CACHE — For football prospects, recruiting is often an arduous process, a long and challenging road for young men trying to decide how and where to continue their athletic and academic journey.
For specialists like punters and kickers, that “long road” can be a literal one, with recruitment often having more to do with need than proximity. Both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have had out-of-staters as their most recent kickers, and with the trend in Australian kicking and punting schools, the recruiting process for special teamers is one of the most unorthodox ones there is.
That’s before you throw a global pandemic in the mix. All these elements have led Cache senior Ralph Fawaz on a wild journey that, in the end, appears to have landed him in a place he can call home.
Never mind that he’s yet to visit this home yet.
Flashback to this past December. Fawaz was frustrated, beyond frustrated. He knew he was capable of kicking at the college level and had been told by his high school coaches, kicking coaches, college scouts and more that he had a future at the next level.
He thought it was going to be the University of Tulsa, who invited him to the campus last spring and seemed like a great fit. Syracuse reached out soon after, and Fawaz kicked for coaches up in New York during the summer. Along came his senior season and Fawaz only further bolstered his case for colleges. He averaged more than 48 yards per punt, downed 20 of his 32 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard-line and connected on 6 of 8 field goals. Things were going to plan.
But there’s a saying about the best-laid plans. And by the early signing period in December, both Tulsa and Syracuse both signed different kickers.
“Recruiting...has been really, really tough,” Fawaz said. “I thought Tulsa was going to offer me. But they ended up going with someone else.”
So here he was, after Christmas, and Ralph was without a college and without a real offer. So he took matters into his own hands.
“I tweeted my highlights out and sent emails out to 87 schools. That was on January 2,” Fawaz said. “My whole mindset was all I need is one.”
And it was one surprise visit in mid-January that turned his fortunes. Shannon Moore, the special teams coach for the University of Wyoming, drove from Laramie down to Cache to meet Fawaz and watch him kick in person.
“They wanted to hear the ball come off his foot. The special ones, they just produce a different sound,” Cache head coach Faron Griffin said. “I thought (Moore) might be recruiting other kids in the area, but when he told me he had driven all that way just to see him kick, that’s when I knew this was special.”
Ralph knew it was special too. That gesture alone meant more to him than any camp invite campus visit could have.
“Coach Moore drove more than 11 hours to watch me kick and punt,” Fawaz said. “I don’t think any other coach would do that.”
By Mid-February, Fawaz received an official scholarship offer from Wyoming, the same day he received an offer from FCS school Houston Baptist. Other schools began to show interest late, including the University of Kansas. Ralph and his family were set to visit Laramie and a couple of other schools the following month.
Then, the world changed.
“We were supposed to visit (Wyoming) on March 26 and unfortunately the whole coronavirus lockdown meant we didn’t get to go,” Fawaz said.
Fawaz became just one of thousands prospective college football players who found themselves in no man’s land. With schools not in session and spring football out the window, there would be no campus visits, no chances for players to show their talents to interested college coaches.
“It’s altered a lot of things. Normally, this time of year, there’s college coaches hanging around wanting to see next group of guys about to be seniors,” Griffin said. “This whole thing has cost a lot of people a lot of things that, to most people, are unimaginable. It’s really a shame.”
Luckily for Fawaz, someone had given him a chance a month before everything turned upside down. Now, he had a decision to make.
This past weekend, Fawaz made his decision. Despite never having been to Wyoming, Fawaz committed to join the Cowboys. Because the university itself is not currently open, Fawaz does not have a letter of intent he can sign. However, he doesn’t believe he will change his mind.
“Coach Moore talked to my parents and they felt comfortable sending me there. It feels like home, especially with the coaching staff,” Fawaz said. “Plus I know the long snapper there, I’ve gotten to know him. I just felt real comfortable with the group of guys they have there.”
Perhaps the only thing that could cause Fawaz some discomfort is the weather. Fawaz, who was born in Florida but has spent most of his life in Southwest Oklahoma, heads to a state where the average temperature for the fall months that make up most of the football schedule is about 42 degrees, third-coldest among U.S. states.
Much like every other part of his recruiting path, it doesn’t faze Fawaz.
“I’ll get used to it,” he said. “I’ll have to, I guess.”