Juniors in demand with supply of talent

By: Cecil Conley, Sports Editor
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Fitting in with Whitney High School’s choir should not be a problem for Jake Rodrigues. All the junior has to do is carry a tune as well as he does a football. That remains to be seen – and heard. Rodriguez has joined the singers to fulfill the performing arts requirement for graduation. He is taking the class now because he will graduate in December, six months ahead of his classmates. Such is the life of a high school football player being recruited by several universities. And two of those schools have told Rodrigues that it would be in his best interest to graduate in December. Rodrigues will forego the pomp and circumstance of commencement for an opportunity to play college football. Once he commits to a university, the earlier he can arrive will be for the better. There will be much for the 6-foot-2, 220-pound quarterback to learn during the transition from being the big man on campus at Whitney to being just another college freshman trying to survive. At least he is not alone. Junior tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is also being pursued by a plethora of universities. The classmates can sort through all the recruiting letters and work out together. Cope-Fitzpatrick and Rodrigues were chatting in the gym recently when head coach Mike Gimenez delivered their mail. He gave five letters to Cope-Fitzpatrick and a large envelope to Rodrigues. Gimenez was once in the same boat. He was recruited as a quarterback after the 1985 season at Woodland High. The difference in the past 25 years is Gimenez was a senior at that time, not a junior. In assisting Rodrigues and Cope-Fitzpatrick, Gimenez has armed them with questions to ask recruiters and will deflate their egos if necessary. “You have to keep in mind that these are 16- and 17-year-old kids and everybody’s telling them how great they are,” Gimenez said. “Once they get there, the coaches won’t be telling them that they’re perfect and ‘we love you.’ They’re going to tell them to get their rear-ends to 6 a.m. workouts.” Letters are also mailed to the players’ homes. Cope-Fitzpatrick receives about 15 a day, along with just as many e-mails. He takes time to read each of them just before going to bed. The 6-5, 250-pound Cope-Fitzpatrick also keeps his Blackberry handy during the day so he can reply to e-mails as soon as he receives them. If a college shows interest, he wants to reciprocate. There is no rush for Cope-Fitzpatrick to graduate. In order for Rodrigues to do so, he had to change his schedule this semester and enroll in classes he was planning to take during his senior year. In choosing a performing arts class, Rodrigues figured choir would be the one he could handle. “I really can’t sing,” Rodrigues admitted. “I dropped the easier courses that I don’t really need. It wasn’t too difficult (to decide to graduate early). I had to decide what would be best for me.” A far greater decision looms for Rodrigues, who has narrowed his list of suitors to “three or four.” He has yet to receive a verbal offer. Cope-Fitzpatrick has received four offers and is weighing them. “It means something, but they take that away whenever they want to,” he said. “That’s why I’m keeping it open. All the schools I’ve talked to, I talk to them the same way. I’m open to any school.” Cope-Fitzpatrick is no longer open to any sport, however. He did not play basketball for the Wildcats, much to the chagrin of a few folks. Whitney went 13-14 and did not qualify for the playoffs. “In my sophomore year, I wasn’t even thinking about playing college football. I thought my sport would be basketball,” he said. “I went to some football camps and that changed my perspective. “I started thinking I could really do something in football. I want to be more than a recruit. I want to be the recruit.”