By Marty Gordon
When is too early to offer student-athletes scholarships and when is it too early to announce their commitment to a particular college? This question has haunted area sports fans ever since an Auburn High School softball player made her commitment to Georgia as an eighth grader.
She later changed it as a senior to now attend James Madison.
Now the news comes from Northern Virginia where five eighth graders who play on the same travel team have announced their commitment to play baseball at Virginia Tech.
National media outlets are reporting that as of January, 28 members of the class of 2027 across the country had already made non-binding, verbal agreements to attend their chosen college.
Prince William County teenagers Chase Colangelo, Teagan Leach, Yogi Colangelo, Gavin Knox and Nico Moritz-Toledo say they will play baseball in Blacksburg.
Of course, they cannot sign any letter of intent until their senior year in high school. Colangelo is a middle infielder; his brother, Chase, is a shortstop. Knox is a pitcher; Leach a first baseman and pitcher; and Toledo is an outfielder.
One of the coaches who keeps pushing this early envelope is Ole Miss football coach Lane Kiffin. This past fall, he offered a scholarship to Trent Seaborn, an eighth-grade quarterback sensation in Alabama.
A quarterback in the ’27 class, Seaborn led his team to a state championship in November.
The 14-year-old, who stepped in for quarterback Zach Sims late in the ’22 season, posted a huge performance in the championship game that went viral, throwing for 207 yards on 12-for-14 passes and five touchdowns in the Warriors’ 49–24 victory over Auburn.
Auburn’s Kirsten Fleet received a scholarship from the University of Georgia when she was a seventh grader. The softball pitcher had been heavily leaning that way as she finished her junior year, but a coaching change had her rethinking that decision. She eventually made it official, becoming the newest pitching recruit for James Madison University by signing a national letter of intent in front of family, friends, teammates and coaches in the Auburn High School library.
As a sophomore, Fleet led Auburn to the Class 1 state title, notching 260 strikeouts in 120 innings and compiling a 16-2 record and a 0.29 earned run average.
This past spring, she hit for a .538 batting average with 14 hits, two home runs and 14 RBI. On the mound, she had six wins and one loss with 98 strikeouts and an earned run average of 0.525. She was named the Mt. Empire District and Region C pitcher of the year.
When the Virginia High School League announced its 2022 Class 1 All-State softball team, Fleet was the Class 1 Player of the Year.
During Auburn’s tournament run to a state championship, Fleet went 8-0 with a 2.92 ERA in 48 innings, with 116 strikeouts, three one-hitters and two no-hitters, including a no-hitter in
the Eagles’ 10-0 win over Riverheads in the state finals. She tossed a perfect game in the 3-0 win over Buffalo Gap in the state semifinals.
She missed 10 games due to injury, but Fleet still finished the year with a 14-1 record, 203 strikeouts, a 0.417 ERA. She allowed only 14 hits and five earned runs. She also batted .500 with four home runs, 25 RBI and an 820 slugging percentage.
Auburn claimed its third straight state title, finishing the 2022 season with a 22-5 record.
Fleet had reopened her recruitment shortly after the College World Series when the head softball coach at Georgia announced her retirement. James Madison grabbed everyone’s attention with its outstanding play in the CWS two years ago.
Fleet’s early recruitment as an underclassman drew national attention, resulting in a push for the NCAA to institute a rule forbidding this action.