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Recruiting Services Are Tracking 6th-Grader: His Dad Explains Why It's No Biggie

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterFebruary 18, 2015

Image via Craig Bryden

Daron Bryden is regarded as one of the best pro-style quarterbacks of his class. This is true. It's also necessary, however, to highlight other factual information as it pertains to this recruit—or should we say, "recruit."

Bryden is currently listed at 5'2" and 105 pounds. He is in sixth grade. He is 12 years old. He won't graduate high school—I repeat, high school—until the year 2021. All of this information can be found on Bryden's official Rivals page, which is something that actually exists. His father's not concerned at all about this, but we'll get to that.

Bryden and fellow sixth-grader Tyson Thornton, a 170-pound running back, can be found in the Rivals database. Following appearances at NextGen Boston—a live showcase for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, and another surprising thing that exists—Bryden and Thornton were highlighted on Rivals.com.

As impressive as those performances were, there were seven athletes that have had their profiles added to the Rivals.com recruiting database. Tyson Thornton and Daron Bryden will be the first sixth-grade prospects the website will actively monitor. Thornton is a 5-foot-11, 167-pound running back with great explosiveness and surprisingly good body control for a kid his size and age. Bryden, a small quarterback with a big arm, is incredibly composed and very polished—and he can make every throw. And with a father standing nearly 6-foot-7, he may soon have the body to match his arm. Both of these young players were so impressive they were moved up to compete against the eighth-grade prospects.

For further perspective, consider this: Dylan Moses, the top player in the class of 2017 on 247Sports—and another young athlete who garnered incredible interest and even scholarship offers before ever dominating in high school—will be out of college by the time Bryden plays his first collegiate game, if he ultimately heads down that path.

That's where we are with the timeline. I can't help but look at my infant daughter and wonder what she'll be like in 2021. What will I be like? Where will I be living? What will I be doing? It's an eternity.

With this kind of football forecast, there are no guarantees. There are no promises of development. Everything should be left open-ended, and there's a mutual understanding that it is. That won't change the fact that children are now, at least to a degree, being recognized by major recruiting outlets before puberty knocks down the door and announces its presence.

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This development came with a tsunami of disgust and outrage. The general reaction was appropriate: Sixth grade?

We've dipped our toes in the notion of early recruits before. (See David Sills, who verbally committed to Lane Kiffin at USC at the age of 13.) Moses, as mentioned above, garnered similar buzz before he dominated high school competition. Similar moral conversations regarding early-aged recruiting are not new to the sport—they're simply becoming more frequent.

But this is different, or at least it feels that way. This is a 12-year-old crashing through a threshold that seems unreasonable, even for a lucrative industry that has been constructed on the unreasonable lionizing of athletes at a young age. Those who follow recruiting accept these general oddities, but this is out of the comfort zone of even the most passionate fans.

Once more, with feeling: Sixth grade?

Craig Bryden, Daron's father, doesn't view this sudden surge in recruiting interest as a negative. Perhaps this is to be expected. As a father, it's only natural to be flattered when people—especially professionals—recognize your son for being good at something at any age. For Craig, despite his son's youth, this flattery stretches back well beyond a few days.

Just last year, Daron appeared on Kids Do the Darndest Things and competed in a throwing competition with NFL quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

Generate a scouting report at your own risk.

Appearing on a television show and getting thrust into the recruiting world are two very different matters. One is strictly constructed for entertainment, at least from the guest's perspective, and the other is a business that has grown teeth over time, which is not something any sixth-grader should ever be concerned with.

But again, Craig Bryden doesn't interpret this "interest" in the same way many others might.

"While I understand the position of some saying the kids are too young, they aren't done growing and they may not pan out, that is exactly why they call them prospects," Bryden told Bleacher Report. "Rivals is merely identifying potential future talent. This is Daron's dream and he works extremely hard at it. And he's done so while maintaining good grades, being a great kid and a great big brother."

Daron has already had multiple quarterback coaches. He has also, according to his father, spoken to several college coaches and schools about attending college camps. These aren't intense scholarship-focused conversations or anything beyond simple meet-and-greets.

"They are encouragement to keep grinding," Bryden said of these talks.

But he's still 12. We've gone over this, yes? Regardless of the surface-level discussions, it's difficult to see beyond his age, weight and height.

"Talent is being identified and sometimes even offered as early as eighth and ninth grade," Bryden said. "Early recruiting already exists for basketball, baseball and gymnastics as well. Football is mirroring the recruiting trends of those sports."

Image via Craig Bryden

Pointing to other sports to validate this latest youth movement shouldn't suddenly transpose your stance from one side to the other, although other athletic avenues—tennis, for example—glorify recruiting and rankings at remarkably young ages, and with much more acceptance.

In fact, if you wanted, you could align yourself with an esteemed tennis coach, toss away hundreds of thousands of dollars and essentially begin the recruiting process far earlier than sixth grade. This is common practice for those with the time, means and desire.

This doesn't necessarily make it right, of course. There's equal absurdity in plenty of other sports not as reliant on physical development. This isn't just a football issue or a Rivals issue; it deals with the way youth is interpreted.

"Sixth-grader draws interest from a recruiting outlet" is a meaty headline, especially when it involves the meatiest sport. But what, in reality, does it mean? What negatives—beyond the general shock of seeing a sixth-grader on a website with his measurables out in the open—truly come with a ranking-less presence online?

If the child and family have a firm grasp on the situation and understand the obvious infancy of the journey, is that enough? Should they be put in a position to decide? These questions will garner a wide variety of emotional responses.

This online presence won't suddenly make Bryden a better player. It won't change his life altogether. He won't be swarmed with text messages and phone calls from coaches. He's barely five feet tall.

Sills didn't pan out to be the "can't-miss" quarterback prospect many thought he would be at 13, although he still signed and enrolled at West Virginia in January. He had a long journey to arrive at that moment, but the early frenzy surrounding his recruitment and verbal agreement played a role in determining his football fate. It probably helped it. And that's a good thing, right?

This poses a question that should be asked above all: If there is a mutual understanding that scouting sixth-graders doesn't add much value, why do it in the first place?

That's a safe place to start, though that doesn't mean it's the pure evil it's being billed as—not when all realistic outcomes are taken into consideration. 

Is it odd? It sure is. Will it become the norm? Likely not, especially considering the feedback it has prompted. It could ultimately be bad for business, which is what this is all about. That's a callous way to approach a delicate situation, but ultimately it will shape how this industry is viewed moving forward.

Outrage isn't the appropriate emotion for this. This requires something more, something much harder to define. But if this sudden revelation is what finally pushed you over the edge with recruiting—saying the whole thing has finally reached a new intolerable threshold—I have one simple question.

Where have you been?

Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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