Parents help guide children through college athletic recruitment

After investigating what Notre Dame had to offer, Latisha Stembridge was just as excited as her son, Chris Brown of Hanahan, in his decision to go to South Bend, Ind.

Latisha Stembridge saw "Touchdown Jesus" and knew she was in football heaven.

Stembridge was on the Notre Dame campus in South Bend, Ind. She was with her son, Chris Brown, a standout receiver for Hanahan High School who committed on a previous recruiting trip to play football for the Fighting Irish.

But Brown still had to convince his mother, who was making her first visit to Notre Dame.

"Touchdown Jesus" is a mural on the Hesburgh Library and is one of the most recognized college landmarks. It got its nickname because Jesus' arms are pointed to the sky and it is located directly behind the north end zone of the football stadium.

The stadium and library were symbolic of what she and Chris' father, Joe Brown, were searching for: a football program with rich tradition and outstanding academics.

On Wednesday, Brown and two other major college prospects from the Lowcountry -- Wando's Gimel President and Goose Creek's T.J. Burrell -- will sign national letters of intent on what is called National Signing Day. Brown will sign with Notre Dame, President with Auburn, and Burrell with Clemson.

The signings will end almost two years of recruiting for the players and their parents. While some athletes focus on the instant gratification football brings, parents' priorities include the long-term well-being of their children and life after football.

Parents often guide their children through the tedious and sometimes seedy recruiting process. They research potential colleges, quiz coaches and talk to their children about the most important decision they will have to make at this stage of their young lives.

"Obviously, as a parent, you want what's best for your child, but I have always trusted that he would make the right decision," Stembridge said. "Throughout this process, Chris has visited many schools. I could tell by his excitement after he visited Notre Dame that

there was something special about this school, and I needed to take a trip to South Bend to see for myself what he saw."

Stembridge liked what she saw.

"Obviously from an academic standpoint, hands down they had my approval," she said. "After visiting and seeing the support, the excitement and the overall environment Notre Dame had to offer my son, I knew he had made the right choice. He also walked away from Notre Dame knowing he made the right decision. What else could a parent ask for?"

On the road -- again

Gimel President was 4 years old when he first met the man he now calls dad. And what a dad Zola Simmons has been to the Wando football star.

Simmons drove more than 30,000 miles over two years in his 12-year-old car to make sure his son made the right college decision.

"It was worth every mile," said Simmons. "I wanted to see what he saw. He had 14 (scholarship) offers, and we visited 10 of the campuses."

Simmons, his wife Dolores and Gimel traveled to South Carolina, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, East Carolina, Central Florida, South Florida, Tennessee and Auburn. They visited some campuses more than once, and there were also camps and clinics to attend.

"They recruit the parents, too," Simmons said. "They have programs where the coaches sit down and talk to us, mostly about our sons' education. That was important to me. I wanted him to attend school in a college town. I don't have any problems with colleges located in the heart of a city, but a college in a small town will help keep him focused on what needs to be done and that's to get an education. I want to keep him rooted and grounded. In a city, there's a lot of stuff that are distractions."

Simmons said the final decision to play at Auburn was 60 percent Gimel's and 40 percent his and Gimel's mother.

Look into their eyes

Joyce Smith, the mother of Goose Creek standout T.J. Burrell, appreciates her son's football abilities. His football prowess helped him land a scholarship worth $40,000 a year. But she knows an injury can take away a promising career. She also knows no one can take away a college degree.

"You have to look beyond football and look into a coach's eyes," she said. "You have to realize this coach is going to be the person who will work with your son every day for the next four years. Playing football is great, but this coach is going to help my son make the biggest transition in his life and that's becoming a man. You have to look into their eyes to get an answer."

Smith and T.J.'s father, Terry, worked together to guide their son to a place that offered a great education. They looked at the graduation rate and looked into Clemson coach Dabo Swinney's eyes. He and the school passed the look test.

"When T.J. was getting recruited, we asked the tough questions," Smith said. "We asked the tough questions and coach Swinney had the right answers. I watched my son mature because he played football and he's very athletic. He's blessed. I remind him of that every day."

Coaches speak

University of South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said recruiting includes wooing parents. He said he no longer stops by a recruit's house to eat dinner, but he did dance for the mother of prized recruit Marcus Lattimore a few years ago.

"We keep in touch with the parents," Spurrier said. "We want them to become part of the USC family as well. We know they have concerns and we try to answer their questions. We know the parents are going to give their sons advice, but ultimately it's the player's decision because it's going to affect the next three, maybe five, years of their lives."

Swinney said he wants parents to be involved.

"We don't want a recruit to come for a visit or to attend a game by themselves," he said. "We want to meet mom, dad or grandma, the people who influence their lives."

He said parents are even more involved today because of the Internet.

"There is so much information out there," he said. "They are available to do the research in advance. I think that is one reason why we have more players who commit earlier."

Follow Philip M. Bowman on Twitter at @pandcphil.