BROOKLYN, N.Y. – By all accounts, Isaiah Wilson’s visit to Georgia last summer to attend a football camp was a great success. According to both Wilson and his coach at Poly Prep Country Day School, it was a big reason the 5-star offensive tackle ended up committing to the Bulldogs last month and will sign with them on Wednesday.
This just goes to show that everything doesn’t have to go perfectly for things to work out. Consider the way the trip ended for head coach Kevin Fountaine and his star pupil.
Fountaine was one of the Bulldogs’ coaches for that camp, a common and NCAA-sanctioned practice that allows the school to pay the coach a modest stipend to provide instruction. Fountaine used his $400 to fly down to Atlanta with Wilson on a discount airline.
Everything went great on the trip down and at the camp. Their flight was smooth and getting a rental car and making the hour-plus drive to Athens was stress-free. Wilson competed well at the camp and really bonded with UGA offensive line coach Sam Pittman. That relationship proved to be paramount to Wilson’s decision last month to pledge his college years to the Bulldogs.
Fast-forward to the trip back. Fountaine and Wilson are in their appointed seats and their plane is on the tarmac when there came an unexpected delay.
“So we’re sitting on the plane in the runway waiting to come home,” Fountaine recounts. “We’re sitting in this one place for like two hours because of a thunderstorm. We finally start to move and they go back to the terminal. The thunderstorm is gone, but they say the pilot timed out. I’ve never heard of this in my life, but there’s only a certain amount of hours you’re allowed to fly apparently. And (the airline) doesn’t have another pilot available!”
Said Wilson: “That was rough. I had already missed an extra day of work so my paycheck was already going to be low. I was ready to get back. The last thing I knew it was raining and we’re sitting there waiting. I fell asleep. I wake up two hours later and we’re sitting in the same place.”
Their plane returns to the gate and the passengers are asked to deplane. Once in the terminal, they’re informed that there will not be another flight that day and the carrier declines to pay passengers’ ways on another airline “because it was an act of God,” Fountaine said.
“The best they could do was get us into Philadelphia a day later at like 11 o’clock,” Fountaine says.
So they bail. They decide to drive back to New York. They head to the rental car area.
They figured they would be crammed into a small sedan for the 13-hour drive back to New York. But they didn’t realize they’d encounter a Georgia fan at rental counter.
“The lady realized I was big and I had on Georgia gear,” Wilson said with a laugh. “She started flirting with us. We ended up in a big truck, an SUV. Then we drove back here.”
The moral of the story? One, recruiting isn’t always as glamorous as it’s made out to be; two, high school coaches are often the unsung heroes behind the scenes in recruiting.
Getting back to New York in a (relatively) timely manner is just one of hundreds of services that Fountaine and coaches like him perform for their players as they are going through the gauntlet that can be the recruiting process. Most of the time they are less visible and have more to do with under-the-radar prospects than they do elite recruits such as Wilson.
For example, there were all the levers Fountaine was pulling over the last few days with another senior on his Poly Prep team this past season. Ifeanyi Maijeh – trust me, that’s the correct spelling – is a late-blooming defensive end who isn’t rated by most of the recruiting sites. However, at 6-foot-2, 255-pounds, he was good enough and played well enough to draw a scholarship offer from at least one FCS school and garner interest from several other FBS programs.
Thanks in part to Fountaine’s phone calls and continued interest and involvement, Maijeh ended up accepting a scholarship offer from Temple over the weekend. It’s small in the grand scheme of recruiting, but for Maijeh it’s the difference between playing FBS ball and FCS, and comes with all the resident perks and privileges.
Those are the kinds of recruiting victories high school coaches are celebrating all over the country this week. The 5-star guys like Wilson are certainly fun and exciting, too, but more in a one-in-a-million kind of way.
High school coaching is something that Fountaine learned long ago he had a passion for. A retired New York City police officer, Fountaine was among the thousands of cops called to the scene after World Trade Center towers went down on 9/11 in 2001. He threw himself into coaching after that, first on a volunteer and part-time basis and then, after retirement in 2006, on a full-time basis.
A former “small-time player,” Fountaine started out volunteer coaching at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. He was offered the opportunity to coordinate Poly Prep’s defense in 2002 and did that until he finished coursework for his college degree in 2006. Then 40 years old with 20 years in the department, he was able to retire from the police force.
Poly Prep had a full-time job waiting for him. Now Fountaine has been able live out his dream of becoming a head coach.
“Coaching helped me get through that whole process,” Fountaine said of recovering from his experiences from the 9/11 disaster. “I used to get off to work and try my best to get down and coach. It helped me get my mind onto other things.”
And now Fountaine is able to serve in other ways. These wannabe college players are blessed to have them in their lives.