By JEFF CLEMETSON | La Mesa Courier
Despite being denied a chance to don a Scotties jersey this year and lead Helix Charter in a championship season, quarterback Tyler Buchner is still having a fantastic 2020.
In August, Buchner made the Sports Illustrated All-American team, coming in at No. 55 of the magazine’s top 99 high school players in the country. The senior has already committed to play for Notre Dame and is on track to complete his high school curriculum this year and be moved to South Bend, Indiana and start training with the Fighting Irish in January 2021.
The early departure for Buchner means that if pandemic rules loosen enough for high schools in California to have a season in the spring, Helix will be taking the field without its star quarterback who as a junior completed 267 of 402 passes for 4,474 yards, 53 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He also rushed 128 times for 1,610 yards and 28 more scores.
“For me it’s bitter sweet,” said Helix head football coach Robbie Owens. “I’ve loved the opportunity to work with him and I still hold these minute hopes that something happens that he decides he wants to stay, but in my heart I think I know he’s most likely going to go. I think on paper we have one of the best Helix teams that I’ve had since I’ve been here. Losing Tyler, obviously, is a big hit to that. He’s a tremendous talent.”
Owens describes Buchner as having all the attributes of a great quarterback: 6 feet 2 inches tall, 200 pounds, rifle arm and he is quick on his feet. Buchner is also a smart student with over a 4.0 GPA and has great leadership skills, attitude and work ethic on and off the field, Owens said.
“His future is very bright,” he added. “He’s in that top echelon of guys that have ever come out of San Diego.”
Missed season, missed opportunities
Although Buchner’s future is set in stone with his scholarship to Notre Dame and a future playing Division 1 football at a top-tier university, the postponed — and possibly cancelled — season has still had some negatives for him.
“Tyler is one of the top players in the country, but if you look at his resume as a quarterback, he still has very limited experience as a quarterback,” Owens said, pointing out that Buchner played wide receiver as a freshman and was injured his sophomore year.
The lack of a senior year to follow up his phenomenal junior year is the “only thing questionable on his resume,” according to John Garcia, director of football recruiting for Sports Illustrated.
For Buchner, that means missing the chance at a higher ranking on the SI All-American team or 247Sports list. But for high school players on the cusp of scholarship potential, the missed season means missed opportunities.
“When you look at all the kids that are out there preparing themselves for the next level because they’re going to have scholarship opportunities and to play, they are missing out on this valuable time and ability to improve their craft in whatever position they have,” Owens said.
“There’s definitely going to be some casualties, recruiting casualties, from this pandemic,” he said.
At Helix, some of those casualties could be players such as wide receiver Clay Petry, offensive lineman Shawn Martinez, defensive end Blaze Zito, free safety Domonick Schoop and linebacker Jerry Riggins.
Coach Owens pointed to Riggins, a senior, as an example of a player who could possibly miss out on scholarship opportunities from large schools.
Owens said Riggins is “as good a football player I’ve ever coached. He’s a kid who would have offers.
“I have coaches who called me last week to say, ‘We really like Jerry, but we really want to see him in person.’ He should already have those offers.”
Normally, Helix attracts recruiters from around 90% of Division 1 schools to visit in the spring and start scoping players, Owens said.
“Colleges are under stricter guidelines, so this is a dead period for them. They haven’t been able to come out since COVID started,” he added.
Compounding the issue for players vying for scholarships are new NCAA rules that allow college seniors to play an extra year. Coaches will have a new set of roster management decisions to make because they may not have to fill as many positions.
“Until the NCAA completely adjusts the scholarship numbers and things like that, it could create a little more hesitation in recruiting this 2021 class,” Garcia said.
Although players like Riggins — those on the cusp in the minds of recruiters — might fall through the cracks because of a lack of in-person evaluations by Division 1 schools, smaller and local schools could reap the benefits. Recruiters from places like Ohio or Georgia that normally come to poach talent from California aren’t flying and that leaves players with options closer to home, Garcia said. Owens said even a school like USC might skip over players they normally would take and leave SDSU reaping the talent.
Of course, players might still end up at bigger schools by transferring.
“The transfer portal is going to be as busy as ever in the next 18 months,” Garcia said. “Some of those schools that are preparing to play now, Big 10 and 12, we’ve seen a lot of movement just in the last few weeks so I can imagine once it turns over to 2021, you’re going to see a lot more of that once you see this group of kids enroll and begin their college career.”
Technology bridges opportunity disadvantage
Using the transfer portal might help get players and schools closer to what might have been in a non-pandemic recruiting season, but it does little to stop some of the inequities faced by players right now.
One of those main inequities is the fact that some states have decided to move ahead with in-person schooling and also allow team sports to continue play. For the players on the cusp in those states, they still have the opportunity to play in front of recruiters or at least still send in game film from this year.
“I do think the states that are playing do have an advantage … because they are playing games, so teams are getting an opportunity to rank [their] guys,” Owens said. “[Hypothetically,] there’s a linebacker in Texas who will rank higher than Jerry Riggins just because he could play. That’s just the truth of it.”
Faced with not playing in front of recruiters or even being able to share game film, players in states like California that have postponed football have reverted to creative ways to market themselves to schools.
“From the prospects’ perspective, you got to rely on technology. That’s all that’s sort of left. If you’re not in a state that’s playing, you still want to try to showcase that ability any way you can,” Garcia said, adding that he’s seen videos of football players playing other sports to show off their athleticism, even a kid who sent a video of him pulling a truck to highlight his strength. However, there are limits to this kind of video marketing.
“I think it could be good news for smaller colleges that have to use these kinds of resources on a normal basis, but for a kid with those Power 5, D1 dreams, it’s just the hardest its ever been in this era,” Garcia said.
Owens is even more skeptical of recruitment by video.
“The only way you get better at football is you play football,” he said. “You can go out there and practice and you can do seven on seven and have your private coach – you can do all those things – but football is that one sport that you can’t mimic. There’s kids that are filming their drills, sending them out, tweeting them out and doing all that, but it’s not the same.”
Still, getting in front of recruiters virtually is better than not at all. And for players who are depending on a scholarship to help pay for school but are now faced with less opportunity to play in front of coaches, there are additional options like junior college football or post-graduate football programs.
Bottom line, Garcia said: “If you’re good enough, somebody will find you.”
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.