If you thought last year's recruiting soap opera surrounding Terrelle Pryor was mind-numbing, get ready for this year's even more bizarre chase du jour.
The 2009 blue-chipper-of-intrigue is prized Wichita tailback Bryce Brown.
Nutshell: Brown is the younger brother of Miami linebacker Arthur Brown, one of last winter's top recruits. Bryce Brown committed to play at Miami last February. "Honestly, I wasn't in a rush. It was more of a spiritual thing, but this hopefully will keep it from being too crazy," Brown told Rivals.com at the time, adding that he did plan to take all five of his visits.
Turns out things have gotten a little crazy. Bryce Brown, who graduated high school a semester early, is currently on vacation with an uncle in Nebraska and now reportedly won't announce his college choice until well after signing day. Almost every story you read about the Browns mentions their advisor or mentor, Brian Butler, who has become quite a presence in the recruiting world of late.
So on Thursday morning I spoke to Butler to try and get a better sense of his organization, Potential Players, the recruitment of Bryce Brown and a lot of the rumors that swirled around all of the above.
It was one of the more unusual interviews I've had in a while. We actually talked about nine different times over the course of a 90-minute span due to his cell phone cutting out and some spotty connections on his landline, which he explained was a product of him switching phone services.
This is what I knew of Butler thanks to a Wichita Eagle story posted on his Potential Players website from 2007. He's in his mid 30s and was managing a Wichita T-Mobile call center. And he is a minister, who in 1999 had an epiphany to help children "get closer to God."
Butler says he turned his business into a "legitimate non-profit a couple of years ago." Asked how one does that, he explained by doing paper work through the state and the IRS. He says he has worked with around 50 kids over the years and the main purpose is education. "I'm educating them on what it takes to be a successful high-school athlete and what it takes to be successful in college and then to be successful as a man, husband and father."
Butler first learned of the Browns from a friend who was a substitute teacher at the junior school Arthur Brown was attending. Two years later, Butler was coaching in high school at Wichita South, and his team's final game of the season was against Arthur Brown's team and the then-freshman was a rising star. Butler and a friend approached Brown's parents about training their sons and to work with them to become faster. There was also the appeal of developing big-time talent that Butler believed would help lure other college coaches to the Wichita area and expose them to more of his players.
"Mr. Brown listened to us and was very open," Butler recalled.
The plan was to train their young athletes three to four times a week. Butler says he charges $15 to $18 per training session. The work has paid off quite well it seems.
Fast forward to 2009 and Potential Players has eight senior football prospects in its program, and Butler says five will be going to play major college football. This also is no small feat given that most of the prospects Butler works with do not come from the Wichita public schools system, where Butler says territorial coaches have kept him from working with their players. Instead, all but one of Butler's protégés (Bryce Brown) come from many schools that are producing their first 1-A high school athlete.
The plum of Butler's program is Bryce Brown, the local Wichita public schools product. And as Brown's recruitment has intensified, word has gotten out about Butler's latest idea: charging $9.95 a month for a service in which fans or coaches can subscribe to the latest updates on Brown or any of Butler's players. It would also allow a place to watch video of the athletes.
It is an idea that -- on the surface -- feeds into the suspicion many people have about "advisors" and blue-chip recruits. Many cynics come away wondering the same thing: What is the end game here? Sure, other entities often charge a fee for recruiting coverage, but do they also work on behalf of those same kids they're writing about?
As of Thursday morning, Butler says the last time he had checked, only three people have signed up.
Asked how such a service can mesh with running a non-profit, Butler replied, "I don't do it for the non-profit. I have two businesses."
Then his phone cut out.
After I called back, he says his other business is Life Training, which focuses on aiding the recruiting process as well as physically training athletes. He explained that Potential Players deals with more of the spiritual side and a summer tour he takes the players on. "People get confused," he said.
Right or wrong, it's easy to see why. The lines are getting really blurred here.
He says he patterned his summer tour off the programs Ted Ginn Sr. has done in Ohio. In the past two years, he has taken 25 of his protégés on two week-long tours in a rented 15-passenger van to some 20 states. Butler then spoke about the major impact he's had with his program (or is it programs?). "[It] is being on the phone with college coaches and giving them a true evaluation" of how good a prospect may be.
Bryce Brown is his case study. Butler goes on to talk about a recent call he got from a college coach who praised him on his work with the running back because, as the coach said, the toughest thing to do is to make a fast kid faster.
Butler adds the 215-pound Brown has gone from clocking a 4.43 40-yard dash to a 4.28. The running back also is trying to keep a low-profile at this point. "He's just chillin' right now," Butler says. "Just clearing his head and evaluating schools."
I asked if Butler checked with the NCAA or any other agency to make sure setting up the subscription service wouldn't put his players at risk of some eligibility issues. "I'm not worried about anybody saying anything," he answered. "The kids are not receiving any dollars from it. I'm not a kid. I'm the one benefiting. "Everything you do is criticized and scrutinized. You can't worry about that. I just worry about doing the right thing and making the right choices."
The sad reality of the boom in college recruiting is that street agents and talent brokers have sprung up all over the country in both basketball and football. Some are getting exploited and manipulated. Then again, some may also be exploiting and manipulating the system. It is confusing.
"People are just naturally suspicious," Butler says, before conceding that there have been some "bad apples" that have operated in youth basketball and football.
Can Butler operate his organization which, as he puts it, strives to get them to go FBS rather than to the county jail or the penitentiary, while also making some financial gain for himself? He then asks what is the difference since everyone else is profiting off the kids? The radio stations are. ESPN is. "There are numerous web sites who charge," he says, after they have interviewed him or his players. "I'm the one that does the work. I'm the one that's typing the stories. Obviously, I'm the one that should be getting paid."
He says people in California and Florida have been doing similar things for years, only he's just wearing five hats instead of two. He's also been getting a lot of calls from individuals looking to try and set up similar operations in their communities.
Random Stuff• Jerry Rice Jr. will be visiting UCLA this weekend with the possibility he might become a walk-on receiver, Brian Dohn reports: "The son of the NFL's all-time leading receiver, Jerry Rice, had a team-leading 23 catches for 379 yards and three touchdowns as a senior. He also ran the ball 24 times for 217 yards and four touchdowns. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Rice Jr. does not have any offers from Pac-10 schools, and also is considering walking on at California. By the way, he also has grades. He is also looking at several Ivy League schools, including Yale."
• Clemson QB/baseball standout Kyle Parker is ready to get back on the diamond, as Heather Dinich writes:
This year, there will be a bit more emphasis on spring football, as the graduation of quarterback Cullen Harper leaves the position wide open -- and Parker at the heart of the competition. "To be able to compete for the job, he's gotta be there," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "Obviously football is paying the bills, but he's here to do both. It's in my and [baseball] coach [Jack] Leggett's best interests that we work out a good schedule for him, and I'm real comfortable with what we've got resolved."
Parker isn't the only ACC quarterback who will be pulling double duty with baseball this spring. It's no easy feat considering how strong the conference is (North Carolina, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida State are all ranked among Baseball America's preseason Top 25, and Miami and NC State are both consistent championship contenders). The three quarterbacks playing both sports are each at different points in their career. NC State's Russell Wilson is a returning starter at quarterback and a second baseman for the Pack, while Florida State's D'Vontrey Richardson was a backup quarterback last year but moved to safety recently and is an outfielder for the Noles.
• Top WR recruit Reuben Randle got quite the treatment on his visit to LSU, including a tour of the capitol by the governor's top aide, as reports Michelle Millhollon.
State Sen. Mike Walsworth, who visited with Randle during the tour, said he and Randle's family talked more about Bastrop's economic problems than about football. International Paper announced late last year that it was closing its Bastrop mill, an economic driver in the northeast Louisiana town. Walsworth, R-West Monroe, said he was careful to avoid violating any recruiting rules.
"I just said, 'Look we would love for you to stay in the state of Louisiana.' That's all I said," Walsworth said.
• According to Greg Biggins, Arizona State is making a run at USC LB commit Vontaze Burfict.
Burfict was an early commitment to USC. He announced last February, just a few weeks after signing day. ASU has recruited the linebacker heavily all year, and Burfict visited the two Pac-10 schools in the past two weekends.
"He loved both visits," Husky coach Matt Logan said. "After his visit to ASU, I think he was leaning there a little. Then after he visited SC this past weekend, I think he leaning back to USC. These coaches do their job and really sell their program well, which is why I always tell my kids not to commit on a visit so it's not an emotional decision. Now that he's a few days removed from his visit to USC, I think he has both schools basically even right now. Both schools will be coming by this week for one last chance, and he's going to make his decision on Friday. We don't have anything set up like a press conference or anything, he's just going to call the coaches from both schools and let them know where he's going."
• Boise State nabbed a player with a cool name. Defensive tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, a 6-foot-4, 295-pound prospect from Senior (Boise, Idaho) has pledged to Boise State. Originally from the Netherlands, Tjong-A-Tjoe played his final year of high school in Boise.
• The battle for stud DE Sam Montgomery is heating up, writes JC Shurburtt:
"Should Montgomery ultimately end up at North Carolina, then it would be the second straight recruiting cycle that Butch Davis and Tar Heels defensive line coach John Blake nabbed one of the top defensive line prospects from the Palmetto State. Last year, the Tar Heels inked Robert Quinn (North Charleston, S.C./Fort Dorchester), turning him from Auburn on signing day. Quinn saw significant snaps as a true freshman this year in Chapel Hill."