Recruiting Business Pays Off for Athletes

By Jim Houck

The wealth of high school football talent in Ohio keeps college football programs stocked with talented, skilled, hard-nosed players. And a Canfield man who works out of his home has figured out how to make a living by tapping into the burgeoning recruiting service industry that he helped to create.

The market where Mark Porter of ScoutingOhio.com spotted opportunity is the 90 or so of the 850 college football programs across six levels that recruit players from Ohio.

“In Ohio, about 150 kids will get a Division I scholarship every year, and another 150 to 200 will get Division II, Ivy League or other smaller programs. And all of these colleges are giving money,” Porter says. “College is expensive. Parents are all trying to get an edge and save some money. Nobody wants student-loan debt.

“Even if you can get half of your college paid for, your books, tuition or your dorms, it’s a big deal. It’s a very competitive fight,” Porter says.

To help parents of aspiring athletes get college coaches to notice their children, Porter raises the players’ visibility through his company’s website.

His business is hosting and frequently updating a database he created of profiles of high school players with videos of their game highlights – which the player uploads at no cost. Porter sells access to the athlete contact information and his proprietary player ratings to college football programs based on their membership tier.

While player-submitted videos and profiles are available to the general public to view for free, only college coaches can see Porter’s player ratings.

Porter’s services range from entry-level packages – $895 – which give college coaches access to basic contact information of current high school seniors, to the “platinum” level – $2,995 – for access to sophomores, juniors and seniors, along with email alerts when ratings change or players verbally commit to a program.

It’s a business and career move that Porter fell into by chance. As a hobby and favor to a friend in 2005, he began shooting video of players at Canfield High School, his alma mater, and posting it on a website.

Soon after, the videos went viral among the college coaching community and kids saw college coaches’ interest in them spike. Porter started fielding calls with similar requests from players at Ursuline, then Cardinal Mooney, then Hubbard and ultimately almost every school in the Youngstown area.

“It was a total fluke,” Porter says. “I never looked to be a football scout or even try to do this. It just took off. We didn’t realize the business opportunity, that colleges would pay for access to that type of information.”

Porter spends his days visiting high schools and football camps throughout Ohio to scout players and meet high school and college coaches.

“We’re a time saver for a college coach,” he says. “They don’t have time to look at one email [from a prospective player or his high school coach], let alone a hundred. So they use a recruiting service that will help them save time, let them be a little bit more of a surgeon when they recruit, instead of fumbling through paper after paper or waste time on the road going to a school they don’t need to be at.”

The drawback, as Ron Strollo sees it, is “Most of the services don’t tell you about the character of the kid. And that’s one of the more important things.”

Strollo, director of athletics at Youngstown State University, explains, “You can look at someone who’s really good on film, but you have to do some dissecting, talk to the principals and the coaches to figure out, are they the right fit? Are they ready for college? Are they ready to be part of this team? And where are their priorities?”

Strollo says YSU spends between $60,000 and $80,000 per year on recruiting football players, which includes recruiting services as well as the travel expenses coaches incur visiting high school coaches and scouting players and the university hosting student-athletes on campus.

At the FCS level, 120 schools have football programs, each with 85 full scholarships to offer. That’s 10,200 full-scholarship athletes at an average value of $18,273, according to ScholarshipStats.com. In total, that’s $186.4 million for the elite student-athlete recruits.

But not everyone is a D1 athlete, and the competition for those 10,200 spots is intensely competitive. In Ohio alone, nine D1 schools award about 180 scholarships each year in a state with 700 high schools.

Recruiting services, however, emphasize that D1 is not the only way to get money to go to college.

In fact, 82% of colleges are outside of D1. Many offer full or partial athletics scholarships as well as academic scholarships intended to appeal to athletes who show promise on the field and excel in the classroom. Recruiting services can play a vital role in matching athletes who lack the prowess to play at the Big Ten or Mid-American Conference level with schools outside of the major college football spotlight.

“There are two types of kids,” Porter says. “The first type is the one everybody in town knows. He’s a ‘freak show,’ for lack of a better word. He knows it. The town knows it. The coaches know it. When everyone watches a game, they know it.

“For that kid, the process is easy. The coaches just watch his film and say, ‘Oh, there’s an offer. Let’s make him an offer.’ The second type is everybody else. That’s really what my site is about. It’s finding that kid with no offers. My everyday job is finding that kid.”

Chris Amill is a teacher at Mooney where he’s also an assistant football coach and father of a son, CJ, who used Porter’s recruiting service to land a scholarship at Lafayette College, an FCS college in Easton, Pa.

Amill says the value of CJ’s scholarship is $65,000 per year, excluding extras such as athletic gear, strength and conditioning facilities, trainers and doctors, academic advisers and tutors, travel and lodging at away games.

“I’ll use my son as an example,” Amill says. “He had some offers from the bigger schools, but [Lafayette] was an avenue that we weren’t even looking at. But with the recruiting service that we went through, they were able to find him. They saw his highlight tape, liked what they saw and offered. It was schools that we wouldn’t have even thought of that the recruiting service opened the door for us.”

Desmond Marrow, a 2006 graduate of Mooney, parlayed his experience with a recruiting service into scholarship offers at several Mid-American Conference schools. Today he owns and runs a fitness center in Youngstown, 330 Elite, which helps aspiring high school athletes prepare for the next level of competition.

“The whole recruiting process was definitely a long and tiring process, but it was fun,” Marrow says. “I never knew how serious it was until I became a part of it. I would come home every day and my mailbox would be full. It got to the point where my mom missed paying one of our bills because so much mail from the colleges filled our mailbox.”

Dominic Scarnecchia, now a regional account manager for Simon Roofing in Raleigh, N.C., recalls his Mooney days where his recruiting process was more of a struggle. Despite his production on the field as an undersized defensive back, schools weren’t flooding his mailbox with offers to the extent they were with some of his teammates.

A few games into his senior season in 2006, he received a phone call from Villanova, where he eventually received his only scholarship offer. A coach there had been scouting some of Scarnecchia’s teammates and asked one of Villanova’s current players, Angelo Babbaro from Canfield, what he knew of Scarnecchia. Babbaro directed the coach to the Scouting Ohio website where video highlights of Scarnecchia’s recent games could be found.

“When I was in high school, there was no specific route to talk to schools, so when Mark [Porter] put my videos online it was huge for me,” Scarnecchia says. “Getting that scholarship and not having any student loan bills to pay is great. Plus the experience of having essentially a full-time job while going to class really helps mold your work ethic.”

Pictured: Mike Porter’s website, ScoutingOhio.com, features videos and reports on high school football players from across the state.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.