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Giger: Giving scholarship offers to 8th graders now common, but still feels troubling

Photo from DJ Pickett Twitter

Offering a scholarship to a kid in 8th grade used to be a big deal, an oddity that would raise some eyebrows and make people say, “Really?” But now, it’s becoming so common that it doesn’t even seem to generate any questions at all.

Monday night, Penn State offered 8th grader Zahir Mathis, a 6-foot-6, 230-pound defensive end/tight end from Imhotep Charter in Philadelphia. This is the first Division I offer for the young man, according to his Twitter feed.

This is, however, the third 8th grader that Penn State has offered since January. And the Nittany Lions even offered a 7th grader back in September.

Here are the other two 8th graders offered by PSU:

** QB Wyatt Becker (6-2, 165) from California. Here’s our story on his offer.

** ATH DJ Pickett from Florida. If you think offering an 8th grader is rare, just check out the list of schools already interested in Pickett, according to this picture from his Twitter account. It’s not clear if he has an offer from all of these schools, but he definitely does from Alabama, Florida State, Florida, LSU, Miami and USC.

** Back on Sept. 28, 7th grader Amari Sabb received his first offer from Penn State. Sabb is a receiver and defensive back from New Jersey. He’s also the younger brother of 5-star safety Keon Sabb from IMG Academy in Florida, who also is being recruited by Penn State and just about every other major program.

Look, all of this is what it is with regards to offering these very young players. I guess we’ve all just come to the understanding that the competition for talent in major college football is so fierce that these schools feel like they have to get involved with kids as early as 7th or 8th grade.

Maybe I’m alone in this line of thinking — although I hope not — that it just feels icky that college sports has gotten to the point where it’s common to be sending out scholarship offers to 13- and 14-year-old kids.

Yes, this is the new normal. Yes, Penn State is doing what other schools are doing in order to keep up with the Joneses.

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But man, can we not let these kids be kids anymore?

Do grown men who make millions of dollars coaching and who are CEOs of massive football factories really feel like they have to send out scholarship offers to 8th graders in order to keep up?

The answer is yes, obviously.

And the fact that these offers barely even get questioned any longer by fans or media is, quite honestly, a little troubling.

I remember how much of an uproar there was when Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight offered a scholarship to 8th grader Damon Bailey in 1986. Knight made things worse when he proclaimed the kid was “better than any guard we have right now.”

But hey, that was a lifetime ago in college athletics. I fully get that times have changed. And now football and basketball schools everywhere don’t seem to bat an eye offering scholarships to 8th graders.

And that’s unfortunate.

Excuse me, now, since I’m an old man and I need to go outside and yell at some clouds.

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Written By

Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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