Brock Domann is a busy guy.
If the Pine Creek senior and former football star isn't leading the Eagles to the Class 4A state championship, he's working on a 3.7 GPA. If he's not studying film for his college career, he's attending a Bible study with 125-or-so other local kids.
"That Bible study is my favorite night of the week," he said Monday over his lunch hour.
But during his Christmas break Domann made time for a grateful phone call. He dialed up his predecessor, former Pine Creek quarterback Tommy Lazzaro, who has turned a pit stop at Dodge City (Kan.) Community College into a football scholarship at Central Michigan. Domann's message: Thanks, dude. Your path inspired me.
"I didn't know anything about junior colleges until Tommy went that route," Brock said. "When I saw it worked out for him so well, it made me look that way."
Signing day is Wednesday. It's a personal favorite, a time when high school athletes earn a well-deserved spotlight while taking another big step toward scoring a college degree. What I also hope it does — especially when you see success stories like these Pine Creek guys — is to smash the idea that bigger (programs) is always better (for their future, sports or otherwise).
Just a slice of advice from the cheap seats: Go where you can play. Like, actually play. Then turn it into something bigger, if that's the goal. In a decade of covering high school recruiting, few things bummed me out more than seeing an athlete who crushed it in high school, only to spend four, even five, years of college riding the bench at a bigger program that's not a better program. He or she could have been making memories and playing big minutes at another level — then, possibly, parlaying a junior college experience into the bright lights of Division I athletics.
Just look at Lazzaro, who led Pine Creek to back-to-back 4A titles and set most of the school's passing records until Domann came along. After one season at Dodge, Lazzaro landed his Division I shot in the MAC. Plus, Lazzaro is now 6-foot-3, 225 pounds.
"I went to the Senior Bowl last year and there were six quarterbacks there," said Craig Domann, Brock's dad, who knows about these things after more than two decades as a sports agent. "Tommy Lazarro would have been the second-best quarterback there."
And so on Wednesday Domann will sign a letter of intent to play football at Ventura (Calif.) College, a program that turns out quarterbacks like IHOP turns out pancakes. In the past few years Ventura has sent four quarterbacks to Division I programs. "Even the backups go D-1," Domann said. That tradition wasn't lost on Domann, who could have elected a walk-on spot at a high-profile program, signed with a D-II outfit or gone the juco route.
"Both guys did it right. But I think there's a feeling in society that you have to play at the biggest school to be a success. That's so far from the truth," Pine Creek coach Todd Miller said. "I hope that people understand the reason why he's doing what he's doing. It's trying to get your foot in the door and then you start banging down some things. There's not a doubt in my mind Brock is going to bang down some things."
Domann called his decision "taking the road less traveled." I call it taking the road more prospects with Division I aspirations should travel.
"Tommy took hold of the opportunity he had at Dodge City and balled out and made the most of it," said Teddi Domann, Brock's mom. "Then he got recognized."
Not surprising, the examples go the other way as well. Both of Lazzaro's and Domann's schools — Central Michigan and Ventura — are bringing in D-I transfers at quarterback, one from the SEC and one from the Big Ten. It's worth noting that lately the best college football program in the state is Colorado State-Pueblo, a Division II powerhouse that didn't get the memo — or simply dismissed it as a silly notion — that bigger is better.
Over the course of their Pine Creek careers, Lazzaro and Domann threw for 7,532 yards and 103 touchdowns. And perhaps it says something that Domann had all the resources a prospect could need — Lazzaro, who went the juco-to-Division I route; his brother, JoJo Domann, a cornerback set to compete for a starting spot at Nebraska as a sophomore; his parents, Craig and Teddi, who work with NFL players in the sports agent industry and named him after Brock Gutierrez, a family friend and former NFL lineman — and still found the junior college route to be in his best interests.
"I just didn't want to commit somewhere big just to commit somewhere big," Domann said. "For six months of my life I'm the dude, but for the next four years I'm on the bench."
Not this guy. He's too busy for that.