Syracuse football commit Isaiah Johnson’s school is under the heat lamp after a Sports Illustrated article this week questioned the validity of Eastern Christian. In June The Fizz reported the athletic Maryland DT became SU’s 7th commitment and his coach told us Johnson was a “diamond in the rough.” But it wasn’t your normal situation for the 6’5″, 272 lb. road grater. As we wrote:
“Johnson, along with 30+ teammates and head coach Dwayne Thomas, are moving from Red Lion Christian Academy (Delaware) to Eastern Christian Academy (Maryland) due to changes at Red Lion. Isaiah’s old school is downgrading from a national level football program to a Delaware independent league. So ECA is accumulating talented players who have already made commitments to some of college football’s finest institutions.”
But the creation of the Eastern Christian Honey Badgers (yes, that’s their name) has SI investigating. It’s essentially a “high school” with a completely online curriculum, but fields a real football team – which has some of the best players in the country. And that has people very skeptical, including some college football coaches. Here’s the more striking lines from the report:
- Eastern Christian was established six months ago, and with less than three weeks until the start of the academic school year, 54 students are enrolled in grades six through 12. Forty-six are boys, and 46 are on the football team.
- According to Eastern Christian’s Player Profile Sheet, 14 team members have already received football scholarship offers from major colleges, with three committed to USC, two to West Virginia and others to Auburn, UConn and Syracuse. Sophomore David Sills V, the 6′ 3″ quarterback with the blond hair and marksman’s accuracy, committed to USC when he was 13. Kenny Bigelow a 6′ 3″, 295-pound senior who’s considered the nation’s second-best defensive tackle by Rivals.com, is also ticketed for the Trojans.
- Despite the many coaches swarming Eastern Christian, several expressed concern about recruiting there. “To have a totally based curriculum of online classes, it’s something we don’t do,” says an FBS head coach, whose program has not offered scholarships to Eastern Christian players. “It’s tricky. They can say something fulfills an English requirement, and they’re really watching movies online. We just stay away from it altogether.”
- Two prominent high school coaches in Maryland were asked if they would have scheduled the Honey Badgers. One said his administration would balk, calling the Honey Badgers “an AAU football team.” The other said he would and called them “awesome players and class people.”
- ECA’s director David Sills says “If we’re telling the truth, that we just want to help these kids, we’re virtuous. If we’re lying, we’re the most evil people in America. So it comes down to this: Do you believe us?”
- After a faculty reorganization at Red Lion, three former teachers joined the Eastern Christian staff. “I told the guys, ‘An online school – what are you trying to do?’” says Carrie Timmons, one of the teachers. “It sounds crazy, but I think it’s going to work.”
This is less an Isaiah Johnson problem and more an Eastern Christian one. Should Syracuse be worried about being involved with a start-up, largely online school such as this? The guess is Doug Marrone is always looking for talent, and if schools like USC, Auburn, West Virginia and UConn are okay with it, then so is he. Now, let’s be honest. There are cleaner programs to align yourselves with then the admissions departments of the Trojans, Mountaineers and Tigers. But they must all feel fairly comfortable with what’s happening down there.
Ultimately, Johnson – like some of his teammates – might struggle with admissions, but that’s a risk SU has taken on plenty of athletes from traditional high schools. Heck, Johnson might be a terrific student and there’s nothing to worry about. But if ECA is indeed the first “AAU football team,” it’s certainly not against the rules to recruit those players. Just makes you wonder if this is a trend for high school football or simply a blip on the radar.
Do you think Eastern Christian is credible?