CLEVELAND, Tenn. — In the not-so-far past, Austin Herink would be the example of a prototypical quarterback. As football offenses have shifted to more of a read-option style — with the quarterback equally capable of running and passing — the Cleveland High School senior is now more of a throwback.
As least that's what the college coaches are saying with their actions.
As national signing day nears, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Herink is on the outside looking in as other players prepare to accept national letters of intent.
In the last two seasons Herink completed 65 percent of his passes for 5,709 yards and 55 touchdowns. The yardage set a school record, surpassing the 5,005 of Herink's predecessor, Chad Voytik, who just finished his redshirt freshman season at Pittsburgh as the winning quarterback in a relief role in a bowl game.
Herink's best current offer is from UT-Martin, where he is being asked to grayshirt -- meaning he wouldn't officially sign until December and then would join the program in January 2015. He previously had offers from Eastern Kentucky, Youngstown State and Virginia Military Institute, but he had told YSU and VMI that they were too far away, and EKU recently signed a junior college quarterback.
East Tennessee State also recruited him for a while but decided to sign a quarterback out of Georgia, while early interest from Football Bowl Subdivision programs such as Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi State, Duke, Middle Tennessee State and Cincinnati faded throughout the process.
"My recruiting process is definitely not what I expected it to be," Herink said. "It's been difficult, but tough times are what make tough people, and it's given me a chance to grow in character. I don't get mad, though, because it could be worse. I have small offers now, but I can get up and go work out, and I have good parents that care about me, so it's not that bad.
"Wherever my opportunity ends up at, I'll make the most of it and show those that didn't offer what they missed out on."
Herink has been working to improve facets of his game. He lost 20 pounds from his junior to his senior season to make himself more effective in the run game, and he rushed for 242 yards and 11 touchdowns. His time in the 40-yard dash dipped from 5.0 seconds to 4.75, and Cleveland coach Ron Crawford thinks that number could drop more due to Herink's work ethic.
"Recruiting has changed dramatically in the past three years," Crawford said. "The only things you can do as a coach are to let kids know what you need to do academically, and promote, call, do whatever you can to promote a young man. Ultimately, coaches see the kid at a camp and make a decision based on that.
"I'm really baffled. I've never seen anything like it. I keep asking myself, am I looking through rose-colored glasses because I believe he can play? I know this, though: Somebody will pick him up and will grab a really good quarterback that'll have a chip on his shoulder and will do whatever to improve."
Crawford said he was told by California offensive coordinator Tony Franklin that there are a number of Division III quarterbacks who are better than some at the Division I level but that "nobody fell in love with them."
"There are some guys with 30 or 40 offers that can't play," Crawford said. "Austin's not a dual-threat guy, but he can get himself out of trouble and be a factor in the run game."
The Herink family and the Cleveland coaching staff, along with a couple of college coaches, have been putting feelers out everywhere trying to get the quarterback a chance. He has until the UT-Martin spring game in April to decide whether he will accept their offer. Should he, Herink hasn't decided if he would go ahead and enroll for the fall, just to be around the campus and the program, or if he would stay in town, go to Cleveland State and be a volunteer assistant with the Cleveland football program.
"I wish I knew what it was," Herink said. "My guess is that football is moving toward the running quarterback where they can run a little bit, but that's not my game. Maybe if I was recruited eight years ago, I'd be a big-time recruit, but the game is moving towards read options.
"I know a lot of things open up after signing day, so I'm probably going to wait around and see what happens. I always thought I would have a signing day, with a ceremony to cap off my high school career. Hopefully something opens up late, but until then I'm just going to try to do the right thing,: have good grades, not get in trouble and work hard. It'll pay off eventually."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.
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