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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Cottonwood High School football player John Martinez is being recruited by some of the top schools in the country.

Editor's note: The Deseret Morning News plans to follow several students who are at various stages of the recruiting process until they have completed their first year in college.

MURRAY — John Martinez isn't sure he wants to answer the phone anymore.

After 30 days of working out in front of college coaches and several weeks of fielding phone calls from coaches and reporters, the soon-to-be senior at Cottonwood High has grown a little weary of the recruiting process.

"It's just been a fairly steady stream of three or four calls per night," said his father, Steve Martinez. "Each coach gets one call and then he's getting calls from Rivals, Scout, ESPN, college beat writers asking him what he thinks."

What began as a flattering, fun exercise for the highly sought-after offensive lineman has become a tedious dance that he's not sure he wants to do anymore.

"If he'd already been able to visit the programs he's looking at, he'd like to make a decision today," said Steve. "Everybody says, 'You've got to come see us on game day' and we want to do that."

Fatigue may account, in part, for a spur-of-the-moment decision John made last Wednesday.

"Coach Cecil (Thomas, Cottonwood's head coach) called me into his office and said Notre Dame wanted to talk to me," said John. "He said, 'I think they're going to offer you (a scholarship).'"

After some small talk with the offensive line coach, Fighting Irish head coach Charlie Weis took the phone and began talking with John.

"He asked me if I was interested in Notre Dame ... and I said I'm sorry coach, but I don't think I am," John said matter-of-factly. "I felt bad. It's the first college coach I've turned down. But I thought it was time for me to be honest."

The 17-year-old said it is difficult to tell coaches when you are not interested because you come to like them.

"They're always nice," he said. "When I talk to a coach sometimes I feel like I'm playing them. I felt bad turning Notre Dame down, but I also felt good because I really am not interested."

Martinez said he's trying to keep an open mind, but he has already narrowed the field to the schools he will visit this summer and in the fall. He will attend one day of UCLA's camp and then head to USC's summer camp. He has also been invited and is planning to visit USC to watch them play Ohio State, as well as visiting LSU as soon as the high school season is finished.

"His list might be a little too narrow right now," said Steve Martinez.

LSU's offensive coordinator Gary Crowton said he doesn't like a player to turn him down until he has visited the Tigers' campus.

"Our game days are second to none," he said. "Sometimes they're not interested because they don't know enough about you."

Crowton came to Utah a few weeks ago during the 30-day window the NCAA gives college coaches to visit high schools. Up to seven coaches from each school can be on the road at the same time and most programs have coaches who specialize in certain areas of the country or state, depending on their recruiting philosophy. Crowton said they have already identified players as sophomores and juniors that they'd like to see and then they coordinate trips. It's a lot of early mornings, late nights and it is extremely hectic for most programs.

"Sometimes you just talk to high school coaches and pick up transcripts, but if there is any kind of practice or workout then we can observe," he said. "Any time you can watch the guys it's good."

This year the NCAA forbid head coaches from visiting schools, something Crowton said is a double-edged sword.

"The reason you want the head coach to go to the school is that it gives him a chance to evaluate the players in person and it's a very good public relations tool," he said. "The reason you don't want them there is because they can't really talk to players or parents and it can be awkward ... I don't attract the crowd that coach (Les) Miles does."

Thomas said he and his staff talk with college coaches before they visit Cottonwood in most cases and let them know when players will be working out or doing something that shows their athleticism. Bingham head coach Dave Peck has a similar philosophy and invites coaches to everything from P.E. classes to after school workouts.

"You've just got to get creative with the work out," Thomas said. "They can watch a speed workout and know what a kid is capable of ... We just showcase the kids without breaking any rules. Anywhere else in the country they can go watch spring football."

Local football coaches from schools like Snow and Utah say they try hard to get to as many high schools as possible. Defensive Coordinator Gary Andersen said he visits Utah high schools almost every day of the week in the 30-day period allotted to coaches as part of the school's commitment to luring the state's best talent to stay close to home.

Martinez said it can be distracting when college coaches visit, but also said it can also be motivating.

"You kind of want to impress them, but sometimes that can make you mess up more," he said with a slight smile.

His teammates, some of whom are still hoping for offers to play for an education, say they feel more pressure but also see an opportunity in the visits.

"We definitely try to impress the coaches," said Cole Peraza, center and linebacker.

Adds Alo Moli, "You think if you show your best, they'll want to look at you."

And running back Isi Sofele, whose actually had a few offers this spring, in part because of those workouts, said the players push much harder, even though most try not to think about whose watching.

"Everyone gets tired and more pumped," said Sofele.

Bingham's players echoed what the Colts said about the visits.

"I think it makes us work a little harder ... but you have to put it out of your mind," said Remington Peck, whose had offers from UNLV and Weber State. When it's the coach of a program they're interested in, all of the players said it makes for more nerves, more adrenaline.

LT Filiaga, a linebacker from Bingham got an offer from Arizona after coaches visited the school, watched him workout and watched a highlight DVD. He said coaches made the offer to his coach and parents but he anticipates talking with them him self in the near future.

"I am really interested in the Pac 10," said Filiaga, who has offers from BYU, Utah, Stanford and Washington, as well. "I'm open to anybody, but the PAC 10 has always been my favorite conference."

Filiaga said pretending college coaches he admires aren't in the room when he's working out is difficult.

"It gets kind of nerve-wracking," he said. "I just do what I do and try not to worry about it ... It gives me more motivation to be as good as I can be."


E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com