The 8th-Grader Taking the Football Recruiting World by Storm

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterJune 9, 2016

Image via Jesus Machado Sr.

Today, Jesus Machado Sr. hopes, is the day everything will change. Today is the day he will finally beat his son in Madden.

Jesus Machado Jr. and his father are tucked away in their Miami Gardens home. It is a Saturday afternoon in early June, and the madness has temporarily subsided. 

"Little Zeus," as he's known around Miami, picks the Seattle Seahawks. His father, "Big Zeus," selects the Miami Dolphins, hoping that local allegiance will lead to a breakthrough.

The outcome of the game is decided before Little Zeus turns to his trademark hurry-up offense. His father has no answer for quarterback Russell Wilson. The upset will have to come another day.

Like most 15-year-olds, Machado plays video games. He loves fishing with his father and playing basketball with friends. His favorite subject in school is math. Machado, the oldest of four, loves being a big brother to his two sisters and infant brother, "Baby Zeus."

On June 10, Machado will take his final class in the eighth grade. He will acquire the freshman label at Champagnat Catholic School in Hialeah, Florida.

Machado lives the life of a young man seesawing between childhood and adulthood. He has the suggestion of a baby face. His voice is still reluctant, inquisitive and polite.

It is here, however, that normalcy fades quickly. This is the part where it gets uncomfortable for some.

Even though Machado has yet to step foot into his first freshman class, he is already being courted by Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban. In fact, Machado owns a verbal scholarship offer from Alabama to go along with offers from North Carolina State, Iowa State, West Virginia and Michigan State.

The linebacker from the class of 2020—a classification fitting of a sci-fi movie or a time machine—has become one of the sport's most discussed young players.

"He's a big kid obviously for his age, and he is more advanced when it comes to ball recognition, not just relying totally on his athleticism," Mike Farrell, national recruiting director for Rivals.com, told Bleacher Report. "What I am seeing is football instincts, football technique and actual football IQ rather than a kid who is just bigger and stronger than anybody else. It doesn't surprise me that he's getting offers."

At 6'1" and 195 pounds, his body is closer to that of an NFL safety than a classmate. He's not quite as tall as his father, who stands at 6'6" and played football and basketball growing up. But the gap is closing rapidly.

Jesus Machado Sr. and Jesus Machado
Jesus Machado Sr. and Jesus MachadoImage via Jesus Machado Sr.

Locally, Machado has become a celebrity of sorts. Playing in a youth football hotbed—a place that has seen eighth- and ninth-graders offered before—Machado has emerged as a star.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't shocked by the Alabama offer," Machado's former coach, Travis Thomas, said. "But I just knew that he was going to be one of the top players of this class. Just being around youth football, you know when a guy like this is special. I expected offers to come in after this year."

Thomas watched Machado finish a game with nearly 20 tackles as a 13-year-old. The next year, Thomas coached Machado on the Miami Gardens Ravens and played him at defensive tackle.

Although teams would run away from Machado at all costs—and double- and triple-team when they didn't—he still dominated the league. So much so that at the end of the year, Thomas sat down with Machado, his father and Dennis Marroquin, the head coach at Champagnat Catholic School.

"He could have played 14 and under," Thomas said. "But he was dominant. The only thing left for him to do was risk a freak injury. No one was equipped to deal with him. He was on a different level physically."

Because Champagnat Catholic, a small private school, offered classes for grades six through 12, Machado could complete his eighth-grade year and still play for the high school team.

"I knew he was ready," Machado Sr. said when asked about the decision.

There was comfort and trust from all parties, especially Machado, in the decision.

While rare, this kind of leap is not unheard of. Georgia running back Sony Michel and former Florida running back Kelvin Taylor were both prep stars in the state of Florida, and both played with their varsity teams as eighth-graders before excelling at the high school level.

So at the age of 14, Machado joined a roster that was limited in overall numbers. Instead of having him sit and learn, Marroquin plugged his new player in as the team's starting linebacker. He also played him at defensive end.

"I've been around a lot of players, been around a lot of kids," Marroquin said, who also coached current Alabama wideout Calvin Ridley among other local standouts. "Sony Michel is about the only one that comes to mind when talking about how advanced he was physically."

In 10 games last season, Machado finished with 97 tackles and 12 sacks. He missed one game with food poisoning. Otherwise he would have finished the year with more than 100 tackles.

While Champagnat Catholic School is 2A with fewer than 300 kids enrolled, it does not shy away from bigger schools and quality opponents. Entering his third year, Marroquin made a point of moving up in class; the team's 3-7 record in 2015 was not an indictment of its talent but rather a product of scheduling and numbers.

This spring, coaches have flocked to Champagnat to see the team and players in action. In some cases, they did not come to see Machado.

They came to see 3-star linebacker Donovan Georges, one of the better Florida linebackers in the class of 2018, who holds more than 10 offers. They came to see wideout Brieon Fuller, who is already one of the hottest names in the class of 2019.

But each time Marroquin has thrown on the tape for coaches, Machado jumped off the screen. "I think his Hudl highlights promoted some of the interest," Machado Sr. added.

In less than a month, Machado picked up five offers. The first came from NC State; the most recent, and most notable, came from Alabama.

Mario Cristobal, one of Saban's most recognized recruiters, will serve as the primary contact once that time comes. With strong ties in the area, this is right up Cristobal's alley.

Whether he's still recruiting the state of Florida for Saban or Alabama four years from now is another discussion entirely. It also outlines the uniqueness, absurdity and delicacy of the situation in present time.

NCAA rules limit the contact coaches can have with Machado outside of camps. For now, Marroquin is funneling all interest and offers to the family as they arrive.

When Alabama first offered, Machado hoped to keep it concealed for as long as possible. He was flattered and thrilled but in no rush to become national news. The industry, which is now covered more closely than it has ever been, had other ideas.

"Alabama has offered ninth-graders in Miami in the past, so we didn't think it was a big deal, to be honest," Marroquin said. "Next thing you know, his name is ringing on ESPN."

Jesus Machado Sr. and Jesus Machado
Jesus Machado Sr. and Jesus MachadoImage via Jesus Machado Sr.

Dylan Moses, 247Sports' No. 2-rated composite player in the class of 2017, can relate. As an eighth-grader, the Louisiana native picked up offers from LSU and Alabama. His recruitment quickly became a public discussion.

Since reaching the celebrity threshold, Moses has changed positions. He's now a linebacker after starring at running back. He's added weight to an already-ridiculous frame. He's become more polished as a player and done little to cool the enthusiasm when it comes to his possibility at the next level.

He's also committed to and decommitted from LSU in this time—a reminder of how little significance any pledge or offer carries.

"Until you sign on signing day, these really don't count," Marroquin said. "You still need great academics all four years of high school. You have to pass your tests. There's so much more to it. You don't just get some verbals and all of the sudden you made it. It's a process."

More specifically, it's part of the game. Machado is undoubtedly worthy of a scholarship offer—a verbal investment—even at this age. That's because this investment is more of a marketing ploy and early loyalty push than anything else. It's a way to establish a connection early on, and it comes with little risk on either side.

Still, the idea that an eighth-grader could hold multiple scholarship offers has always received mixed reviews. Recruiting at its core is peculiar and invasive; when it toes the line of established norms, it doesn't always receive rousing applause.

This is something Machado, his father and his coaches are deeply aware of. They understand the negative stigmas attached and the perception that this could ultimately serve as a negative for the player. Thus far, they have little reason to be concerned with the attention.

"He's the most humble kid you'll meet. It hasn't gotten to his head at all," Marroquin said. "He's just playing football and having fun right now."

As part of the attention influx, Marroquin has politely denied all media requests to speak with Machado. Currently, they are working on ways to deal with the media, how to handle questions and the appropriate mindset to combat such incredible expectations at such a young age.

There is little doubt Machado will continue to flourish on the football field. He will add weight to his frame, shed the baby face and perhaps see eye to eye with his father by the time national signing day in 2020 rolls around—if such an event even exists by then.

"I never thought it would get this big this fast," Machado Sr. said. "But there is still so much work to do. There are four more years left."

By then, he might not be a linebacker. He might be a 240-pound defensive end, with his body fully developed, terrifying quarterbacks around the edge.

Alabama, knowing how much can and will change in this time, has decided to invest in the young man at the ground floor. This is by no means a guarantee, much like Saban coaching the team by the time he is ready to sign, but it is revealing. As are the other offers that have come and the many more that will follow.

Nothing will be the same from here on out. And yet, on this unassuming Saturday in June, less than two weeks before Machado will graduate from the eighth grade, one wouldn't know it.

There are far more pressing matters to be concerned with, starting with this lopsided game of Madden.

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