Yale University assistant football coach Kevin Cahill, whose emphasis is on special teams with the Bulldogs, also has the task of recruiting Florida and Georgia for the academic institution.
This is his first year at Yale, and so it was also his first recruiting venture into Florida with his mind on the academic achievements of young high school football players, and not just their physical talent.
Sure, they have to be able to play football at a competitive collegiate level, but it’s classroom first when it comes to Cahill’s scouting, as it is for all Ivy League schools
So Cahill probably figured he was in for a rough week heading into Florida last week as high schools opened spring camps across the Sunshine State.
Florida’s education system is regularly made the butt of academic jokes across the nation. It’s no secret that education in Florida is lacking considerably in comparison to the rest of the country. Standardized test scores are notoriously low for Florida and abysmal in rankings among the other 50 states.
In a 2010 Yahoo! report, Florida ranked 44th in the country with an average SAT score of 1475, ahead of only Texas (1467), New York (1465), Georgia (1460), South Carolina (1452), Hawaii (1450) and Maine (1390).
Notice a trend there? Cahill certainly does since he is also charged with recruiting the state of Georgia and Alabama, which actually helps bring up the Southern average with 'Bama being the No. 19-ranked state by SAT average (1658). And his job previous to landing at Yale was at the University of Maine, representative state school for the worst SAT averages in the country.
Failures in academic achievement from state to state vary in reason and we won’t get into that here, but Cahill does notice one thing: The picture in Florida isn’t as bleak as it may appear.
“It’s been good for me, very good,” Cahill said of his week traveling through the state. “There is a wrap on the state of Florida that academics have been a struggle, especially in the southern part, and there is some truth to that, but there are a lot of good things in Florida, as well. Obviously, Florida is always known for football talent, but academically there are definitely quality kids there, as well.”
“It’s fun to recruit Florida ... I enjoy it.”
Yale currently has five roster players from the state of Florida and also has a few incoming freshmen who are from the state, like Altamonte Springs Lake Brantley teammates and linebackers Adam Vanvalkenberg and Aaron Ault, and Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas linebacker Cole Champion
Cahill is looking for more and many times an invitation to join an Ivy League school will trump those scholarship offers from traditional football schools.
Top quarterback Kedric Bostic of Jupiter Christian School committed to UCF last year, but eventually changed his mind after Princeton approached.
"It was an extremely tough decision," Bostic told the Sentinel in December. "Picking between Princeton and UCF, I mean both of them are great schools. They're obviously totally different. Really what it came down to in my mind, I kept thinking, 'How can I turn down a degree from Princeton?' "
Ditto for St. Thomas Aquinas QB Max Lescano, who is also headed to Princeton, as is teammate and kicker Nolan Bieck.
“It is academics first, so it weeds a lot of kids out right away, for us,” Cahill said. “We’re looking for the kids who are academic achievers, the ones who take the challenging classes, advanced placement classes and are doing really well. We can’t even look at athletics, so physical ability doesn’t really mean much for us until you get past the transcripts.”
And it also takes a special person once the student/athlete gets on campus. The work to get into an Ivy institution is difficult and time-consuming, but after that, the road gets even more bumpy … then add in football.
Former Winter Springs fullback-linebacker Joe Bonura, said he was helped with his transition by being a part of the school’s Freshman Scholar Institute (FSI), a preparation program for incoming first-year students.
“I was able to attend the FSI program with about 70 kids early,” Bonura said. “You take two classes and get two credits out of the way, and I was also there with some other football players on campus and we worked on our own time running plays and things, so that was a huge transition factor for me. It really saved me as far as getting into the pace of the college level.”
Bonura played junior varsity during his freshman season this past year and also nursed a slight shoulder injury for much of the season. That, however, may have allowed him more time to focus on academics.
“I’m keeping my grades up,” Bonura said. “It’s definitely a huge step up from high school. It’s so fast-paced and the level of comprehension is a lot higher and you need to know what you are doing at all times. Time management is a huge factor.”
Especially for a football player.
“Even though it’s Ivy League, it’s still a big job to be on the football team,” Bonura said. “It takes up a giant portion of our time.
“ I tell my parents that every day at Princeton is the hardest day I’ve ever had, but it’s fun … knowing you’ll be challenged and that you are working your mind as hard as your body … it’s a grind but also fun at same time.”
Cahill has learned right away that it’s a whole different recruiting game when academics comes before yards and tackles.
“You really have to throw your net out there really far and you have to look at every single kid that comes across your desk,” Cahill said. “Any kid who has grades is getting evaluated by us. Any e-mail we get we have to cross-check it. We take such a select few that we have to do a good job of making sure we don’t miss on any of them.”
Florida players on current Ivy League rosters
Brown -- Stephen Fox, SR, DL, Winter Haven Lake Region; Benjamin Noury, SR, DB, Spring Hill FW Springstead; Clayton Paino, JR, OL, Tarpon Springs.
Columbia -- John Keefe, SO, WR, Shalimar Choctawhatchee; Robert Sigmon, SR, WR, Viera; Tyler Feely, JR, K, Tampa Jesuit; Ryan Thomas, SO, OL, Gainesville Buchholz.
Cornell -- Max Martinez, SR, RB, Miami Belen Jesuit; Sam Wood, JR, QB, Jacksonville Fletcher; Javier Rodriguez, SO, WR, Miami Belen Jesuit; Taylor Beatros, SO, LB, Jacksonville Bolles; Evan Brovender, SO, DL, Boca Raton Pine Crest School.
Dartmouth -- Robbie Anthony, JR, WR, Orlando Bishop Moore; Garrett Waggoner, SR, DB, Sarasota Riverview; Cameron Crage, SO, QB, Boca Raton St. Andrews School (Middleton, Del.); Bennie Niles, SO, CB, Clearwater; Dominick Pierre, JR, RB, Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian Academy; Alex Douglas, SR, DB, Jacksonville Bartram Trail; Aaron Mondshine, JR, OL, Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest; Sean Ronan, SO, OL, Boca Raton.
Harvard -- Nick Allain, SO, LB, Orlando Bishop Moore; David Bicknell, K, SO, Boca Raton; Reynaldo Kurton, JR, DB, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas; John Kohlhauff, SR, TE, Fort Myers; David Leopard, SR, OL, Ocala Trinity Catholic; Colton Lynch, JR, DB, Fort Myers Evangelical Christian School; Dan Melow, SO, WR, Miami Gulliver Prep; Grant Sickle, SR, DE, Riviera Beach Suncoast Community; Seitu Smith II, SO, WR, Deerfield Beach.
Penn -- Ryan Becker, JR, QB, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas; Patton Chillura, SO, QB, Tampa Jesuit; Joey Grosso, JR, LB, Boca Raton Pope John Paul II; Mason Smith, JR, RB, Satellite Beach Satellite; Drew Harris, SO, DB, Davie Western; Kyle Wilcox, SO, DB, Seffner Armwood; P.J. Hobson, SR, LB, Tampa Jesuit.
Princeton - Joe Bonura, SO, FB, Winter Springs; Malik Jackson, JR, QB, Jacksonville Ribault; Taylor James, JR, DB, Fort Lauderdale University; Jimmy von Thron, SO, DB, Jacksonville Providence.
Yale -- Dylan Drake, SR, LB, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas; Max Fink, SO, LB, Miami Gulliver Prep; Javi Sosa, SR, RB, Miami Belen Jesuit; Ryan Stanney, SO, TE, Orlando Bishop Moore; James Talerico, JR, OL, Boca Raton Pope John Paul II.
2012 Ivy League commitments
Brown – Hershel Caywood, WR-DB, Bradenton Manatee; Gabriel Gonzalez, P-K, Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest; Rakeem Marcelle, WR-DB, Vero Beach; Grant Senne, LB-P-K, Winter Park Trinity Prep.
Columbia – Maxwell Keefe, TE-WR-DB, Fort Walton Beach Choctawatchee; Darin Patmon, CB, Land O’Lakes.
Cornell – James Few, QB, Tampa Plant; Jeff Kruse OT-DT, New Port Richey Gulf High; Mike Tate, LB-FB, Tampa Plant.
Dartmouth – Joshua Clark, OL-DL, Bradenton Christian; Brian Grove, RB-DB, West Palm Beach Kings Academy; Vernon Harris, CB, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas; Francisco Hernandez, RB-DB, Miami Belen Jesuit; Jack Sheehy, TE, Boca Raton St. Andrews; Zachary Slafsky, TE-LB, Delray Beach American Heritage.
Harvard – Denzel Paige, OL-DL, North Broward Prep; Bryce Walker, WR-DB, Tampa Jesuit.
Penn – Tyler Drake, LB, Fort Lauerdale St. Thomas Aquinas.
Princeton – Nolan Bieck, K, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas; Kedric Bostick, QB, Jupiter Christian; Max Lescano, QB, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas; Caleb Slate, OG, Green Cove Springs Clay.
Yale – Aaron Ault, LB, Altamonte Springs Lake Brantley; Adam VanValkenberg, LB, Altamonte Springs Lake Brantley; Stephen Buric, TE-DE, Tarpon Springs East Lake; Cole Champion, LB-SS, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas; Mikhail Reese, DE, Tampa Gaither.