By JON MOFFETT
Mark Porter has seen scoutingohio.com go from his own personal fledgling website to one of the most trusted scouting tools in high school football in just a few short years.
The site is in its fifth year, and it has already seen an exponential growth, Porter said. In its infancy, the site would feature maybe 400 or 500 athlete profiles. This year, the site boasts a whopping 1,300 prospects.
His site has become so big, in fact, that his part-time hobby has almost become a full-time job.
“It’s kind of like one of those good problems to have,” Porter said. “This is what we hoped for when we started. This is one of those hobby-type jobs anyway. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but if you don’t mind what you’re doing, it’s not so bad.”
They say behind every successful man is a patient and supportive woman. Porter said his case is no different. His wife of six years, Stephanie, accompanies him on scouting trips, and is just as important to the site’s success.
“If it wasn’t for her being on board, it would definitely be a lot more stressful,” he said.
The Porters are blessed to have helped somewhat revolutionize the way high school players are scouted. In fact, the entire process has almost been reversed, thanks in part to sites like Porter’s.
Instead of athletes submitting highlight tapes to 50 coaches, they can now submit one to scoutingohio.com and have 50 coaches log on to watch.
“Football has always been big,” Porter said. “But now it’s more in your face and public. The coaches were always running around and watching tape. But it’s like the tree falling in the woods, if no one hears it, you never know about it.
“I think it’s going to come down to more and more people watching film on the computer,” he said.
Still, the transition to more web-based scouting has surprised even Porter.
“It’s hard to believe that in five years you can go from just getting coaches from watching tape to watching it right online,” said Porter, who has recently updated his site with more user-friendly options and video controls. “The video quality is better and pretty much everyone has high speed internet.”
Scoutingohio.com has gotten so big that the domain name may soon have to be changed. Porter said he hopes to add a more regional feel to the site.
“Right now, we have a pretty good footing in Ohio,” he said. “We hope to expand to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina and South Carolina.”
He said the site is just as much a service to the coaches as it is to the players. Since coaches get only a certain amount of days to travel for scouting purposes, his site acts like a road map, highlighting the best attractions around.
“These coaches can search players by area, grade point, average, position or whether they have scholarships,” Porter said. “To have a database like that right at your fingertips that amazing.”
He added, “It takes some pressure off college coaches, because if you’re a college coach, before you ever come to Youngstown you can go on the site and look at all the players you want to see from this area.”
That helps smaller schools who have only one or two prospects, he said.
But enough about how you find profiles on the site. What about who it is you’re looking for?
Porter says this year’s class is a little lean when it comes to the Mahoning Valley. He said there are a lot of quality players, as is customary for the area, but not as many prospects.
Oh yeah, there’s a difference.
“I always say prospect versus player,” Porter said, “Because you will have a kid who rushes for 2,000 yards, but he’s not going to play college football. But a great prospect might only have 10 catches, but he’s going to play in college.”
Porter ranks the top 100 prospects annually. This year, the top local prospect ranks in at No. 58. That spot belongs to Poland receiver Darius Patton.
“His feet are what make him so special,” Porter said of Patton. “Just the way he comes in and out of his routes, his breaks, he might be the quickest kid in town.”
Patton is joined by three others in the top 100. They are: Girard wide receiver Landon Smith (No. 64), Salem quarterback Trent Toothman (No. 95) and Ursuline running back Akise Teague. In total, 17 area athletes round out the top 200.
“This year is no where near a few years ago when the top 100 was littered with Youngstown-area players,” he said.
Porter said there is no scientific formula to when an area will have a boom in prospects. He stressed that fewer prospects does not equate to lesser talent.
“There’s a randomness to it,” Porter said. “You can’t say that just because it happened for 18 years doesn’t mean it’s going to happen this year. Plus it’s usually when you have a year like this, the next year there is more. Maybe the juniors and sophomores will be a strong class.”
Porter said the area is full of small-college players.
“We might have more MAC players and those mid-level guys than we usually do, but not as many of the top-tier guys,” he said.
Harding has three major-college prospects, while Mooney and Ursuline have two each, but schools like Howland, Columbiana, Hubbard and West Branch also have prospects, Porter said.
Porter said Hubbard linebacker Blake Novotny could “definitely be a MAC-type player if he can show something in his senior year.” His size [6-foot-3, 215 pounds] makes him a covetable commodity, Porter said.
Speaking of size, you’d have to travel to Beloit to find one of the largest prospects.
At 6-8, 265 pounds, West Branch’s Brandon Ferguson could stand toe-to-toe with many NFL players, and could look LeBron James right in the eye. Said Porter, “He’s huge. He just proves you can’t predict where someone is going to have genetics.”