Signing day caps of recruiting process marred by pandemic
BATON ROUGE - In the waning hours of national signing day, four Catholic High football players put pen to paper, marking the end of a recruitment process turned upside down by COVID-19.
"It feels good," safety Michael Cerniauskas said. "I can't wait to get up there, personally."
Alongside three of his teammates, Cerniauskas officially signed with West Point. For him, there was no last-minute change of heart or hat selection to keep the audience captivated. Instead, his signature marking his desire to move forward, closing the chapter on his pandemic-era recruitment.
"The biggest thing was no visits and being able to go see all the campuses for what they are," Cerniauskas said.
Just like many events, meetings, and plans have been forced to shift from in-person to virtual, so too did recruiting. On top of making sure to have a solid internet connection, defensive tackle Jai White focused on finding that always personal crucial connection with coaches.
"Just communicating with all the coaches on Twitter, FaceTime calls, virtual visits [to] colleges," White said, after signing with Jackson State University.
While the pandemic forced these players, among so many others, to stay home instead of visiting campuses, some found a silver lining.
"The one thing I think the pandemic almost did help in was the amount of communication via phone and text from coaches," Cerniauskas said. "I feel like that was more than it would have been without it. So [I] really got to build a good relationship with all the coaches up there, and some of the players as well."
As the athletes adapted to a whole new process, families along for the ride did too.
"There was no more apprehension from us than there was, probably if it would have been normal," Michael's dad, Chris Cerniauskas said. "At the end of the day, I think Michael is very comfortable, and we're extremely comfortable where he ended up."
The elder Cerniauskas, a graduate of West Point, took a backseat approach to his son's recruiting.
While his son wasn't getting an up-close look at the program, he found relief in two former Catholic High players, now at West Point, counseling their soon to be teammate.
"Both of those players talked to Michael," Chris said. "That gave him more of a sense of confidence that his Catholic High brotherhood is now going to be his brotherhood at Army-West Point. I think that really put him in a very comfortable position."
Even as Michael capped off his signing day moment, and drastically different recruiting experience, by putting on a West Point cap, he admitted, pandemic or not, this process always involves a level of uncertainty.
"You're taking a leap of faith trusting the coaching staff, trusting other players up there, and trusting your decision making," Cerniauskas said. "So obviously, yes, it's a leap of faith. But it's one I feel very confident in, and think I'm going to thrive in."
Also signing from Catholic High: running back George Hart with Arizona State and Zach Boulet with Louisiana-Lafayette.
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