On the fast track

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LEWISTON – Long before the cheering even started, Jared Turcotte knew it would stop some day.

The Lewiston High football star knew if he worked hard and honed his natural gifts, the cheers would eventually come, along with the attention and accolades and awards. Like a lot of kids his age, he dreamed he would hear the cheers on the football fields of Lewiston, then Newton, Mass., and – maybe – even one day in places like New York or Dallas or Chicago.

But he also knew that at some point he wouldn’t hear the cheers any more, and his mother made sure he understood at a very young age that as long as he thrived on the football field, he was going to have to take advantage of the doors it would open for him.

“I’ve always seen athletics as the ticket to the academic payoff,” said his mother, Nadine.

Now, some of the most prestigious schools (Holy Cross University, Brown University, Bucknell University, the University of Maine, and the list is growing as you read) in the northeast are vying for Turcotte’s athletic and academic talent.

And with National Letter of Intent signing period beginning exactly one month from now, Turcotte is trying to narrow down his choices and complete his vision by weighing options.

“I obviously want to play at a really high competitive level of football, but it is college and the education that I get in college is obviously going to be for the rest of my life, so you want to be at the right place academically, athletically and socially,” he said.

Deciding factors

A member of the National Honor Society, Turcotte plans to study pre-med, though he’s not yet sure what field of medicine he wants to pursue. Schools have assured him that his financial needs will be met through scholarships or grants, but can’t offer specifics until he’s accepted. He wants to play offense, though he won’t rule out defense. He’d like to play right away, but he knows it will take time to adjust to the college game.

Recruiters are making promises, some they might not keep, and coaches are treating him like a king, months before they’ll get him into training camp and try to break him down to see if he’s cut out for the demands of college football. There are applications to fill out, phone calls, campus visits to make and pages and pages of NCAA rules to follow. There is film to send to prospective schools, and advice coming from countless directions.

If there’s any confusion or anxiety, Turcotte isn’t revealing it. On the contrary, he is reveling in what might be the most important time in his life.

“There’s pressure, but there’s not a bad situation for me,” he said. “I’m going to play college football and I’m not going to pay too much to go to school, so…”

A great vision

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Nadine Turcotte knew early on that her son had a passion for football, that he especially loved watching Boston College play on television and wanted one day to play there.

“If another person can do it, then you can imagine yourself doing it,” she told him. “Just do what it takes to make it happen.”

Turcotte understood earlier than most student-athletes what it would take.

“When he came in as a freshman,” recalled Lewiston varsity football coach Bill County, “he made some statements about ‘This is what I need to do to get where I need to go. My family can’t afford for me to do what I want to do. In order for me to be successful, I’m going to have to be a great athlete. In order to be a great athlete, I have to balance the weight room with my grades.’ He really has a great vision.”

Turcotte noticed the schools, then the schools noticed him. Some started to show interest after he became Lewiston’s starting varsity running back midway through his sophomore season and rushed for more than 1,000 yards. He began hearing from more schools at the end of his junior football season. The deluge of letters began at once, and the Turcottes soon became entangled in the complicated recruiting process.

“The NCAA schedule, and the guidelines – I didn’t know anything about that before,” Nadine said.

The schedules and guidelines can be dizzying.

There are certain times of the year when, and certain places where (at school, at home), coaches can and can not contact recruits – called contact, dead, evaluation or quiet periods – depending on whether their school has a Division I, I-AA, II or III football program. Prospective Division I and II athletes are required to register with the NCAA clearinghouse, receive certification for their amateur status and ensure that they meet the academic eligibility requirements (including GPA, SAT and ACT scores).

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Recruiting kicks in

Turcotte attended Boston College’s football camp over the summer and performed in front of dozens of college coaches. He also began traveling to campuses such as Dartmouth and Harvard for unofficial visits. Holy Cross and Bucknell also emerged as intriguing suitors. A number of NESCAC schools, including Bates, Bowdoin and Colby colleges, made pitches to him.

Before his senior season kicked off, he started receiving national media attention (Sports Illustrated named him the state’s top player before the season started), which increased the volume of mail and phone calls.

Turcotte found peace from the distractions at his job, working at Albert & Burpee Funeral Home in Lewiston, and on the field, where he was one of the most dominant two-way players in the state.

The activity increased again when football season ended in November. He re-took his SAT and scored 1620 (his 92.9 average at Lewiston ranks him 27th in a class of 318). He made an unofficial visit to the University of Maine, where he watched the Black Bears play the University of New Hampshire, and took a tour of the campus and the athletic facilities. He came away impressed, and the state university moved up on his list.

“I didn’t know that they had such nice facilities,” he said, listing the school’s improved athletic amenities. “It would be nice to play in that kind of facility.”

Making campus visits

Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove later paid him a visit at his home and met with County and Lewiston Athletic Director Jason Fuller. They credit Cosgrove with helping to slow Turcotte down, something few opponents could do last fall. He had originally set a Christmas deadline to make his decision. Now he’s going to wait until after he makes his official campus visits this month.

“I don’t think he likes to be in flux,” County said. “I think he’s anxious to break this down to a couple of schools. This indecision is not within his character.”

“There’s definitely that part of me that wants to say ‘All right, I want to go there and that’s the end of it and I won’t have to deal with anything else,'” Turcotte said. “But it’s not really a problem. It’s definitely a good problem, I guess you could say, that I have to make this decision with all of these options available.”

The NCAA allows recruits to make five official campus visits, where the host school is allowed to pick up transportation, room and board and “reasonable entertainment” costs. Turcotte and his mother, who teaches second and third grades at McMahon Elementary School, plan to travel to Orono next weekend before they go to Portland for the Fitzpatrick Trophy Award Banquet. Turcotte is a finalist for the award for the state’s outstanding football player. Then they’ll go to Bucknell, in Pennsylvania, the following weekend.

Other visits could be added but haven’t been scheduled. Dartmouth, an early front-runner in the process, would have been on the itinerary, but the school told Turcotte recently that, while he met its academic standards, they no longer had a place for him on the team at his academic level. Turcotte said he’s disappointed, but added “I can’t really fret too much about it.” It’s helped that Brown has since said it does have a place for him and has asked for game film.

He’ll spend two nights on campus during his visits, rooming and hanging out with current players, meeting with coaches and touring the campus with his mother. He said he plans to pick the brains of the players and learn as much about the school as possible. His advisors are telling him to rely on more than his potential future teammates for candid information.

“It’s hard to get a feel. You go and you get submerged with the football part of it,” said Fuller, a heavily-recruited three-sport star at Lewiston in the early 1990s. “He’s got to make sure he gets outside of the football and sees the other parts of the school.”

Nadine Turcotte is confident her son will take it all in.

“He’s always been disciplined and goal-oriented. He’s always been driven,” she said. “He’s always known the importance of having to get it done and do what it takes.”

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