HOUSTON – DeJuan Lewis admits that he took "a million pictures".
Standing on a beige backdrop, holding up a football in his right hand, Lewis, rocking a blue UTSA uniform, was finally getting to experience his first true recruiting visit, which had been a long time coming.
"For my first time getting the opportunity to do this, it was just a memorable moment," the three-star Class of 2022 prospect from Shadow Creek said.
For prospects like Lewis, who is set to visit TCU, Colorado, UH, Texas, Texas A&M, Houston Baptist, Air Force and SMU prior to the start of his senior season, this summer is crucial for their recruitment.
College coaches for the past year have been banned from getting to see future players in person, have them on campus for official or unofficial visits, and could not host camps.
Everything had to be done virtually and for the Class of 2021, they had to make their college choice slightly blinded due to the lack of in-person recruiting opportunities.
Now, with the NCAA lifting the dead period and allowing in-person recruiting again at the beginning of June, that won't be an issue for the Class of 2022 and beyond, which will be beneficial for both parties – the college and the recruit.
"The time spent with college coaches and the visits to these campuses are designed to give you an opportunity to see what school is a 'fit'," North Shore coach Jon Kay said. "The football part will take care of itself. Take your visits and embrace the experience. Pay attention to the way you feel and trust your instincts.
"Both colleges and the recruits did the best they could with the much-needed COVID restrictions, but it resulted in a lot of 'bad marriages'. Both sides need these visits to truly help the recruiting process stick."
With official visits being allowed again, some of the state's biggest prospects have hit the ground running and are set for very busy summers.
In March, Summer Creek five-star offensive lineman Kelvin Banks Jr., who is the No. 6 overall ranked prospect in Texas for the Class of 2022, released his Top 8 – LSU, Texas, Oklahoma, Oregon, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Arkansas, and Texas A&M.
As it stands now, Banks is set to have a remarkably busy month of June, visiting LSU (June 4-6), Oregon (June 8-10), Oklahoma State (June 16-18), Texas (June 18-20) and Texas A&M (June 24-26).
"I'm very excited to visit these schools that I have lined up for in-person," Banks Jr. said. "I feel I will get a better feel of the people there. I also feel like it would help a lot [in my decision] because you get to get the real feeling of being there."
Cypress Park five-star linebacker Harold Perkins, who is the No. 4 overall prospect in Texas for the Class of 2022, saw his recruitment blow up last spring but got the chance to visit places stripped away by COVID-19.
Perkins is set to take some visits this summer before he makes his ultimate decision of choosing one out of the 32 offers he currently holds.
"It's big because you really can't read people over the phone, but in person, you can," Perkins said. "I have been talking to the same coaches for over a year now, so I'm kind of excited to see them in person."
Then there are those guys in the Class of 2022 that don't have those 25 to 30 college offers listed on their recruiting profiles.
Take Bert Emanuel Jr. for instance. He is the quarterback at Ridge Point who is about to enter his senior season after a standout junior campaign and performance at the Elite 11 Houston Regional this spring.
He stands at 6-foot-2.5, 195 pounds, led Ridge Point to the fourth round of the Texas High School football playoffs and passed for 1,437 yards and 16 touchdowns, and currently only holds two offers – Texas Southern and Army.
Another victim of the COVID-19 pandemic's effect on recruitment.
"It's almost everything at this point, especially for COVID-19 seniors in the Class of 2022," Bert Emanuel Sr., his father, said about the importance of in-person recruiting restarting. "It's been almost 15 to 17 months since they've been seen by colleges and most have grown up, increased height and weight, had two spring seasons and one full season without being seen in person.
"So, it's vital. Extremely important."
The pressure that the Class of 2022 is feeling right now, is not the same for the Class of 2023 and 2024.
But for guys like Rueben Owens II, who is the No. 24 overall prospect in the country and No. 4 overall prospect in Texas for the Class of 2023, this is his first chance to really take visits since verbally committing to the University of Texas in February.
His first stop was LSU – one of his 25 offers.
"My visit was great, and I like everything," Owens said about his visit to LSU. "The hype room they added is nice. Seeing Coach [Orgeron] and Coach Faulk in person is always great. It helps a lot because you get to see the place in person."
Camps are another part of this recruitment equation that was taken away in 2020.
Klein Oak 2023 prospect Kaleb Black spent his first week of the live period in Clemson, South Carolina with Dabo Sweeny and the Clemson Tigers.
"It's very beneficial for me, especially being a 2023 guy that I can get my name out there early and get to meet coaches and people," Black said. "It's really a great experience!"
Black plans on attending Yale, Texas, and Baylor camps this summer as well.
Then you have your Class of 2024 guys, who are just getting their first taste of the recruiting buzz like Ridge Point's Karson Gordon, who will be the next QB1 after Emanuel Jr. graduates for the Panthers.
Gordon, who already has an offer from Washington State, took his first-ever recruiting visit to Ohio State, which included posing with the Heisman Trophy and getting geared up in the Buckeyes red and silver for a photo op.
"The photoshoot was great, it felt like exactly how I dreamed it would," Gordon said. "Seeing all the big recruits with all the stars get up on the camera and do that, and then to finally get to do it at The Ohio State, great experience.
"In-person recruitment will definitely affect my recruitment considering we are just coming off of the 'COVID' year. I still have plenty of time before any decisions have to be made so I'm just trying to catch as many eyes as I can this June."
I want to thank @OhioStateFB and @CoachCFitch17 for a great visit today. Learned a lot about the program and had a good showing during the one day camp. Thankful for the opportunity. @Footwork_King2 @Birm @TheQBTech @CoachKScholz @Coach_LaFavers @Perroni247 @Rivalsfbcamps pic.twitter.com/EmotCcidZu— Karson Gordon⭐️2024 (@KarsonGordon24) June 3, 2021