For West Michigan natives Tom Beaver and Allen Trieu, the date in their profession circled repeatedly with red ink is rapidly approaching.
Wednesday, Feb. 6 — otherwise known as National Signing Day — is the first day that prep football standouts can sign national letters-of-intent to finalize their college destinations.
“It’s a crazy time for us,” said Trieu, a Holland native who graduated from Zeeland High School. “For people who don’t follow recruiting all year, this is the time when they’ll typically pay attention, so it’s important that we’ve got the best information out there.
“Over the next week, I’ll be trying to track down players (throughout the Midwest) that are either coming to a decision, or may be changing their minds (on their original commitments). It’s a whirlwind. After signing day, I’ll probably just veg out because there’s nothing on my schedule.”
The appeal of signing day is the drama that unfolds throughout the day, as several top prospects finalize critical decisions on their college destinations, which many times, leaves one or more schools heartbroken, while another rejoices.
For Trieu, the attraction to working in prep and college scouting began at a young age.
“My mom would probably tell you that I was writing out scouting reports with crayons,” he said with a chuckle.
He found his calling while in eighth grade, when the class project required students to develop their own website. Naturally, Trieu’s revolved around scouting.
“I became more and more involved with it in high school, and it helped that I played against some great talent in West Michigan at the time, including Kevin Grady (from East Grand Rapids). It was seen by the right people and helped me get my foot in the door.”
Trieu caught the attention of Beaver, a Grand Haven native who founded GoBlueWolverine.com — the University of Michigan’s recruiting site on Scout.com — after Trieu released scouting reports on prospects at the NFL Combine.
“Here’s a kid in high school who somehow snuck into the NFL Combine,” Beaver said. “He clearly had a passion for the craft.”
Trieu, who resides in Grand Rapids, is now the National Recruiting Analyst for Scout.com, which is transitioning to becoming Fox Sports Next. The company is one of several big-time recruiting services in America that focus heavily on prep football and basketball talent, joining Rivals.com, and to a lesser extent, ESPN.
Like college scouts, Trieu can be found on Friday nights in the fall at high school football games across the Midwest, where he’ll break down the talents of some of the best prospects in the region. In the summer, he’ll do the same at scouting combines, 7-on-7 passing camps and other functions.
“I’ll watch a lot of film on YouTube and talk to a lot of kids and their coaches,” he said.
For example, with Rockford offensive lineman Ben Braden, who recently wrapped up his freshman season at Michigan, Treiu provided this scouting report:
“Ben is an aggressive, hard-nosed blocker that uses leverage well. Though he has the athleticism to play the tackle position, he may very well end up at guard where his strength as a run-blocker can be on display. In his high school career he played both sides of the offensive line, and most scouts were impressed with his pulling ability. He could use a more developed mean streak on the field. He shows good technique. He plays with good hand placement and overall footwork. I think he'll need to show he's quick enough for pass protection at tackle, specifically against speed rushers, but I also think he could be an excellent collegiate guard.”
While he primarily works in the Midwest region, Trieu on occasion will travel for his job, including the prestigious Nike “The Opening,” which is held in Oregon and invites 150 of the top high school football prospects in the nation for three days of training and 7-on-7 team play.
He’s also covered All-Star games such as the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and the Under Armour All American Game, which featured Grand Haven graduate Dann O’Neill in 2008.
Trieu said the toughest part of his job is trying to sort out the pretenders from sure-fire Division 1 prospects, and with that comes a certain amount of pressure. Like other recruiting services, Scout.com ranks its players based on stars, with 5 being considered the best players in America. In its list of the top 100 recruits in the nation this year, there are 42 players who earned a five-star ranking.
Scout.com’s rankings help determine team standings as well, with Michigan’s class of 27 recruits currently ranked as No. 1. MSU has the 39th ranked class in the nation.
“Fans take the rankings very serious and they’re very visible,” Trieu said. “And when you get something wrong, you’ll be sure to hear about it down the road.”
“I’ll have kids sending me their stats from their JV teams, just to try to get their name on the site,” he added. “Actually, the players are the ones that I hear from the least. It’s mostly coming from their parents or coaches looking to build up the name of their son or a certain player.”
Sometimes, his job is easy, such as in 2007 when Trieu first laid eyes on Muskegon High School’s Ronald Johnson. Johnson was being recruited by schools across the country, but spurned in-state programs U-M and MSU to play at Southern California.
“(Johnson) was probably as close to a can’t-miss kind of guy that there was,” he said.
Now, Trieu said, the no-doubt-about-it talent in West Michigan is Grand Rapids Christian wide receiver Drake Harris, a junior who is currently committed to Michigan State, but will actively go through the recruiting process. It’s Trieu’s job to keep tabs on Harris’ eventual decision every step of the way until Signing Day 2014.
Look for more coverage on National Signing Day in next week’s Tribune.