Michael Lyons has secured his place in Air Force basketball history.
The senior climbs the Falcons’ all-time scoring chart with nearly every passing game, sitting at No. 7, and his performance this year has rejuvenated a stagnant program.
Did the casual Falcons fan see this coming based on the talents Lyons displayed at the high school level? It would be impossible to know, because unless you lived in Virginia at the time or were sent films from Lyons’ high school coach it’s highly unlikely you ever saw him play. No videos of Lyons playing basketball in high school exist online.
“I didn’t have any highlight videos,” Lyons said. “I always wanted to make one, but I never got around to it.”
Searching for Lyons’ brother, on the other hand, is far easier. Highlights of Trevor Lyons can be found on YouTube, with the 6-foot-3 left-handed point guard showing off the skills that helped earn him an invitation to the Air Force prep school, where he’ll be coached by his brother next year.
“I actually put that video together in a class,” Trevor Lyons said. “I didn’t really do it for recruiting or anything, I just thought it would be nice to have it.”
Coaches have no doubt seen that film, that’s just how the recruiting game works. Coaches would be crazy not to utilize every opportunity to scout a potential prospect, and players searching for suitors would likewise be unwise not to market themselves to some extent.
But the new dynamic poses new questions of ethics and appropriateness.
“We weren’t super proactive as a family in terms of sending out game tape or highlight videos,” Air Force senior basketball player Taylor Broekhuis said. “My dad really didn’t believe in sending out a highlight video. He said everyone can look good in a highlight video.
“If you’re a good player, they’re going to find you.”
Maybe they will. Or a coach instead might find someone delivered directly to their computer.
“On Facebook I have seen, for example, football highlights from kids in my high school,” Broekhuis’ teammate Mike Fitzgerald said. “I’ve noticed a lot more of that recently. You’re going to find every avenue to get your kid looked at, so I understand it.”
Part of the job of college coaches is to sort through the information sent to them and separate an over-reaching parent, coach or athlete from one who could legitimately help the program.
While coaches can find data about many, if not most, high school athletes online, those athletes can also find information – and email addresses – for those coaches. Such access has introduced a new element of self-promotion into the recruiting process, or at least ease with which it can be utilized.
“I don’t know if it’s been a cultural shift, it’s probably been a technological shift,” said Air Force football assistant Steve Russ, who estimated that 25 percent of the team’s recruits stem from information sent to coaches and the other 75 are athletes the coaches have proactively sought.
The entire situation is vastly different than what Russ saw as a recruit in the high school class of 1991.
“Sitting in a high school, we didn’t know who was recruiting who or who had offers out to anybody,” Russ said. “This day and age you watch ESPN and it’s scrolling across the bottom line. Or you click on Rivals or Scout. There’s just so much information out there at your fingertips. It’s brought the recruiting process to the forefront and the mainstream.”
Air Force football recruiting coordinator Capt. John Rudzinski sees the shift in the recruiting dynamic as a direct parallel with other parts of life.
“I think our culture in general has changed,” said Rudzinski, who graduated from the academy in 2005. “Now you’ll know if someone bought a bike or what they got at the grocery store or what they’re having for dinner at a restaurant all through social media. That’s trickled down into athletics as well.”
Recruited just five years apart, the Lyons brothers have lived through a major period of that transformation. When Michael was in high school, he had to wait and see which recruiting sites – Rivals, Scout, ESPN, etc. – would seek him out for online profiles, nevermind video. For Trevor, the decision has mostly been where to put his own information.
But they’ve also seen the differences from the other side, which also comes with strict rules and not so specific guidelines on what is or is not appropriate.
“When Michael was there coaches couldn’t really text yet,” Trevor said. “Before I committed, I was getting a couple texts a week from a lot of coaches. Sometimes they’re just checking in on you, making sure you haven’t forgotten about them, sometimes they try to be your buddy and talk about sports. It was funny to see.”