There’s no sugarcoating it.
2020 was a terribly unfortunate time to be a high school senior athlete with aspirations to play college sports.
Between extended dead periods, extensions of eligibility for current college players, decreased budgets for collegiate athletic programs, limited numbers of games – and therefore less film — by which to show what they can do, and so many other factors, the deck has been stacked against high school athletes accomplishing next-level goals.
In the face of all those things, several local football players are taking a different route to keep chasing the dream.
Skyline seniors Oscar Aranday, Chase Silva, Nick Peterson and Grayden Bridwell, and Fairview senior Gray Villarreal have all committed to play for Feltrim Academy, a post-grad prep school in Haines City, Florida, next fall. The move will allow them to continue playing football in search of scholarship offers — without losing college eligibility — and reclassify as members of the 2022 recruiting class.
“With everything going on right now in the college football world, it makes a lot of sense for kids to go the prep school route, especially guys who don’t have offers,” Villarreal said. “I heard Chase was going there and that was a big deal to me because he even had a couple options. I’ve gotten to know Chase pretty well and after talking it over, going to Feltrim seemed like a good opportunity to build up some experiences and some film.”
Silva, a quarterback who threw for 6,308 yards and 72 touchdowns in his Skyline career, indeed had a Division-I offer on the table. But the vast majority of players, even ones who would have options at least at the Division-II, NAIA or JUCO levels in a normal year, have found themselves with little to nothing at the end of their senior years.
“Originally, we were all going to try our luck as walk-ons or take what little money we can get to go somewhere smaller,” Aranday said. “There’s way more money and opportunity in the Class of 2022, so we got to talking and decided we’d try to find a better opportunity at Feltrim.”
Post-grad programs for basketball and some other sports have been established for some time, but similar academies for football have been increasing in number since the global pandemic began devastating the high school and college football landscape. There’s a good chance this trend could continue, as many people in the recruiting world expect the COVID-19 pandemic to have a trickle-down effect on the 2022 class as well.
This will be Feltrim’s first season with a football program, and the inaugural class already includes commits from Colorado, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Florida.
Reporting in July and leaving after the football season and semester end a week or so into December, Feltrim football players will have a daily schedule and structure similar to what they would experience as a collegiate athlete. They will attend a community college and will earn some college credit, but will take few enough courses to avoid starting their eligibility clock.
Feltrim head coach Mark Deas, who played at the University of Georgia, said the goal is to use a combination of exposure, film and the school’s recruiting network to have players enrolled in a four-year school by January.
“Colorado isn’t the only state that’s going through it,” Deas said. “There are a lot of kids around the nation struggling with their recruiting, especially this class. My biggest purpose being a coach is helping kids reach their goal and have the opportunity of a lifetime that I had. The whole idea of being a collegiate athlete is something that’s one of a kind and a good opportunity to be able to play, build a post-grad network and get an education.”
Several months ago, Silva, Aranday, Villarreal and Bridwell were playing high school football in Colorado. A few months from now, they will be attending at a post-grad academy in Florida that is a member of the National Post Grad Athletic Association and plays in the Gulf Coast Post Grad Conference. The post-grad route is an uncommon extra step in the recruiting process, but the ultimate goal for these four remains the same: to be a scholarship member of a college football program a few months after that.
“Whatever it takes,” Villarreal said.