February football signing day now mostly about FCS, DII

Archbishop Spalding running back Julius Chestnut, pictured, will sign a letter of intent to play football for Sacred Heart. Chestnut is one of five All-Metro first-teamers who plan to sign this week.
Archbishop Spalding running back Julius Chestnut, pictured, will sign a letter of intent to play football for Sacred Heart. Chestnut is one of five All-Metro first-teamers who plan to sign this week.(Paul W. Gillespie / Capital Gazette)

The February signing day for football isn’t what it used to be.

With a new signing period in December, most of the top high school football recruits already have signed their national letters of intent to accept athletic scholarships with the top Football Bowl Subdivision programs. A few major prospects nationwide passed on the Dec. 20-22 period, but when the February signing period opens Wednesday, most players will be heading to Football Championship Subdivision or Division II programs.


Mount Saint Joseph coach Rich Holzer, who has seven players signing this week, said the earlier signing period has changed the recruiting process.

“I think it changes a lot for the colleges, because right now, this would be the normal time when even a lot of Division I schools would be coming through checking on kids who may have fallen through the cracks,” Holzer said. “Right now, every Division I and even FCS school that’s come through, they’re looking at 2019s already. The only schools that are really interested in seniors are in Division II, Division III and junior colleges.”


At No. 1 St. Frances, seven players will sign with FCS or Division II programs in addition to five who signed in December.

Panthers coach Henry Russell, however, sees the same thing Holzer is seeing. Juniors and sophomores who played on the Panthers’ 13-0 team ranked No. 4 in USA Today’s Super 25 have been reeling in offers from top FBS programs in recent weeks. In the past, that didn’t happen until spring.

“I think it’s been overall not great for the kids,” said Russell, the Panthers’ co-coach with Biff Poggi. “I think colleges, the higher level schools and even [FCS] schools kind of pressure kids into signing early and some of the kids who signed maybe at the [FCS] level might have had something bigger come along later, but they’re under pressure to sign, so they signed.”

However, Russell said, that probably helped some programs, even FBS schools such as Maryland or Rutgers, because stronger programs didn’t have as much time to try to lure away their better recruits.

Russell also said that because the top programs are concentrating on offering scholarships to juniors now, having a breakout season as a senior might be too late to draw a top FBS offer.

To Milford Mill coach Reggie White, the new early signing period is “advantage colleges.”

“I’ve heard a few recruiters put it this way, that the kids have had the advantage for so long as far as making the decision and if you think about a kid bringing three or four hats up to the podium in February — say he’s got Clemson, Alabama, South Carolina and Miami, and he chooses Alabama — the other schools now have to go and try to fill that position,” White said. “With February being kind of late and they’re trying to get their-second choice kids, those kids might have committed to other schools. Now it’s in December and it’s very early so they still have time to find out who they want.”

Still, many players find good fits at the FCS and Division II levels in February.

Five All-Metro first-team players plan to sign this week: Poly wide receiver Tyrese Chambers with Alabama A&M, Archbishop Spalding running back Julius Chestnut with Sacred Heart, Mount Saint Joseph offensive lineman Mike Corbi with Villanova, Howard linebacker Ryan Kearney with Towson, and Edgewood cornerback Christian McDowell with Alabama State.

Morgan State will get two prolific quarterbacks in second-team All-Metro selection Jared Lewis, from Dunbar, who threw for 3,285 yards and 30 touchdowns, and Perry Hall’s Tyler Holley, who threw for 2,770 yards and 34 touchdowns last fall.

Where Baltimore-area student-athletes have committed to attend college.

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