The modern recruiting process is much different than when Shaon Berry landed as a fullback at Pittsburgh in the late 1980s, perhaps in part because of the misperception that he was a sought-after recruit by Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who attended one of his best high school football performances.
Shaon Berry spent 18 years in human resources before turning to his recruiting venture.
It turned out not to be so as the late Paterno’s only purpose in being there was to to evaluate a top prospect on the opposing team.
“That incident taught me a number of lessons about recruiting," he said. "One is that, I needed them more than they needed me, as Penn State never sent so much as a postcard. Secondly, even though I may have been the best player on the field that day, unless you are one of the nation’s best, a third party advocate is a critical need in building a college recruiting relationship. Third and most importantly, the ability to play college football at a high level is often times not identified or defined in the high school recruiting process.
"What I’ve seen in recruiting is, it’s not an exact science. While at Pittsburgh I watched some of the most highly recruited players sometimes fizzle out, and many individuals who would have been classified as a two-star recruit today went on to long and successful NFL careers. There’s some luck involved and being in the right place at the right time and having good relationships with people who can champion who you are as a young man and what you capable of doing as a student athlete is critically important.”
The latter is one of the core tenets of JuniorRank, which the 42-year-old Berry founded two years ago. JuniorRank is a sporting event and internet media company dedicated to identifying, recognizing and rewarding primarily high school and junior high student-athletes across the country for their athletic abilities, but also give serious consideration to the academic and community service sides of the equation.
Last month, 247Sports and JuniorRank forged a partnership that will expand the impact and profile of both entities in the near future.
The network will be a selection partner for the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl, which had a successful debut last year.
JuniorRank and 247Sports will also field an elite “Prodigy Camp” this summer designed to be an invitation-only “All-American Trial” showcasing talent from the 2014 class and younger. Furthermore, 247Sports will also be a selection partner for the Semper Fidelis Proving Ground National Combine and the JuniorRank Diamond Flight Camps, which are used in the selection process for the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl.
Berry had spent 18 years in the corporate world as a human resources executive before branching out to create a different athlete development model, inspired in part by the growth of he and his wife’s three children.
“I went through my student-athlete experience, and it was less than ideal,” Berry said. “I didn’t work as hard athletically or academically as I should have. To have college paid for through an athletic scholarship was a blessing that I took for granted and I wanted to make sure, to the best of my abilities that I help young men take a course of action and internalize core values that would facilitate a better outcome for them as student athletes.
JuniorRank started out holding combines for just seventh and eighth graders; Berry’s goal was to influence kids while they were young, then the organization could add a guidance component as those players matriculated through the high school ranks.
Kyle Bosch (St. Francis/Wheaton, Ill.), ranked as the nation’s No. 1 offensive guard in the ’13 class by 247Sports, was one of 37 initial attendees to a JuniorRank camp. Berry is based in Chicago and wasn’t sure just how far-reaching the company’s efforts would expand.
This year JuniorRank is scheduled to host 24 camps in locales such as Hawaii, California, New York, Florida, Texas, et cetera.
Along the way, a pivotal synergy has been formed in a partnership with the U.S. Marine Corps, whose fingerprints are evident in the disciplined structure of the camps and combines.
“It ended up getting a lot bigger than we thought it was going to be,” Berry said. “I think society as a whole was ready to see young men with positive headlines, who were about being good role models and good people more so than just their athletic ability and showmanship.”
Berry feels their camps and combines differ from those in a saturated market in several areas.
There’s the discipline and precision imparted by the Marines that mirrors the work ethic of a D1 athlete. Each camp has a cap of 300 athletes, and Berry believes the quantity and caliber of repetitions, combined with the camp’s lower cost, represents the most affordable value. Each camp offers a direct opportunity for a prospect to gain visibility in regard to the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl. Plus JuniorRank is a faith-based organization, so there are spiritual components weaved within the framework of its event itineraries.
"Without question we have the best coaching staff in the country," Berry said. "Guys like Mark McMillian from the Kansas City Chiefs, Randall Cunningham, John Fontes from the Detroit Lions -- these guys aren’t just a bunch of ex-NFL names, they are teachers and men who really care about the development of your young people."
As the operation continues to grow, Berry plans to add 7-on-7 tournaments with a national championship as well as expand the offerings for other sports.
“We’ll just continue to get bigger,” Berry said, “and ideally continue to get better.”