With go-to guy, search for school twice as nice

High Schools

November 05, 2002|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

As prep football stars mull over countless college come-ons, they most often seek guidance from Mom, Dad and Coach. But occasionally players may turn to another sounding board - a teammate who is experiencing the same recruiting chase.

Such is the case with Ambrose Wooden, Gilman School quarterback, and his friend Victor Abiamiri, a defensive end. Blue-chippers both, they're being wooed by some of the same Top 10 teams. Ohio State (No. 3), Iowa (6), Virginia Tech (8), Notre Dame (9) and Southern California (10) have all offered full athletic scholarships to both Wooden and Abiamiri.

Their play has contributed to a 9-0 record and No. 1 state ranking for Gilman. "Very seldom do you find two players of top caliber at the same school, in the same year," says Greg Mattison, recruiting coordinator at Notre Dame.

Rarer still, the two are pals, sharing the spotlight instead of trying to shove each other out of it. "Even if we played the same position, there'd be no animosity," says Abiamiri, who also plays offensive end. Similarly, Wooden sees time at defensive back in big games.

"When the pads come off, we're still friends," says Abiamiri. He and Wooden hang together at parties, movies and the chicken shack they frequent on Erdman Avenue in East Baltimore. At 6 feet 5, 245 pounds, Abiamiri can consume a mess of chicken. Together, they've been known to waste a fridge.

"Victor stayed with us the night after the DeMatha game [in August]," says Robin Petty, Wooden's mother. "For breakfast, those kids [along with a Gilman teammate] ate a pound of bacon, a box of pancake mix and a gallon of orange juice. There was nothing left."

Being pursued by the same colleges has brought the pair closer still. At night, after recruiters have made their daily pitches, Wooden and Abiamiri swap e-mails in a bid to separate the honesty from the hokum.

"That really helps, since we're talking to a lot of the same people," says Wooden. "If a coach tells Vic one thing and me another, we can contradict him."

Says Abiamiri of their alliance: "If I need a different opinion on something, I just look at [Wooden]. It's pretty convenient to have somebody else going through the same thing."

The two All-Metro performers say they are determined to protect each other's interests. Recently, when he learned his teammate was being sought by Tennessee, Abiamiri shared with Wooden a troubling statistic - Tennessee's graduation rate (15 percent) for African-American players.

"It's all about [finding] a school with good academics, good football and good coaches," Abiamiri says. "We're both looking for colleges that give you the deal straight up, with no lies and no leg-pulling."

Broken promise

Similarly, a broken promise to Wooden made Abiamiri skittish about the intentions of another Division I program that had already offered a scholarship to the big end. The school was high on Abiamiri's list until he learned it had reneged on a verbal pledge to sign Wooden. Angered by that snub and leery of his own future there, Abiamiri said no thanks to the institution, an East Coast university that the players and Gilman officials declined to name.

"Victor got real upset and said, `Take me off [that college's] list,' " says Keith Kormanik, an assistant coach at Gilman. "We talked it out and agreed that if they're going to treat Ambrose this way, what happens if Victor goes there and winds up getting hurt?"

In the recruiting process, the high school coaching staff is the clearinghouse, often the first contact - or the last - between athletes and the colleges seeking them. The procedure encompasses 238 Division I programs and culminates on National Letter of Intent Signing Day on Feb. 5, 2003.

In the case of Wooden and Abiamiri, each has heard from dozens of schools. Come December, when they begin visiting their favorite campuses (NCAA rules allow five college-paid trips per recruit), both players plan to see Notre Dame, UCLA and, perhaps, Stanford.

In addition, Penn State and Boston College have piqued Wooden's interest, and Abiamiri plans to scout second-ranked Miami, North Carolina and Michigan. In the hunt for both is Maryland, where two of Abiamiri's brothers play football.

Kormanik says there is "a good chance" the two will go as a package. Recruiters say that seldom happens and that efforts to tap one high school for multiple talent can be risky. Some prospects like the idea of huddling up with an old schoolmate, while others want to strike out on their own.

"A lot of kids want to get out of [a high school teammate's] shadow," says Dick Portee, assistant coach at North Carolina State who recruits the Baltimore area. He says the worst thing a college can do when recruiting is to schmooze up to the lesser prospect, hoping he'll influence his buddy.

"Kids have to feel they are being recruited individually," he says. "You don't go after one just to get the other." In any case, 14th-ranked N.C. State has two freshmen from the same Florida high school on its roster.

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