Dylan Moses is an eighth-grader from Baton Rouge, La., where he plays football for his middle school. He already has football scholarship offers from two division one universities - The University of Alabama and Louisiana State University.
It's a situation that's becoming more common as colleges seek to attract players at ever-younger ages, raising questions about how soon is too soon for recruiting and its effect on youngsters involved in school athletics.
Moses' situation is explained by his father.
"[UA Head Coach Nick Saban] and his staff said that Dylan had the potential to be one of the best players in the country for the 2017 class," says Dylan's father, Edward Moses, Jr. "They offered him a scholarship. The real deal."
On February 23, Moses attended the University of Alabama Junior Day for potential recruits, an event his father didn't expect to render such dramatic results. "We thought we were just going to watch," the dad remembers. "But to me they ended up treating him like a five-star recruit."
At the end of the day, Coach Saban called Moses and his family into his office.
"Dylan was just staring at all of his championship rings… I think he was fantasizing about the day he would be getting one… He didn't move. He didn't make a sound. He was just focused on the rings. Then the coach pulled him out of his hypnosis. It was something that none of us were expecting," his dad said.
But this wasn't the only time Dylan had a university express interest in his talents. Dylan, who is 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, has attended the LSU youth camps since he was 10 and recently received a similar offer from them. That makes two full scholarship offers before even entering high school.
But these offers don't come without a hitch and often pose difficulties down the road. Dylan must continue to prove himself academically, so he meets with tutors. And he must continue to strive physically. He will continue to attend camps and play against older athletes to provide a challenge. If he is able to stay on track, he has a strong possibility of playing for one of his two favorite college teams. But only if the teams remain interested.
The risk of committing-verbally or otherwise-to a team too early is that it's completely non-binding. Either the team or the player could opt out at any time before signing day. The NCAA has strict rules regarding the recruitment process but verbal contracts are even more hazy.
"It's a grey area," states Randy Taylor, director of recruiting for NCAS Athletic Recruiting. Players are not considered to be "recruitable student athletes" until the summer before 9th grade. So while Alabama and LSU have expressed interest in bringing Dylan in, he is not technically eligible yet.
Taylor, who also spent over 30 years recruiting for schools such as UCLA, the University of Illinois, San Jose State and the University of Minnesota, explains that catching a player early can have big pay-offs for the colleges, but also run some risks. "It's the idea of getting in the door first and being the first one to make the offer so the kid has a loyalty to you early… The [recruit] could get a big head, but he could also be so excited that he works harder."
This growing trend can also be seen in David Sills, who was recruited to the University of Southern California at age 13 and Tate Martell, who engaged in a verbal agreement with the University of Washington last summer when he was 14. The NCAA rules for other sports, such as college basketball, considers 7th graders to be recruitable.
"Sports used to be done mostly by pick-up games and fun," explains Alan Kazdin, professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale and director of Yale Parenting Center. "Now, it's about winning. There's a social pressure that's not about this boy but about the question, 'are sports fun anymore?'"
Moses Jr. is ensuring that Dylan knows the risk. "We're making sure not to let him get too comfortable because he can lose this. On signing day there are kids that think they're going to get signed on but the team has a change of heart… He needs to keep working hard and be aware of where he is right now."
Signing Day may seem light years down the road. For now, Dylan just has to make it through high school.