Rajan Nanavati, Editor and Founder of Hail To The District
It’s one of those obvious facts that we often tend to overlook: recruiting is a two-way business partnership that is comprised of a recruit choosing at which school he’ll play football and the school choosing which players they’ll recruit. When a player enrolls at a particular school, that’s the culmination of each side determining that it’s in their own best interest in making that commitment.
But there are a few “behind the scenes” things going on during this process, which many people are familiar with, but even more, tend to overlook as key points in the recruiting process.
That’s why we wanted to come up with some of the key “behind the scenes” aspects of high school football recruiting.
Colleges Are Scouting Students On And Off The Field
For students with legitimate aspirations of playing high school football, whether through a scholarship or as a potential walk-on, they know that every game is an opportunity to achieve that goal. If they’re good enough, word will get around quickly. If you have even the slightest bit of talent that a college football program would value, that school is going to send a scout to one of their games.
But that scout isn’t just watching how that kid performs on the football field, because at the end of the day, they’re still student-athletes. So they might do a little “poking around” – has the kid ever been in trouble? What do his neighbors have to say about him? How does he treat the rest of the staff at the school – especially his teachers?
In today’s world, where video footage is available to anyone with a mobile phone and information is available through multiple different channels, it’s not hard for college football programs and coaches to see and learn everything they want to know about a high school recruit in a short amount of time. But what they don’t know is about the kid himself. Scouts will increasingly tell you that the majority of their job is finding out about the kid more as a person, and less as a prospect.
The Top High School Recruits Are Inundated With Recruiting Outreach
For many student athletes, it can start as early as the ninth grade.
First, there will be the letters, and maybe even emails, from college programs showing their interest. From there, the volume of mail and email begins to grow at an exponential rate – sometimes with recruiting mail coming in by the box-full on a daily basis. It’s not uncommon to see top high school recruits have boxes upon boxes of universities reaching out to them with offers to play college football.
Yet again, it doesn’t stop there. Somehow, some way, college coaches get these kids’ cell phone numbers and commence with every kid’s favorite way of communicating: text messaging. If they can’t get their cell number, they’ll find the kid’s social media accounts, and reach out to them that way.
recruit in a short amount of time. But what they don’t know is about the kid himself. Scouts will increasingly tell you that the majority of their job is finding out about the kid more as a person, and less as a prospect.
Point being: when a school decides they’re interested in you, they’ll employ every tactic they possibly can to get in front of that high school player, and ensure they’re on the short list of schools that the athlete will choose from.
College Football Coaches Meticulously Dissect Every Prospect
In small towns to big cities all over the United States, there are high school football players who are cheered on by classmates, lauded by fans, and written about by the local media. While many of them will be quickly brought down to Earth by their high school football coaches, at some level, they’re also used to hearing how great they are.
So imagine the idea of a group of college football coaches sitting in a room, mercilessly – and endlessly – dissecting that player, nitpicking at almost any shortcoming, real or perceived, that player might have. The kid who might be the star running back at his local high school would probably be sick to his stomach listening to the coaches at a college football recruiting meeting debating whether he has the speed, strength, footwork, agility, or heart to make it at their program.
Sometimes, this level of analysis can cause a program to “overthink” and miss out on a talented prospect – it happens all the time. As the saying goes, “a camel is a horse designed by a committee.” But there’s also strength in numbers – one or two people might easily come to the same decision, but get enough people in the room, and someone is bound to have a dissenting opinion. That type of insight is valuable when a school decides whether it’s going to hand a scholarship to a kid.
Recruiting Is Like Pitching: Begin With The Starter, End With The Closer
As the students show interest in a particular school’s recruiting efforts, the coaching staff at that school – or often that school’s recruiting coordinator — will assign a coach to oversee that student’s recruitment to the school. Usually, that coach directly oversees the position for that recruit – ie, the running backs coach would handle the recruitment of a running back. That relationship is absolutely instrumental throughout the recruiting process, as the coach and student have to build not only a rapport with each other but also have the ability to communicate honestly and directly.
But when it comes down to those final few days before national signing day, that’s when schools often decide to bring in another coach to “seal the deal.” If the position coach is the starting pitcher, then it’s usually the head coach who’s the closer.
Former LSU head coach Les Miles might not have been the most successful coach when it came to X’s and O’s, but he might have been the best recruiting head coach in the SEC – even over Nick Saban. One evening spent with Miles, and the young men in Louisiana and Texas couldn’t help but enroll in LSU next fall. Former head coach Mack Brown was an indomitable force in the Texas high school football circuit – if Coach Brown visited a recruit, it was a done deal that he was going to Austin next Fall.
But no coach in college football history may have been a greater closer than Bobby Bowden at Florida State University. Bowden turned FSU into a national powerhouse in large part because of his ability to sway the minds of athletes in the fertile recruiting grounds all over Florida.
The ability for a head coach to come to a recruit’s home, sit in their living room, connect with the student, his parents, his siblings, his grandparents, his neighbors, and even his pet(s), is one of the most powerful deciding factors in where a kid ends up going to college to play football.
For more information on high school football recruiting, please click here.