Athletes struggle with getting recruited in the age of COVID-19

Arjun Aujla

The year 2020 made everyday life arduous for everyone, but for high school student-athletes from California that were looking to get recruited for college, a unique issue arose. California’s strict COVID-19 protocols forced most high school athletes to sit back and watch most other states’ high school fall and winter seasons commence without issue. Athletes in California went without a season in 2019-2020 and had a shortened season in 2021. Therefore, athletes never had a chance to get their name out to college coaches and suffered disadvantages to athletes in other states. Without having a chance to play their sports, California high school athletes have fallen behind in the quest to get recruited. 

 Senior John O’Neal, has run on the track team for four years and trained hard during his freshman and sophomore years in hopes to have a great junior season.

“Especially in track, your junior year is really critical to get your times, and those times determine what schools you can go to,” O’Neal said.

All the schools that O’Neal was considering gave him times he had to be able to run for recruitment purposes; but only having one track meet before school was shut down didn’t provide enough opportunities to run the times he needed. Missing 11 regular-season meets and the chance to qualify for higher-level meets also hurt O’Neal’s chances to run in college.

“I was pretty frustrated in the beginning, especially [after] realizing that I had put in two years of work, really for [junior season]. I had been talking to coaches and emailing them, and I put a lot of hours into getting recruited and it felt like everything was taken away at one moment, which sucked,” O’Neal said.

O’Neal continued to train over summer, however with the absence of an indoor track season in California, and indoor track season taking place on the east coast and in the south, many other student-athletes were given opportunities that O’Neal wasn’t given. 

For sophomore basketball player Jacob Freidman, the wait to play organized basketball was delayed much longer than expected. 

“I knew I wasn’t going to be able to play organized basketball for a while,” Friedman said. 

However, he looked at this break as an opportunity to overtake his competition and gain the extra edge. 

“This is the time that is going to separate myself from others, everyone is going to be relaxing in quarantine and watching TV, but what I was thinking is this is the time you need to put in the work,” said Freidman. 

During quarantine, Friedman trained for at least two hours a day and worked on his strength in the weight room. 

Throughout the spring and summer, Friedman was able to work out with a trainer, and a small group. Even with this extra training, watching players in other states play in travel team tournaments was nothing but frustrating. His first game back was in February of 2021. 

“It was super weird, we only got one minute to warm up, and the covid rules were a hassle, as the game went on I got more and more into it but it felt strange playing after so long.” 

Club games were tough for Friedman and his team. Due to their circumstances with California’s COVID-19 mandates, Friedman had to travel out of state for tournaments. His team has been playing games against teams that have been practicing for months, compared to the few weeks Freidman’s team had.

“I can’t be legally recruited until I am a junior, but for juniors and seniors, it has been difficult playing against talented teams, who had private locations to practice all through quarantine.”

Conor Weasler, the starting kicker and punter for the varsity football team is highly ranked in his class, ranked twelfth in the nation for 2023 punters and 40-50 in the nation for 2023 kickers. However, for kickers and punters, recruiters do not look at in-game videos as much as they do for every other position. Kickers and punters show their skills at camps and showcases that college coaches attend. 

“Kicking camps aren’t allowed to be hosted in California, so I have had to fly out of state to Arizona, just to go to camps,” Weasler said. 

Varsity football kicker and punter Conor Weasler kicks off in a game against Terra Linda.

Even throughout the summer and fall, Weasler would try and go to the Redwood football field to practice kicking field goals, but was always asked to leave because the field was closed. The football season’s reduction to five games greatly impacted Weasler’s ability to get highlights and statistics. 

“The hardest part of the season for the team was the inability to watch a film, last year they would watch film 3 days a week to study their opponent, but this year we have not been able to go into the classroom,” said Weasler.

Weasler and Friedman still have time until college coaches reach out, but O’Neal has stayed in contact with one coach, who is interested in recruiting him if he runs his times. With California’s strict COVID-19 restrictions reducing sports seasons and the reopening of sports in California, student-athletes around the state are looking to gain exposure. With an expected full 2021-2022 season, Redwood athletes will give their all to be noticed. However, the lost year will affect high school athletes for years to come. While most college athletes are receiving an extra year of eligibility, there will be fewer roster spots for new recruits which means that competing for those few empty spots will be even tougher, especially with the fact that many Californian athletes lost two full seasons due to strict COVID-19 rules.