If production was the only criteria that mattered in the recruiting process, then Dan Ifft of Dover High School would already have a ridiculous amount of scholarship offers at this time. But instead the 6-3, 180 pound wide receiver, who in 11 games recorded 102 receptions in his junior year for 1,606 yards and 21 touchdowns, is still waiting on his first one.
Ifft, also a star on the hardwood for the Tornadoes who set the individual school record this past winter for steals in a season, chose to skip track season this year to work on his speed on the track with his father who went to the state meet in track when he was in high school at John F. Kennedy in Warren.
“My dad ran track and he knows all of these things about speed and things like that. So I’m just kind of working with my dad six days a week for about two hours a day,” the younger Ifft said. “I’m working out before school with the team and then after school for an extra two hours doing speed workouts with my dad every night and just trying to build on that.”
His dad, also named Dan, happens to be the head football coach at Dover. And both Dan’s are keenly aware of the fact that speed, or lack of the breakaway kind, may be the only thing that is keeping the young Dover prep star from receiving the Division I offers.
“As of right now I have no offers which is kind of discouraging but it keeps me kind of motivated to keep plugging away,” Ifft said. “It’s kind of frustrating. I was thinking by now that if no big schools would come yet maybe a little school would and I could go this summer to the camps and maybe get the big schools to look at me. But nothing is really working right now. It’s frustrating but you just have to keep plugging away at it.”
Ifft has had a couple nibbles. Scott Loeffler of Michigan invited Ifft and his dad to come to their spring practice on Tuesday.
“Actually (Tuesday) my dad and I are going up to Michigan,” Ifft said. “(Coach Loeffler) text me a couple of times today and we kind of got everything figured out. So I’m going up there tomorrow. And then on Wednesday night my mom, my dad and my brother and I are going to Indiana to watch spring practice and go to a couple of meetings there. That’s on Thursday and then we’re going to come home on Friday. And we touched base with Iowa a couple of times. But that’s pretty much it right now.”
And soon it will time for Ifft to make his first official assault on the stopwatch. He’ll attend the Nike combine at Ohio State on May 5 knowing that one fast 40-yard dash time could turn the whole recruiting process upside-down for him.
“Perci Garner and I will probably both be there,” Ifft said. “Illinois was talking to my dad the other day and they said they really like Perci. Perci is getting real close. As one of his best friends and his teammate, I think Perci is going to get something here pretty soon. I think the ball is going to start rolling for Perci and it’s pretty cool for him and he deserves it all.”
Like Ifft, the other half of the most prolific passing combination in Ohio last year has yet to receive any scholarship offers. According to Dover’s official statistics, Garner, who completed 242 of his 363 attempts, threw for 4,003 yards with 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Both Ifft and Garner were first-team All-Ohio selections last year and Garner was the Division III Co-Player of the Year on offense.
And Garner is currently tearing-it-up on the baseball diamond this spring for the Tornadoes.
“He’s pitching real well,” Ifft said. “The other night, we played our arch-rival (New Philadelphia) and Perci pitched a one-hitter against them. He pitched a one-hitter, struck out 10 batters and our team mercied them 10-0. So he’s doing real well right now and we’re proud of Perci.”
The two will most likely traverse the Midwest together this spring and summer attending football camps with the hopes of improving their respective lots in the recruiting process.
“The way I see it I have nothing right now, so if I go to these camps I have nothing to lose,” Ifft said. “I think Percy will go to a lot of the same ones that I do but I think he might also go to Illinois maybe. Illinois called my dad and said they’re not looking for a wide receiver like me, they’re looking one fast like a Ted Ginn kind of guy. So Illinois is not for me.”
There’s that speed thing working against him again. It eats away at Ifft.
“No I’m not a Ted Ginn kind of guy but just because I can’t a run a 40 in 4.5 it really frustrates me,” Ifft said. “One of the things that I feel that I’m best at is the actual game, when you’re actually competing. I feel like that’s probably one of my biggest strengths. When it’s third-and-nine and you have to go across the middle, I just feel like that’s where I’m at my best. And you don’t get to see that at these camps and that’s where I feel like I’m at my best. It’s really frustrating.”
Ifft has come to realize that the recruiting process can get the best of you on occasion if you let it.
“To be in this recruiting, a person like me has to be mentally tough,” he said. “There’s good days and there’s bad days and if you’re not a mentally tough person then you’re just going to crumble. Sometimes I have sat back and thought is everything slipping away? But I know there’s a lot of time left and we’re going to keep plugging away because I just love playing football and I’ve grown up around it and my father is the coach and I just love the game and I love everything about it. It’s just my passion I feel.”
But then Ifft quickly puts it all in perspective.
“You know there was a teacher at my school, she was a great lady and she effected so many people’s lives in our town, and she’s battled cancer for the past year and a half and she just passed away (Sunday) morning,” Ifft said. “Well her calling hours are tomorrow and so is my Michigan trip and I sat down with myself and I said ‘what would she want me to do?’ And she would say ‘just keep fighting, just keep believing in yourself and just go for it.’ And she would want me to (go to Michigan).
“She’s been like my motivator. I saw her struggle but she’d never let you see her struggle. I mean you could see it but she wouldn’t like whine about it or cry about it, she would just keep fighting and fighting and fighting.
“So I went over to see the family tonight and I hung out with her sons all night long and her husband came up to me and told me to keep plugging away. He said that something good will happen for me if I just keep believing in myself and he told me that Jodi (Mamerella) would want me to do this.”
Mamerella was Ifft’s language arts teacher. It was one of the honors classes that Ifft, who boasts a 3.8 GPA, has taken at Dover. Ifft honored her in a unique way during this past basketball season.
“Earlier this year during basketball, we could kind of tell that it was almost her time, and it was like one of the last games she came to,” Ifft said. “I wasn’t going to get a tattoo, because I don’t really like tattoos, but she’s always been really special to me and I love her death and I pray for her every night. So I had one of my friends put a JM over my heart in black and white and I showed it to her before the game. Just the smile that came upon her face is something that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. She just enjoyed it you could tell. She was just a blessing. It’s something I’m going to keep with me for the rest of my life.”
Now Ifft hopes to repay her for being his inspiration by being the same to her three young children who have survived her.
“She has three little sons, one is in the eighth grade, one is in the fifth grade and one is in the third grade and I just hope that I can do something good for her kids and help keep their minds off of things over the next couple of years,” he said. “But she’s my motivator and although it’s really sad, we’ll all deal with it.”
It kind of makes that important third-and-nine catch over the middle pale in comparison. But life goes on and, fortunately, so will the recruiting process for Ifft.
“My dad and I sat down today and we’re just going to keep plugging away at it,” Ifft said. “Every morning I wake up thinking that maybe something will come in the mail and really it doesn’t. But you can never lose hope. She never gave up. Like her husband said to me, I just need to keep believing in myself and something will come for me sooner or later. Out of all of these Division I colleges out there I just got to keep believing that there’s one coach out there that needs somebody like me. It may be a Michigan or an Iowa but it might not be but I just got to keep believing that somebody out there wants me.”
And if Ifft doesn’t secure that elusive scholarship before his senior season starts, he’ll have a great chance to get some recognition for himself in week one of the 2006 high school football season. Canton South, with Devon Torrence, comes to Dover to take on the Tornadoes at the Brick House.
“Yesterday I was out at the track running and I was just walking around the field at the time and I looked at my dad and I said, ‘You know how packed this place is going to be that Thursday night?’,” he said. “And he just looked at me and said ‘this is why we play football.’ There’s going to be a nice crowd and it’s going to be a big game for both teams.”
More importantly it could be a really big game for both Ifft and Garner. If they can light up the scoreboard against one of the best defensive backs in the state that night, who knows how much their respective stock could soar.
“He’s a great athlete. Everything he’s got he’s earned and I give him all the credit in the world,” Ifft said of Torrence. “It’s a fun challenge for Perci and I. It’s a great opportunity definitely. If I have a good game that game then maybe that will start to open all of the doors. He’s probably going to play man-on-man with me so I look at it as great opportunity. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Ifft will be a four-year starter at Dover this season. He went from receiver to quarterback then back to receiver in his first three years. He’s hoping to have the most fun that he’s ever had in his senior year whether he earns a Division I scholarship offer or not.
“I’m excited for the season,” he said. “We’re looking to just have fun this year. Whatever happens, happens and whatever comes, comes. It’s my senior year and I’m going to have a great time and just enjoy it all. It’s the last time I’ll go through it.”
He would like to win a playoff game however. Dover won their only playoff in the school’s history when Ifft was still in junior high school. Ifft himself lost in the first round of the playoffs in his freshman and junior seasons.
“I love this town. It’s a great town and there’s such great community support here,” Ifft said. “Everybody that I play with, since I was in the fourth grade, grew up together and everybody is real close here. I know our league schedule is not the greatest, but I feel like my father has prepared us well in our three non-league games so I don’t know.
“But I love playing down here in Dover, we have a great stadium and it’s great to run out of our tunnel every Friday night with smoke and all of our fans screaming. It’s a great feeling and it’s something I’ll never forget when I leave here whether we win a playoff game or not this year.”
Ideally Ifft would love to win a few playoff games for his dad’s sake in his senior year.
“Playing for my father is something that not a lot of kids get to experience and it’s something great,” Ifft said. “I think I take it for granted at times but I love my father to death and it’s fun going out there every Friday night and have him there on the sidelines with me, and I’m going to miss that a whole lot after this year. To me it would be very special to make it to the playoffs and win at least two games for him.
“Sure everybody in the state shoots for the state championship but this year my father and I decided to just have fun and enjoy my senior year. But I think when this year is all said and done it’s going to be a pretty sad time for me. I’m probably taking it all for granted right now, not really thinking about it that much, but when the book closes and I look back on it and I go off to college to play football, I’m going to thank my father for the rest of my life. He’s always pushed me and he’s never let me slack off and he’s always been there for me and he’s made me the person I am today. He’s a great individual and I just love him to death. He’s a great person.”
And Ifft knows that his father will continue to be there for him whether he’s playing for Ohio State or Ohio University or any other university after he graduates from Dover. Columbus is about a two hour drive away from the Dover-New Philadelphia area and Coach Ifft could make it easily after his Friday night game for any Saturday kickoff at Ohio Stadium if his son was fortunate enough to play there.
“I respect their program but they haven’t really talked to me,” Ifft said. “I have a friend that plays there, Kirk Barton, and I respect Ohio State’s program and I respect Coach Tressel but maybe it’s just not for me. Every little kid in Ohio when he grows up dreams about playing for the Ohio State Buckeyes and running out there on that field with all those people in the stadium. They’re still there in my mind but I don’t know if I’m there in their minds.”
But he can still dream. And right now that’s about all he can do.
“Every night I go to bed I pray that I’ll get an opportunity to play college football somewhere and be able to win a national championship,” Ifft said. “I watch college football in the fall and the bands and the crowds just give you goose bumps on your arms and that’s something that I want to be a part of. I want to play in front of 100,000 people and I want to be able to enjoy the experience of being in college. Before I go to bed at night I just hope and pray that some day I’ll have an opportunity to do that, like Ted Ginn and all those guys are doing right now.”
Only time will tell.
“We’ll see. It’s still a long process right now but it feels like it’s getting shorter by the day,” Ifft said. “I just wish that somebody would believe in me and want to take a chance. I won’t let them down. So we’ll see.”
Only time will tell.