As is the case in early February every year, letters of intent were the big news last week as more than 3,000 high school and junior-college recruits formally committed to four-year colleges.
Only a couple of New York recruits went down to the wire, so there wasn't much in the way of surprises.
That was not the case when it came to the more obscure category of e-mails of intent, because there was a surprise development on Long Island.Bellport (Brookhaven)
football coach Joe Cipp Jr., a fixture in the sport since helping to launch the school's program in 1976, announced he will step down from the position in order to concentrate on his responsibilities as superintendent of the South Country School District.
It was vintage Cipp; as a superintendent, he could have called a news conference that would have attracted reporters to the announcement. Or he could have had the district's communications specialist send out a glitzy release. Instead, Cipp fired off his own e-mail.
"There is no way I can be the superintendent and head coach," he said in the message. "Not enough hours in the day and to be honest with you, too much of a drain on this 'old body.' I will not be head coach in 2011."
The decision makes sense in the current climate. New Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a budget proposal last week that calls for another reduction in state aid to school districts. That puts Cipp and the school board in the position of having to go through their own spending plans line-by-line this spring to save dollars wherever possible.
And that's on top of the normal superintendent responsibilities that are so complex that many New York districts do not allow administrators to serve as coaches or supervise other extracurricular activities.
Cipp, 63, went out on a winning note, guiding the team to its sixth regional championship last fall as the Clippers beat Garden City 26-21 in the Long Island Class II final. He also passed Tom Cassese of Comsewogue as the winningest head coach in Suffolk County history, going 9-3 to finish with 211 victories.
His final record was 211-87-3.
Cipp's e-mail said he intends to pass the program on to his sons Jeff and Joe III, who have been his defensive and offensive coordinators, respectively. It's not yet clear whether they would be named co-coaches.MORE FOOTBALL: WRAPPING UP THE SIGNING FRENZY
The trend remains positive in New York as 30 seniors signed for full scholarships with Football Bowl Subdivision colleges. That's up from 26 full rides (plus one partial) last year, 21 in 2009, 19 in 2008 and just 17 in 2007. The previous high-water mark in recent memory was 28 signings in 2004.
It's evidence that the sport remains on the upswing in New York, though perspective is necessary. Texas, Florida and California each boasted of more than 300 signings last week. New York's haul is in the neighborhood of Maryland, Utah, Indiana, Arkansas and Wisconsin — all with smaller populations.
Part of what drove this year's improvement is Syracuse University's continued focus on the metro New York area, which has been underscouted for years by the major colleges. Sure, Penn State and Ruthers would go to Long Island for the occasional recruit, but Orange coach Doug Marrone works the area hard. Most of the nine N.Y. seniors in the crop hail from New York City and the Island.
"When you do a study of this program – I'm talking about from coach Schwartzwalder to Coach Mac(Pherson) to Coach Pasqualoni – you'll see that we've been very successful in certain recruiting areas," Marrone said. "I can't speak for how that direction changed or what happened to it, but our goal as a football staff coming in was to get back to that foundation that made this football program great. We specifically targeted those areas, with certain coaches, to go in and I think we did a good job."
The Orange's ace in the whole downstate is assistant coach John Ansalmo, who has three decades of experience at the high school and college levels in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Marrone kids that Ansalmo is probably the only college coach who doesn't use a GPS to get around.
"All we do is argue about what's the fastest way when we hit traffic to get around New York City," he joked.
Syracuse made a late move to lock up a local prospect – Baldwinsville lineman Nick Robinson
– and also went down I-90 to Rochester for Rush-Henrietta quarterback Ashton Broyld
, the state's Class AA player of the year.
"Syracuse University has always had great players from Rochester on their roster when it performed well," Marrone said. "The next area for us would be Buffalo. So, strategically, coming into this program, the plan was to start downstate because that's where all the connections were for me. Then we would work our way across the state to central New York and out west."MORE RECRUITING NOTES
* The University at Buffalo remained committed to the in-state feeder system as well. Coach Jeff Quinn picked up five players from the Buffalo and Rochester areas. Army continued a positive trend with three N.Y. commitments. As recently as three years ago, West Point had no one from the Empire State on its roster.
* Looking to 2012, Syracuse CBA two-way lineman Ben Barrett has already said he'll attend Syracuse. Though the state's No. 1 prospects the past two years have come out of the PSAL — defensive end Ishaq Williams of Lincoln High in Brooklyn (a Notre Dame signee) this month and Dominique Easley of Staten Island Curtis (a Florida signee) a year ago — the big name next year will likely be an upstate kid.
Rochester Aquinas defensive lineman Jarron Jones
already has offers from Penn State and Syracuse. He hit his stride in the final month of a state-championship run, anchoring a defense ravaged by injuries, and the tape of any of the three state-tournament games could serve as his personal recruiting tape.
* Signing day was bittersweet for Terrell Hunt
, the Syracuse-bound quarterback at Christ the King.
Hunt signed in a Queens gym packed with family, coaches and fellow students, but it was a sad personal milestone. His father, Daryl Dockery, 56, died in Georgia due to kidney failure a day earlier. That came a year and a day after the player's mother, Katrina Hunt, 48, died of ovarian cancer.
Though weak due to chemotherapy treatment, Katrina Hunt traveled to Syracuse with her son in November 2009; Terrel Hunt said she would have wanted him to pick the university.
"I finally got to go where I wanted to go," Terrel told The New York Daily News, "especially where my mom wanted me to go."ODDS AND ENDS
* Abraham Lincoln two-way lineman Ishaq Williams
is the only New York football player selected a Parade All-American in this week's edition of the magazine.
* Port Jervis coach Mark Trotta has resigned after a 1-8 season that dropped his record to 10-16 for three seasons. Trotta, a 1986 Port Jervis graduate who coached the JVs for nine seasons, was named to the position after Bob Corvino left with a 161-70-1 mark in 24 seasons.