By Joe Juliano, The Philadelphia Inquirer –
PHILADELPHIA — When Tom Lemming says he’s going on the road to visit with the top high school prospects in the country, he really means it.
“I’m driving this year between 55,000 and 60,000 miles in just four months,” said Lemming, the author of Tom Lemming’s Prep Football Report, considered in some circles the bible of college football recruiting. “I’ll be in every single state except Alaska, and I’m almost in every single city.
“I did some in October, some in November. After Christmas, I went all the way to national signing day. Now I’ve been on the road the last two months and I have one more month to go.”
Lemming, 56, spent time last weekend at Cardinal O’Hara High School meeting with some of the Philadelphia area’s top high school prospects, including 6-foot-9, 270-pound Penn Charter defensive tackle Mike McGlinchey and Woodbury quarterback Anthony Averett, as part of a program conducted by the National Collegiate Scouting Association.
Lemming, who lives outside Chicago and hosts a college recruiting show on CBS Sports Network from September until national signing day in February, began evaluating prospects in 1978, before the Internet and cell phones. Instead of seeing approximately 2,000 players as he does now, he was lucky to meet with 200.
“We had 16-millimeter film, not DVDs,” he said. “I had to go to each individual school, sit down with the kid and the coach, and watch on the projector because they’d never allow me to take the film out of the school. So I had to go from school to school.
“I was the only one doing national stuff and I had to travel around. My idea back then was, everybody in Philadelphia knew who the kids were from Philadelphia and South Jersey, but they didn’t know who the top guys were in Chicago, Boston, or L.A. My idea was to bring it all together. I enjoy it just as much now as I did then.”
For Lemming, the key to his method is the personal interview. While he watches a lot of tape, the face-to-face interaction tells him about “a player’s desire and heart.”
“The questions I’m asking him, I’m trying to find out how much he really loves football,” he said. “It comes down to how much he really wants it, and talking about his dreams and desires about playing. It’s about work ethic and a desire to get to the next level.”
Lemming conducted several interviews during his stop at Cardinal O’Hara and appeared very impressed with both McGlinchey, who has committed to Notre Dame, and Averett, who has about 15 offers, including one from Alabama. Both will be seniors in September.
“McGlinchey is probably the best player I’ve seen in the area,” Lemming said. “He’s an impressive-looking kid. He has a great attitude. He needs to improve his strength, but he has the potential to dominate.
“I like Averett a lot. I think his stock is rising faster than anybody in this area. He’s no longer a surprise. He’s a very good player.”
As a keen observer of college recruiting, Lemming is impressed with the work being done by head coaches Bill O’Brien of Penn State and Steve Addazio of Temple.
“I told the national press about six months ago that with the (Jerry) Sandusky scandal, it could take Penn State a year or two to rebound,” he said. “But the hiring of O’Brien was a fantastic move. He’s put together what now would be a top 10 recruiting class for next year. Recruiting is about two things — work ethic and personality — and I give him an A-plus in both.”
Lemming said he has known Addazio since the current Temple boss was a high school coach, and has followed his career closely.
“He should have been a head coach long before he got to Temple,” Lemming said. “Wherever he was, he was one of the premier recruiters at that school. He’s taken Temple and embraced it and hit the ground running. He knew exactly what to do. He’s a motivator, a personality, and a very hard worker.”
After more than three hours at Cardinal O’Hara, Lemming left to meet with more prospects in northern New Jersey. He would cross Pennsylvania later that night to make scheduled stops the next day in Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Indianapolis.
But he really doesn’t mind the traveling. As a history buff, he enjoys paying visits to landmarks in different cities. He listens constantly to satellite radio and also carries CDs of old Jack Benny shows.
“I guess I’m the only person that travels and sees everybody nationally,” he said. “Everyone else is more regional still. They don’t go to each high school and see everybody like I would do. I guess no one is dumb enough to. Covering the country is really tough, but I love it.”