COVID-19 hampering college recruiting of Bartow athletes

By NICHOLAS SULLIVAN
Posted 3/27/20

The COVID-19 outbreak has affected the sports world in a myriad of ways. Yes, games and events have been postponed or canceled. March Madness didn’t happen, the Tokyo Olympics have been pushed back …

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COVID-19 hampering college recruiting of Bartow athletes

Posted
The COVID-19 outbreak has affected the sports world in a myriad of ways. Yes, games and events have been postponed or canceled. March Madness didn’t happen, the Tokyo Olympics have been pushed back a year and it’s anyone’s guess when the next NBA or MLB game will take place.

But there are plenty of other aspects of sports that have been adversely affected by the global pandemic. At the local level, one of the most disappointing byproducts of the situation is the impact on the college recruitment of high school athletes. It hasn’t just hurt seniors, and its scope spans every sport.

“Not only has the virus outbreak affected the class of 2020 by canceling everything they dreamed of doing their senior year, but it has also hit hard for the junior and senior athletes that wanted to play at the collegiate level,” Cartersville High senior soccer player Janet Zazueta said. “… The seniors who aren’t committed yet are affected, because time is running out for them to showcase themselves. The virus outbreak also affected the way college coaches are giving out scholarships, since they have a limited amount of money they can give in the first place. Now, they will probably have less to offer, which affects student-athletes because many of them need those scholarships to be able to afford college.”

On a personal level, Zazueta finds herself in an increasingly difficult situation. Her senior season is currently suspended and might be completely canceled soon. If that wasn’t bad enough, college camps she planned to attend have been pushed back, leaving her future plans in flux.

“It’s heartbreaking because this spring season was supposed to be my last run with my close friends I’ve been playing soccer with my whole life,” Zazueta said. “It has also made it difficult for me to get new highlight videos to send out to coaches. Being an uncommitted senior during this time is difficult, because the ID camps I was supposed to attend have been postponed to a later date. Time is running out for me and I need to make a big decision soon, and this outbreak is not helping my situation on allowing me to showcase my improvements over the years.”

Zazueta’s situation is far from an isolated case. Even one of her senior teammates, Micah Vance, finds herself in the same predicament, although she is holding out hope Cartersville’s season can be saved.

“I wanted to use this season to really find out if I wanted to play in college or just end my soccer career in high school,” said Vance, who scored 24 goals her junior season. “But since we are not able to play, I don’t have the college camps I was going to attend and I don’t have games I can tell recruits to come to. But hopefully, we will get to finish our soccer season so I can at least get to play one last time with the best team ever.”

Adairsville High basketball player Jaxon Welchel was able to properly finish out his senior season, competing with the Tigers in the Class 3A state tournament. Even still, the coronavirus has certainly hampered his pursuit of a college scholarship.

“I was supposed to go to a couple of more schools to play pickup [games] and visit some schools,” said Welchel, who averaged seven points, six rebounds and two blocks per game this season. “I can’t do that now. We were supposed to have a couple of all-star games. We can’t do those either. They were supposed to be like showcases with a couple of college coaches at them. They canceled those, too.”

Back in October, Welchel visited Piedmont College. Since the end of basketball season, the 6-foot-9, 235-pound center has gotten to work out for Brewton-Parker College and LaGrange College. He was looking forward to seeing Huntingdon College and showcasing his talents in front of coaches at Tennessee Wesleyan until the outbreak scrapped those plans. A few others schools had been in contact with Welchel until recently.

“They kind of stopped because of the virus,” he said.

A teammate of Welchel’s, Courtney Slocum is also trying to navigate through uncharted waters. A two-sport athlete, Slocum is becoming a hot commodity on the football recruiting trail as a defensive back prospect. The junior’s stellar academic profile had him poised to visit an Ivy League school this spring.

“I went to Georgia Tech, and that was like a week before everything else got canceled,” Slocum said of his lone visit. “I was going to go to Harvard, Georgia Southern and Austin Peay, as well as some more schools. ... They said they were postponed, so there’s a lot of uncertainty when we’ll be able to go on those or even if we’ll be able to go.”

Slocum, who was named The Daily Tribune News Player of the Week for his performance against Coahulla Creek last season, also admitted it’s been difficult trying to work out with basically all gyms closed. He did say he’s gotten in some work with a few teammates on the turf at Tiger Stadium. However, Slocum thinks there’s a strong possibility that will be as close to spring practices as he (or anybody else, for that matter) will get this year.

“I feel like it’s a long shot, but I really hope we get to do it,” Slocum said. “It’s going to be our last spring, for us [rising] seniors anyway. That’s something I don’t want to miss out on.”

As of this writing, spring football practices could still take place, and at the very least, it’s entirely possible that no gridiron games will be affected this fall. The same cannot be said for those on the diamond, as local baseball players wait around for what seems increasingly likely to be an abandoned season.

If that is indeed the case, it would be absolutely devastating for the seniors, especially those who won’t be continuing their careers at the next level. That said, the situation is also a pretty rotten one for juniors, sophomores and freshmen alike.

It’s truly a shame for those players like Cartersville’s Micah Earwood who were off to really strong starts to the season. One of the front-runners for DTN Pitcher of the Year, Earwood had allowed no earned runs with 26 strikeouts to seven walks across 18 1/3 innings.

The junior right-hander said college coaches were just starting to inquire about his services.

“I’ve had a few coaches call me to keep in touch,” Earwood said. “I definitely would have liked to go visit some schools or keep playing [this season] to get my name out there more.”

Earwood said he had mostly been contacted by mid-major Division-I programs. With the 2020 high school season looking to be over, he will hope to get back to pitching in competitive games this summer. Regardless, Earwood isn’t panicking about his recruiting window slowly closing.

“I’m not going to rush anything,” he said. “I have a lot of people I look up to for advice — people who have been through it before, people who know the industry. Really, it comes down to which school I think is right and which one I feel like I would be the best fit at.”

At this point, these college recruits can’t play much outside of the waiting game. Trying to stay in peak physical shape should be a primary goal as should maintaining (or improving) academic standing, but a lack of chances to visit schools and showcase their talents will certainly discourage more than a few locals.

On the other hand, there are plenty of athletes with Zazueta’s attitude. An honorable-mention selection on the 2019 DTN All-County girls soccer team, she is looking to shake off her disappointment and use the unfortunate set of circumstances as fuel for self-improvement.

“It’s difficult to process how I’ve worked so hard but have been forced to put a pause on everything so that important health concerns can be addressed and dealt with,” Zazueta said. “Personally, I see this as a time to be motivated and more committed to improving my weaknesses, so when the time comes, I can be a better version of myself.

"Anything can happen at any time, and we just need to search for positive outcomes to be able to get through it.”