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