With thousands of high school football players seeking a precious few Division I scholarships every year, recruiting is clearly a numbers game.
And beyond the odds of playing well enough to gain the attention of big-time schools are additional numerical hurdles, ones that measure speed, size and academic acuity.
The most talented seniors from Ventura County are trying to negotiate these hurdles this month, and several have already tripped and fallen. The national letter-of-intent signing date is Feb. 8, but only Wayne Cook of Newbury Park High and Rick McCathron of Thousand Oaks have given schools verbal commitments so far.
Cook, a 6-foot, 4-inch quarterback, will sign with UCLA and McCathron, a 6-4, 245-pound offensive tackle, will sign with Oregon State.
Buena defensive back Jim Collins and Santa Clara lineman Jim Caballero are taking sanctioned visits to Division I schools and Ventura center Jack Gattenio will visit Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, a Division II school.
But most other top players are either destined for junior college or must postpone their Division I choice until the latest Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores are tabulated.
To qualify for a Division I scholarship, seniors must have an SAT score of 700 or better and a grade-point average of 2.0 or better in a list of core courses. A player can receive a scholarship if he lacks either the SAT or the grade-point average requirement under Proposition 48, but must forfeit his freshman year of eligibility.
John Johnson of Channel Islands, Dann White of Buena and Freddie Bradley of Hueneme have had attention from several Division I schools, yet they have not scored 700 on the SAT and are retaking the test Saturday. This is likely their last chance at clearing the SAT hurdle before schools give out all their scholarships.
Test results won't be available for at least a month, so even if they score 700, they won't be signing Feb. 8.
"I feel good about passing it this time," said Johnson, an All-County running back who is taking the test for the second time. Johnson, who nearly achieved 700 on his first try, has visited Pacific and will visit UCLA, Oregon, Arizona and either Colorado or San Diego State.
Taking the test knowing a Division I scholarship is in the balance obviously adds pressure.
"John has said he's anxious," said Joel Gershon, Johnson's coach at Channel Islands. "There is so much on the line for him."
White, a 6-3 linebacker who has been wooed by several Pacific 10 schools, is feeling similar stress.
"The schools that have contacted me say they will give me no commitments until I pass the test," he said.
The academic pitfalls are many. JR Perez, a 6-4 1/2, 267-pound lineman from Santa Clara who was recruited by UCLA, USC and Cal, will not get a scholarship even though his SAT score and grade-point average meet the standards. He failed to take 2 of the required core courses.
"Cal and UCLA were pushing hard but when they saw my transcripts they lost interest," said Perez, who plans to play at a local junior college. "The counselors didn't tell me what I needed. I had to go to them."
Bradley, a running back and linebacker, doesn't lack for guidance. He lives with George Machado, the Hueneme coach. Machado believes that attending a junior college is best for Bradley regardless of the test score.
"In the two years he has lived at my home people have seen great changes," Machado said. "But Freddie needs a little more direction academically. Junior college has a lot to offer, anyway. It's not two years down the drain.
"It would be a big ego trip for me to see him sign with a Nebraska, but most kids who are marginal students and go to a big school fail and come back in a year."
A test score is not the only number keeping players from the big time.
Matt Young of Santa Clara led the Southern Section with 81 receptions and he is 6-2 and 180 pounds. Nothing wrong there. But he runs 4.7 in the 40 without pads, which recruiters say won't cut it in the fast company of Division I. "Only the local junior colleges have contacted me," Young lamented.
Brent Jacques is a 3-year starter at Oxnard and has played 5 positions. He weighs 252 pounds and is tough and quick enough. But Jacques is 6-1 1/4, a solid 2 inches too short for a Division I lineman.
"A Pac-10 recruiter told me they are signing guys who are not as good as Brent but who are 6-3," Oxnard Coach Jack Davis said. "Recruiters are afraid to break the norm because if they sign a guy 6-1 and he doesn't make it, they look like fools."
Randy Hunt of Fillmore seemingly meets all the criteria. He's a 6-5, 270-pound lineman, and is an excellent student with a solid SAT score. The number that has hung like a noose around Hunt's neck is the Fillmore zip code. It seems that no one has heard of him.
"Some schools will be upset that they overlooked him," Fillmore Coach Curtis Garner said. "He's got a frame that can add much more strength. I think nobody has contacted him because he's out in Fillmore and gets no press."
Others who could surface at Division I schools include Ventura defensive back Chris Thomas, Santa Paula quarterback Rick Carpenter and Buena lineman Matt Biesecker. All easily qualify academically and have marginal Division I talent.
Thomas has been contacted by Colorado and UCLA but has received no scholarship offers. Carpenter has been wooed by UC Santa Barbara, a Division III school that offers no scholarships, and has been accepted as a student at San Diego State. He indicated that he would try to make the SDSU football team as a walk-on if he decides to go there.
Biesecker, a 215-pound guard, gets a weekly phone call from coaches at Cornell, an Ivy League school that does not offer football scholarships. Biesecker was an All-County player, but there are plenty of those around. Ivy League teams need players who can qualify for academic scholarships.
No wonder they like Biesecker.
His GPA is 3.7 and his SAT score is 1,260.