don’t want to take an easy road. I’m trying to make a name for myself.”
Former Sandy Creek senior running back Jaelen Greene is already in the process of making a name for himself.
Greene, who early enrolled at Cincinnati this spring, committed to the Bearcats before he began his senior football season at Fayette County. He said he was recruited by about 20 schools, and the distance from Fayette County wasn’t as much of a concern as choosing the place he’d feel at home.
“I just wanted the right fit for me,” Greene said. Somewhere I could be for four years.”
Like Montgomery and Gurley, Greene desired to go to a school where he really felt like he was wanted, and new Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell made Greene feel that sense of comfort. Greene said he was the only running back taken in the 2016 class, so it gives him confidence that he can produce for the Bearcats early and often.
Although Greene’s decision was made earlier than most, he didn’t lose sight of his immediate goals while he was still at Sandy Creek. While notable college football players Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey made headlines this past bowl season for sitting out to preserve their health for the next level, Greene said that was never on his mind as he entered his senior season with already knowing where he’d be suiting up the following season.
Greene was playing for a state championship, and he wanted to be on the field as much he could not only to prove to Sandy Creek that he was a talented running back.
“I had lots of motivation,” Greene said. “I had to prove my commitment. I had to back my commitment up.”
As far as graduating a semester early, Greene said it was important to be on top of his academics so that it was one less thing he had to worry about when he was deciding between his plethora of offers. If he could give any advice to the younger players following in his footsteps, it would be to stay on top of their studies.
“Being ahead really helped me because I didn’t have to worry about meeting eligibility because I was already eligible,” Greene said.
Greene’s backup running back at Sandy Creek, Drezyn Parson, didn’t make an early decision or wait until National Signing Day to accept his offer to Jacksonville University. At 5-foot-6, Parson’s goal was to defy the odds and receive a Division-I scholarship. Once he earned the offer at Jacksonville, his lone D-I offer, he knew it was going to be the frontrunner.
“[Other players] will see me and say since you’re this size, you might not go D-I,” Parson said. “You really have to do something really special to go D-I at your size.”
While Parson admits two D-I commits ahead of him on the running back depth chart made him have to work harder to get noticed by recruits, he enjoyed the competition. He excelled on special teams, where he averaged 48.3 yards per kickoff and earned All-County Returner of the Year.
Parson said the talent around him allowed recruits to notice him even if he wasn’t featured in a starting role.
“Having those types of guys helped me with recruiting because they’re both committed to big schools and I’m still doing what I was doing, so I thought that would help me not get overlooked,” Parson said.
Like Greene, Parson made sure he was in control of his grades so that he would have one less thing holding him back when the offers starting coming. Of the other offers he received, one was from the University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky. It didn’t end up being Parson’s destination, but Montgomery had no doubt it’s where he belongs.
Many factors, including academics, coaches, and potential playing time go into a decision of which school to commit to, and the final decision often comes down to which school the player feels most comfortable at.
“I really just felt more at home with Cumberlands,” Montgomery said. “I felt it was the perfect place to be.”