When I walked onto the field at the Citrus Bowl during pregame Sunday for the MEAC/SWAC Challenge, I noticed several high school players standing on the Florida A&M sidelines.
There was Jabari Dunham of Leesburg, Demarius Stewart and Deion Scott of Orlando Oak Ridge, Alban Harp of Winter Garden West Orange, Jonathan Boone of Orlando Freedom, Calvin Smith and Adam Anderson of Orlando Boone, Isaiah Wharton and Chase Smith of Kissimmee Gateway and Yawn Coleman of Wekiva High in Apopka, among several others.
These guys were not supposed to be recruiting guests at a neutral-site football game. That’s against NCAA rules, right? Ahh, but wait. After a momentary memory lapse, I realized that FAMU was indeed within its rights to host recruits at the Citrus Bowl.
Under NCAA guidelines, a team cannot host players or provide complimentary tickets at a neutral-site game unless the team plays two or more games at that particular venue. Problem solved.
FAMU has two games in Orlando this season: Sunday’s game with Mississippi Valley State, which the Rattlers won 27-10, and its usual regular-season ending date with rival Bethune-Cookman in the Florida Classic.
“It’s huge . . . we have so many rules as far as recruiting, but with those two games, [our] head coach can meet the players, have a conversation with them,” said FAMU running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Elijah Williams, the former Florida Gator who also recently coached in Orlando at Oak Ridge High. “It’s especially huge for us when we are not based in Orlando. To have two games in Orlando, making them technically home games, it does wonders for our ability to recruit the area.”
FAMU hosted 22 players on Sunday, but the Classic is where the Rattlers will invest most of their recruiting time. FAMU is expected to have more than 100 players on hand for the Nov. 23 matchup. On the other side of the field, Bethune-Cookman will have none.
Bethune capitalized on the same recruiting rule last year when the Wildcats played two games at the Citrus Bowl.
“We were able to take the kids up to the Varsity Club [at the Citrus Bowl] and they sat there and talked to [head] coach [Earl] Holmes and gave him a chance to introduce himself and get to know them a little better,” Williams said. “The players also got to stand on the sidelines for pregame warmups and that gives the kids some lasting memories. For some of them, it [was] their first college-game experience.
“It gives us a step up in the recruiting game compared to other guys, no doubt.”
It plays a big recruiting role for FAMU considering the difficulty many players have in making the four-hour drive from Central Florida to Tallahassee. It also gives the Rattlers an opportunity to infiltrate what could be considered Bethune-Cookman territory.
With Williams in the mix this season at FAMU, the Rattlers will be hitting Central Florida even harder than in the past. FAMU has nine players from the Sentinel coverage area on its roster. That number will likely grow in 2014.
B-CU, based in Daytona Beach, has always enjoyed an advantage in recruiting Central Florida, but this season FAMU is hoping to make positive impressions that could pay off for years to come.
Bethune currently has 11 Central Florida players on its roster, not as many as one might expect.
Coleman, who had a receiving touchdown for Wekiva during a 35-0 win over Orlando Jones on Friday night, appears to be one of the top targets on the FAMU board. He’ll likely play defensive back in college, but the athletic Coleman has skills for both sides of the ball.
“It was all right,” Coleman said of the game. “It was way more convenient for me since I don’t have the transportation to go that far, plus my mom was out of town my at my brother’s game.”
His brother is former Wekiva linebacker Marcell Coke, who is now a junior at Norfolk State in Virginia. Norfolk lost its opener 23-6 against Maine.
Coleman said he sees himself playing at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, but so far Football Championship Subdivision member FAMU is showing him the most attention.
“I know they have great potential up there, but right now I'm looking at a lot of other schools,” Coleman said. “But FAMU was the first to offer me and they are showing me the most love right now.”
It helps FAMU that Williams knows Coleman’s current high school coach, Kenard Lang.
“Coach Lang introduced me to him at a practice this spring,” Coleman said of Williams. “I’ve been talking to [Williams] once or twice a week ever since.” He’s trying to get me up there [for a visit to Tallahassee].”
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting and now on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun