Many high school athletes begin their careers with aspirations of playing college sports.

The recruiting process can be grueling and stressful, especially for smaller rural high schools such as Halifax County High School. But colleges such as Ferrum College don’t shy away from rural high schools, instead they embrace them knowing that there are gems all throughout those schools.

Ferrum College is a Division III college outside of Roanoke. They are a member of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) and compete in a combined 25 sports for men and women, most recently adding men’s and women’s track and field this year.

Halifax is currently well represented at Ferrum with three alumni on the men’s basketball team — Micheal Spraggins, Kendal Dixon and James Smith Jr. — two 2020 graduates headed there to play football — Amonse Burwell and Zyon Wilson — and a 2020 graduate going to play softball, Skyla Strohm.

The coaches for those three teams, Cleive Adams (football), Tyler Sanbron (basketball) and Gerald Culler (softball) know the talent that Halifax and schools like it have and look to those schools to help provide for them at the college level.

Adams is a 2002 Ferrum graduate and was recently named the head coach after spending the last six seasons at Averett University. Adams knows very well the importance of recruiting at smaller high schools.

“There is not a lot of difference in identifying the talent I think the major league difference that you run into when you are recruiting some of your smaller schools is you have a better connection with the head football coaches, and you are also dealing with a smaller number of recruits so it allows you to single out and identify those young men and give them a little bit more of your time as you move through the process,” Adams said.

Sanborn who now has three former Comets on his roster says that schools like Halifax are his “bread and butter,” and they really try to hit the rural high schools hard when recruiting.

Adams says that his philosophy is not to look over the smaller schools. His staff is going to have a physical presence in those schools. “To pass by some of the rural schools is not a benefit to us,” Adams said. “We don’t lose track of our focus on our small schools. There are some gems in those places,” he added.

The softball program at Halifax has created a name for itself by producing top talent year after year and caught the eye of Culler at Ferrum years ago.

“Halifax has a very good softball program, and they have been on our radar for a long time,” Culler said. He also said that him and his staff try to make it to several games a year as well as the travel softball tournaments to try and find talent.

Adams says each spring after commencement, him and his staff will go out on the road for two straight weeks of on the road contact with recruits where they identify and define their recruiting footprint.

“We will determine that footprint based on academic fit, athletic fit and we also determine that footprint based on our current roster and what young men we have on the current roster might dictate some of the places that we might go and visit in the spring,” Adams added.

The coaches also are dealing with the fallout of COVID-19 and the impact that it may have when it comes to recruiting their next class of players. Sanborn says that the biggest issue for them is going to be identifying players for next year.

Culler is usually out at a travel softball tournament this time of year, and until some of those resume it is just a waiting game. “We can’t see anyone new until they start opening up and playing some more this summer, but I am excited about getting out and watching some games,” Culler said.

Adams and his staff have been hard at work during the pandemic, working from home and from the office reaching out to schools all across their recruiting area.

“We have been hitting our footprint from the office and from home. We have contacted 514 schools in the last two weeks. We generated just shy of 2,000 film evaluations within our area of Virginia, North Carolina, a portion of South Carolina, Tennessee and Maryland as we establish our footprint moving forward at Ferrum,” Adams said.

“We have accumulated a ton of information on what talent is out there in the areas that we want to work up and identify talent in and now we are moving forward in terms of securing contact information moving into the fall season,” Adams added.

Recruiting college athletes out of high school has changed a lot over the years, but many coaches such as those at Ferrum still believe in getting out there and interacting with the coaches and athletes at the high schools and meeting them face-to-face.

Johnathan Kirland is a sports writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him jkirkland@gazettevirginian.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnathanK_GV