Xavier Ward isn’t sure what he’ll do with his Friday nights this fall. He knows they won’t involve pylons, floodlights and marching bands, but it’ll be hard to separate himself from high school football altogether.
“I’ll probably stay up to date with Texas schools and stuff like that,” Ward said in a recent phone interview. “Watching their football games on Friday nights.”
Ward may keep up with what his future Washington State teammates are doing on the gridiron this fall, and potentially get a good sense of what he’ll have around him a few years from now, but the three-star quarterback from Corona, California, and WSU commit will have to wait until 2021 to resume his career at Eleanor Roosevelt High after the California Interscholastic Federation voted to delay fall sports due to concerns about the coronavirus.
That development has opened up another important question for Ward and dozens of college-bound football players in states that have pushed fall sports back to January – a list that includes California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia, Vermont, Delaware and Maryland.
The dilemma they must address: play out their senior season in the spring or skip it to enroll in college early and take the route that’s become increasingly attractive for high-profile recruits who are willing to pass up prom to get on the field as freshmen.
It was a decision that had Ward’s mind spinning almost as soon as the CIF came down with its decision on July 21. Enrolling early certainly has merit for someone like Ward, who’s eager to tackle Nick Rolovich’s run-and-shoot offense, build rapport with WSU’s receivers and get a head start on his academic curriculum as a 3.7 GPA student interested in mechanical engineering.
“I’ve always been interested in leaving early and getting to college, because just that little advantage can help in the quarterback battle,” Ward said. “That’s a known fact. So I’ve always wanted to do that.”
Granted, no QB who’s made the decision to enroll early – including current WSU signal-callers Cammon Cooper and Gunner Cruz – had to do it in lieu of playing a final high school season.
While Ward may benefit from a few more months in WSU’s weight training program, not to mention precious time with Rolovich’s playbook, he’s also realistic about his place on the food chain. As potentially the fourth- or fifth-most experienced QB on the Cougars’ roster, many of Ward’s practice reps would probably come with the scout team.
He’d be hard-pressed to get more than a series in a scrimmage or mock game.
“My dad was thinking about, at first he was thinking go early, but with the new season and things like that and the way it is at quarterback, honestly, I feel it is important to get those last couple of reps in just to sharpen up right before you get into college, with that 10 games and potentially playoffs and potentially a championship,” Ward said. “It’s really important for a quarterback to sharpen up, because I know the college game is much different than the high school level, but it still is important to get those reps.”
Ward figures his time in Pullman will come, but he has unfinished business at Roosevelt and still wants to polish his game, so he’ll be under center for the Mustangs in the spring.
Others are undecided.
Elisha Lloyd, a gifted cornerback from Mission Hills High in Southern California, is still weighing the pros and cons. By staying in high school, Lloyd, who committed to the Cougars on June 25, would have an opportunity to complete his senior football season and grab a few more medals on the track, where he’s one of the state’s most accomplished sprinters.
“I think for me, just me personally, I’m trying to have a senior season to have my last year of high school football,” Lloyd said. “I think the more positive side of it, enrolling early, is just starting that college experience early and just making a name for myself at an early rate going into a school. So I think that’s the main thing that’s going to play a part in it.”
Lloyd, who hopes to run track and play football in the Pac-12, said he’s communicated with Ward and another WSU commit from California, Inglewood wide receiver Orion Peters, about the decision to spend five more months in high school versus getting a jump on college football. According to Lloyd, Peters is leaning toward the latter, although the Pac-12’s decision to move to a spring football model could cause recruits to rethink enrolling early if there isn’t a traditional spring camp.
Still, many of WSU’s commits in states where football is delayed are content finishing their prep careers before packing their things for college.
“I was always going to stay until the end of my senior year,” said Andrew Edson, a defensive lineman from Mt. Si High School in Snoqualmie and WSU’s first in-state commit in the 2021 recruiting class. “So it wasn’t really a big deal for me.”
Also a member of Mt. Si’s baseball team, Edson said “it’ll be tough to see the field at Washington State the first year” and said every member of his high school team, including touted QB and Arizona commit Clay Millen, vowed to stick around for Washington’s spring season.
Edson expects the COVID-19 pandemic to have a large impact on recruiting, not only because of varying start dates for the high school season, but because prospects weren’t able to travel to college summer camps that often serve as important showcases for less recruited prospects, or those seeking better offers than the ones they already have.
“I think it’s going to be kind of tough because again, there’s no camps this year for them in the summer to go to, and also if the season’s later, different states will have different season start dates, so that could affect people if one person’s season’s earlier and they put more film out earlier than somebody else,” Edson said. “I think that could affect some people.”
Jaden Hicks, a three-star safety from Las Vegas powerhouse Bishop Gorman and the top-rated member of Rolovich’s recruiting class, also confirmed he’ll be playing his senior season despite Nevada pushing fall sports to the spring.
“Yes sir I plan on playing for my senior season,” Hicks said in a Twitter message.
As it stands, the Cougars have eight commits from states that have delayed fall sports – California (five), Washington (two) and Nevada (one) – and six more from states that haven’t: Texas (three), Utah (one), Arizona (one) and Florida (one).