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January 31, 2013
Most people would prefer to work close to home, and it's not much different for football recruits choosing a school. But as in life, it's not always possible.
Cameron Dillard ended his senior year of high school football ranked as the No. 11 player in the state of Michigan. The 6-foot-3, 285-pound offensive lineman from Canton (Mich.) High had more than 20 offers and elected to commit to Florida early in 2012.
He is among a growing list of talented players who will be playing on the next level far from home.
"I only had one Big Ten offer," Dillard said. "I had a lot of other schools interested in me, but I did think it was weird that only Indiana offered me up here. I would have thought those other schools would be trying to recruit close to home because that is all you hear the coaches talking about."
Dillard had offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon and Washington in the Pac-12. Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi State, as well as Florida made offers in the SEC. Clemson, Florida State and Virginia Tech extended him a chance to play in the ACC.
Bret Bielema did not recruit Dillard to Wisconsin, but he did begin the process upon his arrival at Arkansas. Bielema has stayed in touch with Dillard, despite the offensive lineman respectfully declining the overtures.
"Arkansas, Arizona and Oregon are the ones that still call me," Dillard said. "I don't know why Michigan and Michigan State never showed interest in me. I guess they had their guys they liked. I am not upset at all because I don't know if I would have stayed up here anyways."
Michigan has one of the best offensive line classes in the country with four-stars Kyle Bosch from Wheaton (Ill.) St. Francis and Logan Tuley-Tillman from Peoria (Ill.) Manual already enrolled at the school. Three other four-star players are also committed to the Wolverines. That lists includes David Dawson of Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech, Chris Fox from Parker (Colo.) Ponderosa and Patrick Kugler of Wexford (Pa.) North Allegheny. Kugler is the son of new UTEP head coach Sean Kugler.
Michigan State has only one offensive lineman committed in Dennis Finley from Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech. Finley is also a three-star prospect and finished the rankings period just ahead of Dillard at No. 8 in the state.
Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said that the Dillard situation is rare but explainable.
"Sometimes you know more about the kids in your own backyard and you know if they will fit your scheme or not," Farrell said. "Michigan not offering is not a surprise because the Wolverines were getting a lot of interest early from their top choices so there was no need to go after a Plan B guy. But Michigan State not offering is a little odd.
"I think that by and large, kids want to stay close to home or even a state away. But with more games on television, families can see more games, and with the expansion of recruiting, when an SEC school comes calling it is hard to pass up that lure."
Trey Cheek is a cornerback at Lawrenceville (Ga.) Archer. His situation is similar to Dillard's.
Cheek lives in the heart of SEC country -- even holding offers from Kentucky and Tennessee to stay within the conference borders -- but he did not receive serious interest from Georgia or Georgia Tech and chose to go to the West Coast and play at Cal.
The 5-foot-10, 176-pound prospect said that there were no hard feelings and he understands the process.
"It was a little bit odd, but it is not up to me who the schools offer," Cheek said. "I went to camps and I thought I showed them what I could do. They were more interested in other people and I understand that, but there are a lot of other schools out there and a couple of them wanted me, so it all worked out."
Georgia Tech has only two cornerbacks in its class and both are ranked lower than Cheek, making the lack of an offer more surprising.
Farrell said that the Cheek story is more common in the Southeast than Dillard in the Midwest.
"Usually you see the Midwest kids stay up there because there are fewer of them and the schools go after them hard," Farrel said. "In the Southeast, especially in Georgia and Florida, there are just so many kids and the in-state schools can only take so many. A lot of college programs go into those states every year and come away very happy."
For Dillard -- who moved to Michigan from Greensboro, N.C., seven years ago -- the fact that local schools did not offer actually made the college choice easier.
"I think I fit better in the South and with Southern people, so it is good for me," Dillard said. "Yesterday it was minus-16 degrees here and we have to walk between our buildings at school. My superintendent is from Alaska or something so he didn't cancel school. I won't have to deal with that anymore.
"In North Carolina you are either an ACC or SEC fan and I was always a Gator fan, so this is a blessing."
Cheek, likewise, came away from the process excited that he will be dramatically changing his place of residence.
"This will be something entirely new for me," he said. "I have been in the Southeast my entire life and now I get to go and see a whole 'nother part of the country.
"Some guys want to stay close to home and I can respect that, but this is life experience and I get to keep playing ball."
Farrell thinks that this trend is one that could stick around, or even grow.
"Some of it is spot recruiting -- and teams will go anywhere to get a quarterback they like -- and some of it is relationship-based," Farrell said. "More and more there are guys coaching far away from where they played, but they still have roots in the area and so they reach out to coaches they know and get kids out of areas that don't seem natural.
"I think that with searchable databases like that at Rivals.com and other places, it adds to the ease of out-of-state recruiting. These long-distance moves won't ever become the norm because kids generally want to stay close to home and if they aren't the elite or the elite who are honestly thinking about the pros and have every program after them, there is hesitancy to leave the local area.
"But for those kids who want to play football and aren't getting in-state looks, the chance to play anywhere is better than not playing."