No Hargrave, No Problem: Enter Jireh Prep

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In the football crazed south our passion goes further than on the field outcomes. We even obsess over the recruitments of high school athletes before they arrive at the schools we root for. In this recruiting crazed environment, SEC football fans are well aware of postgraduate programs or prep schools, as they are better known. These institutions offer kids the opportunity to gain entrance to the 4-year universities without burning any eligibility as they would at a traditional junior college.

Last week Andrew Bone, of rivals, was the first I saw to report the closing of Hargrave’s postgraduate football program. While it may be just a blip on many football fans’ radars, it immediately caught my eye as big news going forward for SEC recruiting. There are other programs such as Georgia Military but no other postgraduate institution has been able to become ingrained in the southern recruiting fabric as Hargrave.

I immediately made a comment on my twitter about the news and not soon after was informed by Jireh Prep linebacker coach Ryan Williams that they were out there and ready to fill the void left by Hargrave. If you aren’t familiar with how twitter works, Coach Williams did not previously follow me, nor did I follow him. His immediate reaction to me regarding the news showed that the Jireh staff is working hard through all mediums to promote their program.

After exchanging a few tweets with Coach Williams and being impressed with how friendly and responsive their staff was, I reached out to Jireh Prep head coach Scott Smith. Coach Smith was kind enough to give me some of his time and discuss the Warriors program and what they are about. The first thing I brought up was how impressed I was with how proactive they were in using the opportunity of Hargrave closing to promote their program and how they are striving to take the next step.

“Something you believe in wholeheartedly, you want to push it. It’s good for kids academically. We’re different than the military schools. We focus on the academics first, then the sports. We’re using twitter and Facebook to help build faster.”

One of the main reasons so many SEC fans were familiar with Hargrave is because of how often it was used by the conferences coaches. It would seem that a certain level of trust with coaches like Nick Saban, Dan Mullen, and Hugh Freeze would be essential to getting your foot in the SEC door. We spoke about what it takes to cultivate these relationships.

“We definitely reach out to as many of those guys as possible. The main thing they hold against us is that we haven’t been around that long. I’ve been here for five years now. Getting to that level takes time. We’re getting there. We have already had ACC and Big 10 kids. We want to get those SEC kids. We’ve gotten those SEC types of kids but getting to that level just takes time. It’s starting to happen. ”

In the beginning of my conversation with Coach Smith I noticed that academics was one of the first things he mentioned. When you look at Jireh Prep’s website, ( jirehprepwarriors.com ), you’ll quickly notice that their mission statement contains the phrase that they “prepare student athletes to become lifelong learners in the classroom…” Coach Smith explained that academics truly are the #1 goal at his program.

“Our academics are under so much scrutiny; so many people watch everything. The guys cannot do anything without us knowing. I get a weekly report on my desk to know who is they’re eligible on a weekly basis. That’s what we want. We want that retention. Weights, film, and everything else is built in but based first on academic performance.”

Most prep school kids are only with their respective institutions for a year. One thing I’ve always been curios about is how much better developed the players get football wise from their 1 year of prep school as opposed to a high school player. I asked Coach Smith how much these kids can absorb in that short time and how advanced they are from a true freshman who came straight from high school.

“There are a lot of benefits on and off the field. The biggest thing is the time management issue. That’s the number one thing college coaches tell us that our kids are much better at their time management. We work that in to everything that we do. It’s all based like a college program on a schedule. I tell people it’s just like college but with a 24-hour chaperone. A kid can also develop academically and increase his chances to go to a better college.”

I thought the time management issue was pretty interesting because of how true it rings. It’s not just athletes but all freshmen that have to adjust to being on their own and wisely managing their time for school and social activities. The kids having a year at Jireh Prep really has to help ease that transition to a 4-year institution. Coach Smith also touched on a few things unique to Jireh Prep.

“We have a 36,000 square foot workout facility just like many of the major colleges. We can really help them get better athletically. We also play a lot of better competition. We play juco level competition. Every aspect of our program has kids better prepared.”

We had been talking for a bit and I was really getting the feel for what I thought about Coach Smith and the Jireh Prep program. They really seemed to stress the academics first then athletic and personal development. I wanted to end our conversation with a better look a Coach Smith personally. There are a myriad of reasons that a kid ends up at a postgraduate program. Many kids in high school just don’t get the individual academic support they need to succeed may it be overcrowded classrooms, under funded districts, tough family situations, etc… I asked Coach Smith about what kind of feeling he gets when a kid like that comes to Jireh Prep and gets the help they need to get eligible and further pursue their dreams at the next level.

“It’s a better feeling than winning football games. Wins and losses come and go. Getting a kid qualified excites me more than anything. There are kids that have odds against them, like learning disabilities, and come here and get qualified. Those are the one’s we root for. It’s the best feeling in the world. When you go out recruiting, they don’t ask what the record was. They ask how many kids you got in to school. When I can walk into a quarterbacks home and tell him our last 2 quarterbacks are playing at a 4 year college, that sells.”

Throughout our conversation I was constantly struck by how honest Coach Smith sounded. I’m generally pretty good at picking up coach speak but I really believed what he was saying. Since there now is a hole in the prep school chain as far as SEC recruiting is concerned, I’d keep my on Jireh Prep in North Carolina. Their open eagerness to sell me their program shows that they are serious because lets face it; I’m not ESPN or SB Nation. The Warriors are definitely a program that I will be keeping my eye on. I would love to be the one who told you in the future, “I told ya’ll no Hargrave, no problem.”

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