In one strange sense, Jack Herman was a college baseball player before he was a high school baseball player.
As odd as that sounds, Herman's decision to orally commit to accept a baseball scholarship from the University of Maryland before playing his first game for Eastern High School in Voorhees, Camden County, was only an extreme example of an expanding trend.
More high school athletes, especially in sports such as baseball and lacrosse, are committing earlier to colleges, many coaches say.
"I definitely see it, and I definitely don't like it," said Millville baseball boss Roy Hallenbeck, who coached Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout in high school.
Said K.C. Knobloch, an assistant coach who handles recruiting for the nationally prominent Moorestown girls' lacrosse program: "It's not slowing down. If anything, it's speeding up."
Many high school coaches believe the increased sophistication of youth sports - with high-powered travel teams at younger ages and a proliferation of national tournaments and showcases - has intensified the recruiting process.
In turn, Hallenbeck sees college coaches caught in a "vicious cycle" of trying to stay competitive with their peers by approaching younger athletes.
"I haven't talked to one [college coach] who likes it," Hallenbeck said.
Jenny Duckenfield, the lacrosse coach at Agnes Irwin School in Rosemont, Pa., has eight sophomores who have made college commitments. Lila Barker, a junior, is committed to Virginia, and freshman Grace Bartosh has committed to the admissions process at Harvard.
"She's young," Duckenfield said of Bartosh. "But I know Grace's work ethic and desire. She's a special student-athlete who couldn't imagine going anywhere else but Harvard."
As do many coaches, Duckenfield has some misgivings about the trend toward early commitments.
"I don't think any coaches are comfortable with this," Duckenfield said. "It's not really a good thing for the players, the coaches, or the sport. It's too soon. They're too young."
Seneca sophomore baseball player Nick Decker also has committed to Maryland. He made his decision before the start of this season.
St. Augustine Prep sophomore lacrosse player Evan Malgier committed to Ohio State before this season, and Lenape junior lacrosse player Gabby Fornia committed to Vanderbilt before her freshman season.
Shawnee junior lacrosse star Mike Shinske committed to Penn State about a month before the start of his sophomore year.
Shinske remembers "being a 15-year-old in the recruiting process. It was crazy."
Jim Shinske, Mike's father, said his son was "15 when we visited schools in the fall and spring of his freshman year. . . . It was a whirlwind process."
Penn Charter sophomore baseball player Mike Siani committed to Virginia in November of his freshman year.
"I've been following Virginia baseball for a long time, so it was somewhat of a no-brainer," Siani said.
Ralph Siani, Mike's father, said he was comfortable with his son's early decision.
"It's very difficult as a parent to see a better situation for his son, in terms of academics and athletics, than Virginia," Ralph Siani said.
Rutgers Camden baseball coach Dennis Barth said "it's getting crazy" in recruiting in his sport.
"Pretty soon seventh graders will be offered scholarships," Barth said.
Knobloch has a unique perspective. The husband of Moorestown head coach Deanna Knobloch, he has long handled recruiting for the Quakers, who typically turn out eight or 10 Division I athletes a year.
In addition, the Knoblochs' daughter, Kacey, is a sophomore midfielder at Moorestown. She committed to James Madison before the start of this season.
"She loved it there and felt it was right for her," K.C. Knobloch said.
Even though his daughter is an example of the trend, K.C. Knobloch said he has concerns about the way recruiting has accelerated in recent years.
"These are young girls who are still getting acclimated to high school as far as the social, athletic, and academic aspects," Knobloch said. "Now you're asking them to make a decision that could impact not only the next four years but the next 40 years."
Although athletes can orally commit to colleges at any time, they can't sign binding national letters of intent in sports such as baseball and lacrosse until November of their senior year.
"So now you have kids verbally committing and waiting two and sometimes three years before they can sign," Hallenbeck said.
Millville junior baseball player Buddy Kennedy committed to North Carolina before this season. So did Eastern junior Davis Schneider (Rutgers) and Lenape junior Tommy Gardiner (Maryland), among others.
Eastern baseball coach Rob Christ said the burgeoning business of youth sports has contributed to an accelerated atmosphere around high school sports.
"I just don't know what the hurry is," Christ said.
Herman, a sophomore outfielder and pitcher, said Maryland has been his "dream school" since he started playing baseball seriously as a 6- or 7-year-old.
He said the Terrapins offered him a scholarship after watching him participate in a showcase tournament in Florida in the fall of his freshman year. He committed about a month later.
"They told me not to rush," Herman said. "But the more I talked it over with my parents, the more right it felt. I feel as good about it now as I did then."