In his first game at Chanhassen High School this fall, Raymonte Maynard streaked down the field for a 73-yard touchdown. Maynard had joined the team only weeks before the season began after transferring from Minneapolis Washburn, and was elected the school’s homecoming king by the fourth game.
There were several other rare — for Minnesota — high-profile tales from the recently completed football season. Cretin-Derham Hall defensive end Jashon Cornell was touted by ESPN as the best high school junior in the country. Alabama, which seldom recruits in Minnesota, received a commitment from East Ridge offensive lineman J.C. Hassenauer. And Minneapolis Washburn senior Jeff Jones openly flirted with a last-minute transfer to Eden Prairie, which went on to win its third consecutive Class 6A football championship.
The personal stories each had a common link: a self-described mentor and college recruiting maverick named Levi Bradley.
“My biggest role is being an advocate for these kids to get as much exposure as possible,” said Bradley, whose role has been criticized by several prominent state high school coaches. “I don’t look for these kids. These kids have come to me.”
Bradley, who has been linked with at least four first-team Star Tribune All-Metro football stars, is the Midwest recruiting director for Unsigned Preps, a Florida-based organization that promotes potential college recruits and represents a new wrinkle in Minnesota in the sometimes contentious world of college football recruiting. For some players, many of them black, Bradley has taken over the role formerly played by high school coaches, some of whom find themselves being criticized by parents for falling behind in matching players with the best colleges.
At a meeting of local high school athletic directors in early October, Eden Prairie football coach and AD Mike Grant said he warned officials that coaches were losing influence with star players who attend countless offseason football camps and clinics and seek additional help getting noticed in the recruiting game.
“Other people are filling the void of what the high school coach used to do — and that’s not a good thing,” he said.
Bradley’s emergence comes as the NCAA, the governing body for major college athletics, has placed more scrutiny on agents and last year expanded the definition to include anyone who marketed an athlete’s ability for financial gain or received a benefit from getting an athlete into a school. The NCAA strictly prohibits student-athletes from getting benefits from “agents and advisers.”
NCAA President Mark Emmert made the issue a top priority in 2011 as he took over the regulatory body, saying that “we need to make sure that we have rules to stop that problem.”
Bradley, 32, declined to give details on how much money he makes in his recruiting work, or who pays him. He said he has a 9-to-5 sales job, and does not receive anything from the families of players he works with.
Minneapolis Washburn coach Giovan Jenkins said he believes Bradley played a role in Maynard leaving Washburn for Chanhassen, and influenced Jones’ thinking on looking elsewhere before staying at Washburn.
“[What’s happening is] detrimental to the sport,” Jenkins said.
Bradley’s influence extends to popular college recruiting websites, including 247 Sports, which has a partnership with CBSSports.com and tracks the latest recruiting news and rumors involving prized high school athletes.
“[He] keeps me in the loop,” said Steve Wiltfong, 247 Sports’ Midwest college recruiting analyst. “Levi’s got me kind of plugged in with J.C.’s [Hassenauer’s] dad.”
Some parents of Minnesota’s best football athletes have similarly been won over by Bradley.
“My son wasn’t anything. [I] mean, he’s a really good player, but he wasn’t noticed until Levi starting helping him get to these [football] camps,” said Sheena Cornell, the mother of Jashon Cornell, who is 6-4, 250 pounds. “And it’s not just black kids. He’s helped Caucasian kids, too.”
High marks from parents
Cornell’s mother was one of more than a dozen player parents, friends and community supporters — including Maynard’s mother, Tasha Harmon — who joined Bradley in a show of support as he was interviewed during this past season by the Star Tribune. Though Harmon said it was family considerations that steered Maynard’s transfer to Chanhassen, Bradley “introduced us to the different [football] camps” and has “been a blessing to our family.”
Maynard, an all-Missota Conference selection this fall, recently was offered a scholarship to the University of Northern Iowa.
But some top high school coaches view Bradley as a confusing addition to the high school football scene. Cretin-Derham Hall coach Mike Scanlan declined to discuss Bradley, saying only that “I am aware of him, and really have nothing to say.”
Chanhassen coach Bill Rosburg also declined to talk publicly of Bradley, or how Maynard ended up on his team. Chanhassen athletic director Austin Tollerson said that after learning Bradley was standing on the Storm’s sideline during a game this fall, he told him he was barred from doing so in the future unless he was authorized.
“Our coaches [were] not happy he was down there, distracting a couple of our players,” Tollerson said.
Tollerson added that “it wasn’t too clear” what Bradley’s role was, but that Bradley vaguely told him he was helping a few Chanhassen players with “support outside the school.”
Such “outside” support is part of an emerging recruiting world that runs parallel — but separate — to traditional high school football: One in which players travel to corporate-sponsored summer camps and spend the offseason in intense training, as opposed to one focused only on fall Friday nights and homecoming games.
Bradley has emerged because of the “inability” of high schools “to fulfill this gap,” said Ted Johnson, a local professional trainer who owns Performance Athletix and has trained NFL wide receivers Michael Floyd (Cretin-Derham Hall) and Larry Fitzgerald Jr. (Holy Angels).
Bradley also gets a glowing review from Jon Ragnow, the father of Frank Ragnow, a 6-6, 300 pound offensive lineman from Chanhassen who was named to this year’s Star Tribune All-Metro team. “He’s with Unsigned Preps, great guy,” Jon Ragnow wrote in an e-mail. Jon Ragnow, however, did not respond to a request to answer questions regarding Bradley.
“He recommended a couple of [football] camps for us that were really beneficial,” Ragnow wrote.
Michael Hassenauer, the father of J.C. Hassenauer, downplayed his family’s relationship with Bradley. He said he only briefly met Bradley at an Adidas-sponsored football camp in Michigan, and saw him at one other camp in Chicago.
“It was just a quick hello,” said Michael Hassenauer, who said Bradley was at the camps with other high school players from Minnesota.
But in recruiting circles, Bradley’s ties with Hassenauer seemed to be taken for granted.
One Alabama fan website, shortly before Hassenauer verbally committed to the school, featured this posting: “Just spoke to Levi Bradley of Unsigned Preps out of Minnesota. He tells me the center prospect hasn’t committed to Alabama ‘yet.’ Bradley added that an announcement would be coming soon.”
Bradley was with Jones, the Washburn running back and Star Tribune All-Metro team member, and Jones’ father when they visited Eden Prairie High School this past summer. Bradley also said, on an unrelated occasion, he and a recruiter from Texas Christian University met with coach Grant in his office.
Grant said he recalled both episodes, but was not sure who Bradley was or what the visits were about. During the past summer, Grant said Jones “had been interested in some way — in a beginning way, really — of playing out here”, and that Bradley was reportedly “the guy that [was] helping him, or mentoring him.”
A falling out at Washburn
At Unsigned Preps in Tampa, Fla., owner Ricky Sailor said the group had helped 123 high school athletes get $12 million in college scholarships and aid over the past three years. The Unsigned Preps website features pictures of its latest summer bus tour — Bradley said he wants to start a Midwest bus tour — that took 43 high school athletes on a tour of colleges, mostly in the South. While Unsigned Preps was helping players such as Cretin-Derham Hall’s Cornell, said Sailor, “it’s the kid that’s 5-9, 175 pounds that nobody believes in” that the group targets.
Sailor declined to reveal how much Bradley was paid, or give details of how Unsigned Preps was funded.
“It’s a “grant-funded program,” he said. On its website, Unsigned Preps is described as a part of All Sports Community Service Inc., a Florida nonprofit. All Sports Community Service, according to its 2012 federal tax form, had only $95,650 in annual revenue, but since 2008 had received $815,010 from unspecified sources.
Sailor also provided few details of how he met Bradley, who played high school football at Washburn.
“It’s through the grace of God,” Sailor said. When asked to elaborate, Sailor replied: “Next question.”
NCAA spokeswoman Meg Durham, while not directly addressing Unsigned Preps, said NCAA rules do not allow organizations to be compensated for getting athletic scholarships for students.
Jenkins, the Washburn coach, said he initially welcomed having Bradley “lend his services” to Washburn’s players because both men believed inner-city athletes were not getting enough help with college choices.
But after four years, Jenkins said the relationship soured and claimed Bradley began to undermine him — especially with Jones and Maynard, the team’s best players. Jenkins said Bradley, at one point, pulled Jones and Maynard out of a football camp Washburn’s players were attending and took them instead to a national camp in Detroit.
Bradley denied Jenkins’ claims — he said Jones and Maynard chose their new schools, not him — and was supported by the parents who sat with him as he was interviewed by the Star Tribune.
“It’s not like I’m going across town and looking for Jashon Cornell, Jeff Jones or the next big thing, ” Bradley said.
One convert to Bradley’s approach is Kent Joyner, a longtime Minneapolis youth football coach.
“I kept hearing, ‘Who is this Levi guy?’ I’m always skeptical,” Joyner said. “I told him, ‘We hear of people trying to help our black kids all the time, and we wanted to see what he’s about.’
Said Joyner: “He’s done every stinkin’ thing he’s said” he would do.