Evan Hannibal has focused on playing soccer at the collegiate level since the beginning of his freshman year of high school. He ramped up his recruiting process this past January and received interest from Division I coaches. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic brought his dreams to a near halt, as it has done to so many in the world.
“It’s out of my hands, it got taken away from me,” said Hannibal, now a senior at St. John’s Prep. “It’s heartbreaking, you know?”
When the pandemic upended American life in March, the NCAA instituted a recruiting dead period — coaches were forbidden from going to see athletes in person, but they could still communicate with them. The NCAA has since announced that this policy has been extended at least through the end of 2020.
The result is countless high school athletes unsure if college coaches will be able to see them play, or if there will even be slots available on college rosters.
Hannibal said it’s good to be able to communicate with coaches, but there’s no substitute for being seen in-game.
“I was really banking on this spring and this fall to get seen and get in front of these college coaches,” said Hannibal, a 5-foot-10-inch forward from Ipswich. “Unfortunately, that hasn’t really been the case. I’ve been home a lot of the time.”
The ban on college coach visits isn’t the only obstacle for collegiate hopefuls. High school coaches say the drastic rule changes meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among players have made it hard for players to showcase their talents on film.
“If college coaches did come see them play, it’s a different game. It’s not soccer,” said St. John’s Prep Dave Crowell, taking note of the MIAA modifications for the Fall I season. “More physical players would definitely not look as good.”
The new rules mandate that players avoid all contact — even laying a hand on an opponent’s back is cause for a free kick. Headers are also banned, and indirect kicks have replaced throw-ins and corner kicks.
“It’s hard to get into it and play real soccer when all these little things were getting called if you’re too close to someone,” said St. John’s Prep midfielder Owen Siewert, another Prep senior who is hoping to play in college. Siewert was slated to attend a number of recruiting camps over the summer, but they were all pushed to 2021.
High school players, not to be defeated, have adapted. Siewert used a camera he got for his birthday in February to create quarantine highlight tapes to send to coaches — drills in the backyard of his home in Medford, shooting on goal, and lifting in his makeshift home gym.
Lexington coach Dastan Pakyari said now more than ever part of his job is to put his players in a position to showcase their strengths.
“Their online presence has to be a lot greater now,” Pakyari said. “During quarantine I was trying to help players find portions of games to send to coaches to give them that extra nudge.”
He added that while the shortened 10-game season offers less in-game action, it gives him more time in practice to develop skills and “round out” his athletes.
Both Hannibal and Siewert scored goals in Prep’s 3-0 win over Malden Catholic on Friday. Siewert scored on a penalty kick and Hannibal drilled a close-range shot off the crossbar and in. With a short season, every positive play and every goal means that much more.
Even if high school athletes do get identified by college coaches, if their web presence and shortened season go perfectly, that still may not be enough. With the coronavirus spurring the NCAA to offer added eligibility to current athletes, there are far fewer spaces for new athletes to fill. Crowell said many rising college freshmen this year are taking a deferment and starting next year — effectively taking a spot that could have gone to one of his high school seniors.
Hannibal said he recently received an email from a college coach that said, “It’s just out of our hands.”
“This thing that I’ve worked so hard for,” Hannibal said, “it’s so hard for it to be taken away from you when it comes down to it.”
▪ Pentucket postponed 12 athletic events, including three boys' soccer matches, through Monday after two high school students tested positive for COVID-19 and at least 25 other students were identified as close contacts.
Pentucket’s Cape Ann League soccer games against Newburyport, Rockport, and North Reading were affected. If no additional positive tests were reported by Monday, Pentucket plans on resuming the fall athletic season on Tuesday. The boys' soccer team is scheduled to play at Georgetown on Wednesday and will try to make up the three contests later in October.
“It will be difficult but right now we have to work closely with the schools impacted by our decision,” said Pentucket athletic director Dan Thornton. “The season is short enough as is so hopefully they’ll be some dates we can work it out. There are some good breaks for the soccer teams so there should be a case we can squeeze in games.”
▪ The Merrimack Valley Conference began play this weekend after delaying the start of the season because six MVC communities were designated as “red” by the state. Lowell, Chelmsford, and Billerica all earned wins in their season openers on Saturday.
▪ The Bay State Conference also kicked off its season this past week with the first set of pool pod matches. The always tough BSC will operate out of the Carey (Brookline, Natick, Newton North, Wellesley, and Needham) and Herget (Braintree, Milton, Walpole, and Weymouth) divisions with games on Tuesday and Thursday. Framingham, designated “red," shifted all athletics to Fall II. Weymouth, Wellesley, and Milton are all undefeated through two games.
Games to Watch
Barnstable at Nauset, Tuesday, 4 p.m. — With no Division 2 state title at stake this this fall, the Warriors (2-0) will have to settle for a Cape & Islands League crown instead. Barnstable is a threat.
Attleboro at Milford, Wednesday, 3:45 p.m. — After an undefeated regular season last fall, Milford is off to a 2-0 start in the Hockomock League with 10 goals in two games. This will be Attleboro’s first game of the season.
Silver Lake at Hingham, Friday, 4 p.m. — The class of the Patriot League travels to face a dangerous Harbormen squad.
Lexington at Arlington, Saturday, 2 p.m. — The annual Middlesex League powers will compete with Winchester and Belmont for the Liberty Division crown. Lexington and Arlington tied, 0-0, in their first matchup of the season on Monday.
Wayland at Bedford, Saturday, 4 p.m. — Two of the best in the Dual County League Small Division square off for the second time this week.