Lee Ann Herring-Olvedo — MESPORTS South
Paul Heyman used to say, “It’s the unbridled passion to just go into something that allows you to create something from nothing. That allows you to innovate. That allows you to take things to the extreme.”
I bet most of you have never driven down Maine Route 236 and got stuck on the rotary at the southern end of Harold Dow Hwy on your way to South Berwick, Maine. You are probably thinking what the hell kind of football could be in such a place? Surely, not the first place you would think of to land a “perfect prospect” in college football that’s for sure.
If you grew up in the South surrounded by the ornate pageantry that comes with Friday night lights, or SEC college game day, and raised on the premises of God, Family, Football and in my case Texas then you definitely aren’t easily convinced that anything outside of the South holds a candle when it comes to the gridiron. Even for females, our rites of passage may include the Texas Dip but you can be sure our grandfathers have coached us to know and love this game.
The art of this game is embedded in my blood since I can remember it’s my comfort and it’s my livelihood now.
However, as much as I owe my path in the football world to my Southern roots. I can’t deny that the real spark and understanding of this game is when I ventured out of my comfort zone and witnessed another culture of football up in New England. It wasn’t like anything I was used to. Frankly, I was a little shell shock that Brown’s football stadium was smaller than most high school football stadiums down South. Our team wasn’t stacked with a depth of 3 to 5 stars recruits of names that you knew. The list goes on.
Even amidst the pristine Van Winkle Gates of an elite institution, there was no silver spoon when it came to football. But never once were those seen as setbacks or shortcomings. In fact, I think it was the uncertainty or lack of luxuries that forced them to strip back the layers of who they were and play and adapt in an unmediated way. It was those raw, confined, and often insecure moments where more than a player but a team’s purpose could and would be born.
Here it was about taking the game back to its roots and building on basics and fundamentals. It wasn’t about fancy playbooks, a stacked depth chart, or putting on the ritz. It was about taking what you have and making it work for you. It was about still finding a way to keep this game tried and true. I mean how many powerhouse schools do you know still take a chance on running offenses like The Maryland Power I, The Wing T, Emory & Henry, Wishbone, or the Notre Dame Box? My point its that sometimes when you keep to the tradition and keep it simple that can be your biggest asset.
Dynasties aren’t the teams that are filled with stacks and stacks of football adonis but rather are made of those players who have the unbridled drive with a marathoners pace. They are those diamonds in the rough and found in the most unlikely places.
Over the course of the last few months, we have found ourselves under unprecedented circumstances we all hoped would be just like a bad dream that we could quickly wake up from and begin again. Though each of our experiences through this pandemic has affected us differently. I think we can all say that some days are better and others we find ourselves humming, “Zoom, Zoom, Zoom. As I sit in…my four corned room.”
Do we continue to give in to an invisible predator or do we find a new way to adapt and find whatever our path is intended to be?
I don’t think any of us anticipated the narrative to go this way and get thrown the biggest curveball of a lifetime. But to take a line from the Grateful Dead, “One way or another this darkness has got to give.” It is all a matter of finding that inner desire to get through this and keep on trucking to whatever it is you want to get too.
Across the country, the nation’s top prospects are wondering how to remain focused to keep their dreams in arms reach during this time. While there finally seems to be a glimmer of hope as programs start to entertain the idea of phasing sports back to campus. There is still one hell of an uphill climb and journey. The way we once experienced sports will forever be altered in more ways than one because of this.
Even in all this, there is always a bright side. It has allowed athletes and programs to take things back to the basics and be in control of their destiny. It has opened the opportunity to look beyond the status quo of football and go to those untapped football utopias. For me, I now have the opportunity to go back to my passion for football recruiting.
It takes a village and everyone has a role in order to make it flourish. If these months haven’t shown us I don’t know what will. So I found myself following that football instinct back to New England. Just 45 minutes North of Boston there is pretty damn good high school ball club you probably haven’t heard much of outside the New England circuit called the Marshwood Hawks.
Even as a threepeat (2017,2018,2019) Class B Maine HS Football State Champion, led by legendary New England and Massachusettes Hall of Fame Coach, Alex Rotsko they don’t have recruiters knocking down their office’s door and it’s not because of lack of talent. I mean when you can win not one but three back to back using a Wing T in this day and age. That says something about the sort of player dynamics make up rosters like Marshwood.
It makes me think why programs that are wanting to win championships overlook places like South Berwick, Maine. Why are they not looking outside their comfort zone and recruit players outside their normal profiles to build their rosters in a new way?
But times they are changing it seems that perhaps the unbridled underdawgs may finally get their time. Grant Winter, 6’3, 190, DE/TE, Marshwood 2023. Ever heard of him? Probably not right? There are plenty of athletes like Grant that despite their athletic ability, football pedigree, and strong sports linage, still are on the “outsiders” of the elite recruiting circles they yearn to be apart of looking for the niche to get seen. Don’t be fooled by his quiet disposition because when it comes to training and the gridiron you will see the Maine Machine come alive full force. What has really set this kid apart is the will power in all this uncertainty to find a way to preserve and grow even with limitations.
There is not a day that has gone by since I have become apart of this kid’s journey where he hasn’t trained or found a way to become better. He knows he’s not the most sought after athlete but that drives him. He has used this time and made it be a platform for coaches to see what he can do. Over the course of the short span, I have watched this kid really flourish and I can tell you that you ain’t seen nothing yet. Each day it’s about crafting and building a way to showcase ability. But the twist is having to now train under a pandemic life. That’s a whole other animal to tackle. What it has done is shift the waves of recruiting to be more personal again to get back to the ability of athletes and teams having to really get to know what they need. More importantly, it gives athletes at all levels more control to navigate their own brand and build it the old fashion football way.
Over the last couple of years, we have seen 7 on 7 and showcase leagues really help kids like Grant get seen and also have the opportunity to build their training to compete against other top prospects in powerhouse football regions like the South. Its leagues like Hotbed and Coaches like Brandon Odoi see the need to develop and expand their league while creating an opportunity to build a new recruiting platform for not just athletes but for coaches. Recruiting is 24/7 and that is a never-ending job that coaches wish they can be more places at once. Now with the gears shifting to a virtual setting talk about the new wave of recruiting possibilities. Just think now it’s normal to Zoom in on your kid training on the East Coast in the snow while evaluating one working out in that Texas heat. There is a long journey ahead for Grant Winter and we will be sharing it every step of the way in hopes that we can help change the recruiting game for the outsiders looking in.
“You never know how a horse will pull until you hook him to a heavy load.”
— Bear Bryant
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Lee Ann Herring-Olvedo is a veteran SEC sports journalist and NFL beat writer. She is our Sr. Editor and columnist for MESPORTS digital. A Brown University graduate who loves good cigars, good games, and a smooth glass of bourbon — not necessarily in that order. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Misskyus2011