MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Go to any high school football game and you'll see them. They run faster, throw the ball farther, take out two opponents with a block instead of one. For the best players on the team, high school football is a means to an end - to a college team, maybe even the NFL.
As part of our series Friday Night Live, NPR's Tom Goldman offers a glimpse of life as a blue chip player. He found that life has changed, may be not all for the better.
TOM GOLDMAN: There is something about the way 16-year-old Kasen Williams catches a football that makes you go, wow. Sure, there are the acrobatic catches. He's a high jumper too. And Mat Taylor, his head football coach at Skyline High, near Seattle, Washington, remembers one vertical eye popper in practice.
Mr. MAT TAYLOR (Head Football Coach, Skyline High School): He jumped up and pushed off a kid's shoulder pads, and I swear his feet were 60 inches off the ground. I mean he was so high up there.
GOLDMAN: But it's the routine stuff too - the quick out, the slant play across the middle of the field, where Williams' hands seem to suck the ball in like a magnet pulling metal. Like a vacuum, says Coach Taylor.
(Soundbite of KITZ AM's football game coverage)
Unidentified Announcer #1: Jay Keith, on a play action pass, throwing deep for the end zone. And he has a man in the end zone. That is Kasen Williams.
Unidentified Announcer #2: Kasen Williams.
Unidentified Announcer #1: Another touchdown just like that.
Unidentified Man #2: Wow.
Unidentified Announcer #1: Twenty-one yard bomb and it takes...
GOLDMAN: Williams was at it again last Saturday, as heard on KITZ AM. Two-time defending state champion Skyline blew out its opponent 49 to 14 in the quarterfinal round of this year's championship tournament. For Williams, another great end-of-week performance leading to another back-at-school Monday filled with high-fives.
Mr. KASEN WILLIAMS (Football Player, Skyline High School): You know, a lot of people will come up to me and be like, oh, good game. That catch that you have was sick. You know, that kind of stuff. Or like, how did you do that, you know? And definitely I enjoy those comments. They make me laugh sometimes, so those Mondays are pretty good days for me, yeah.
GOLDMAN: You figure a star was born the moment Kasen Williams started playing organized football, right? Not really.
Mr. AARON WILLIAMS: Early on, it was, you know, okay. He's okay. Then it's like where do they fit?
GOLDMAN: Aaron Williams coached his son when Kasen first strapped on shoulder pads and a helmet in fifth grade, as a running back. Aaron, a former starting wide receiver at the University of Washington, sits at a round table in the family home in Sammamish, east of Seattle. Kasen, fresh off two hours of football practice, sits at the same table eating pasta and listening to the story of his football evolution � from a good pee-wee running back to a six-foot-two, 200-pound stud wide receiver at Skyline.
Mr. A. WILLIAMS: Then they get into high school and they take it to another level, and you're never for sure where they stack up with everyone else until you get your first, you know, letter.
BOWMAN: The first college recruiting letters arrived two years ago, not long after Kasen, as a freshman, made a couple of spectacular catches that helped Skyline win the 2007 state title. Since then, they have kept coming: the catches, the championships, the letters.
Ms. RHONDA WILLIAMS: What we have here is all the different letters and correspondence from all the different schools that have interest in Kasen.
GOLDMAN: There are so many now that Kasen's mom, Rhonda, prefers to slide the cardboard box-full across the floor rather than lift it. In it, several hundred envelopes. The orange ones catch the eye. They're from the University of Tennessee, which appears to be gaga over Kasen. One day, the Williams found seven Tennessee envelopes in the mailbox. Rhonda Williams pulls one out and reads.
Ms. WILLIAMS: We want you. Come see us play in front of 107,000 volunteer faithful at Newland Stadium.
Mr. K. WILLIAMS: And it's kind of crazy actually, you know?
GOLDMAN: Kasen Williams.
Mr. K. WILLIAMS: It's definitely overwhelming. And, I look at a lot of them. I make sure I take the time to look at a lot of them, especially the handwritten ones.
GOLDMAN: Letters from colleges and coaches come early and often now for the high school player with potential. Players are being tagged and evaluated so much quicker and more thoroughly, due in large part to online recruiting services.
Jamie Newberg is a recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. He says recruiting is about spreading information. And over the past decade, the Internet has spread a blizzard of information about teams, coaches, conferences, players, which, says Newberg, has ramped up the whole process.
Mr. JAMIE NEWBERG (Recruiting Analyst, Rivals.com): Now, everything has become so accelerated. Teams are evaluating earlier, therefore, they're offering earlier. Kids and parents are doing their due diligence and research earlier, visiting schools earlier, therefore, they're making decisions earlier.
GOLDMAN: Newberg says sometimes they make those early decisions on where to go to college to simply shut down a process which can get overbearing, and hasty decisions sometimes are wrong decisions for the players.
Unidentified Announcer #1: Takes the snap, throwing left, and he hits his open man, Kasen Williams; Williams just into the end zone, which is a beautiful move on the defenders.
Unidentified Announcer #2: Oh boy.
GOLDMAN: Williams, a junior, isn't sweating his college decision. He says he'll make it by next summer before his senior season. For now, it's all about tomorrow night, a semifinal game against rival Bothell High and a chance for Kasen Williams to put on the beautiful moves and vacuum up the passes once again.
Tom Goldman, NPR News.
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