Every year since making the official decision to move from FCS to FBS, Appalachian State’s recruiting process has come with increased velocity and enhanced learning.
Given that the NCAA seems to alter the boundaries surrounding football recruiting annually it pays to be change-oriented, and 2018 will likely bring greater alterations for all college programs – App State included.
As the ring leader of Appalachian’s recruiting circus – and it has to legitimately feel that way at times – Co-Defensive Coordinator and Recruiting Coordinator Scot Sloan has to apply old lessons to new guidelines with every successive Mountaineer class.
As the 2018 recruiting process gradually revs its engines, Sloan takes us through not only App State’s key 2018 priorities but also multiple broad-reaching alterations that will change the dynamic in ways both disruptive and productive.
Appalachian State’s RockSquad18 is already underway and beginning to gain steam.
Q: Spring practice becomes an evaluation period for younger talent that could influence how your successive recruiting game plan plays out. Did you see anything in 2017’s spring camp that changes the plan for the 2018 class?
Sloan: ”I don’t think anything monumental as far as a ‘wow’ type of decision, as in we thought we needed one of these in the 2018 class and now we don’t.
”I think in looking at our template, where our seniors are and even where our juniors are, because that’s what I learned several years ago when we made the FBS transition. It’s not just recruiting off your senior class but looking at your junior class, and really recruiting two years down the road.
”I still believe that the redshirt sophomore year is when you can start using the measuring stick for us, as far as that guy being able to bring anything to the table. I think anything before that is a home run, but certainly with each kid that you sign their redshirt sophomore year is when they’re in the mix, offensively and defensively.
”A lot of those guys we redshirted last year, that are redshirt freshmen this fall, are guys we’ll give strong looks to special-team’s wise, especially skill position guys. Special team depth will get better because of the guys we redshirted last year.
”It’s always a moving target, but I think the numbers we look for at each position are pretty much on track. But, we’ll have to ebb and flow with the roster, every week and every month.”
Q: Are there any position groups of higher priority? For example, there hasn’t been a traditional nose tackle signed in the past two classes and there was space for more linebackers in the 2017 class.
Sloan: “Really, our philosophy defensively is a little abnormal with defensive linemen. We’re not looking for the 6’3”, 290-300 lb. type of guys, they really don’t fit our scheme and how it’s set-up and structured. Our noses can play end and our ends can play nose if you sign the right guys.
”With our guys up-front it’s all about finding quick-twitch and explosive guys. We feel like Myquon Stout could be as good at defensive end as anyone on the roster. But, then some of our defensive ends, like Caleb Fuller has played nose for us before and can be extremely effective.
”It’s funny, in the recruiting process the guys who tend to get poached most often are the 290-300 pounders, because that’s what 90 percent of college football guys look for in their defensive linemen up front. For us, it’s more about sudden guys.
”So, we’ll sign at least three, possibly four, defensive linemen in this class. But we won’t sacrifice the skill set we want, whether it’s a 235-lb. guy in high school whose body type may lend to being 270 in two years. Then, he could be a nose, but he’s got to be quick-twitch and sudden.
”Linebacker-wise, Demetrius Taylor (2017 signee) we actually took as a Dog (boundary-side outside linebacker) who may or may not grow into a hand-down guy. His film in high school is with his hand down and there’s no doubt he can be an explosive defensive end, but we think he can be explosive off the edge in a two-point stance, as well.
”Taking (Tim) Frizzell and D’Marco (Jackson) we still got two inside linebackers, so it’s not a deal where we’ve got to sign seven linebackers or we’re in trouble. We feel really good about the way that (Anthony) Flory, Jordan Fehr, and Ed Davis, who got bitten by the injury bug a little in the spring, are playing when healthy.
”So, we feel good about four inside linebackers at that position being able to play and contribute at a high level. That gives us the opportunity to bring Frizzell and Jackson along, so that this time next year they’re redshirt freshmen going through spring and you’ve got two guys that are building that depth.
”We’ll take two, possibly three, inside linebackers. We’ll probably try to find another pass-rush guy for Dog, and then a Nickel/Anchor (field-side outside linebacker) in this class. But, the biggest thing is about finding the right guys that are the right fit, that have the right mentality of what we consider an App guy.
”The strong safety is almost what you look for in that Anchor spot. Then, with the free safety, with the way the free and the Will (weakside inside linebacker) and the Dog are all tied together in run fits and coverage, the free safety has a pretty good understanding of the Dog position.
”Usually those kids are your bigger safeties anyway; they’re taller, longer, heavier guys. So, we started cross-training some guys for that possible penny package (six safeties on the field simultaneously) with a better cover guy at Dog.”
Q: Appalachian took two running backs in the 2017 class, which isn’t typical. Do you anticipate that changing anything at the position in the ’18 class?
Sloan: ”We’ll probably plan on taking one in the ’18 class; with Jalin (Moore) being a junior and having two years left, and a senior (Terrence) Upshaw having a really good spring.
”Then, there's (redshirt freshman) Marcus Williams, Jr., and we talk about it in our defensive meetings, he’s hard to tackle. For whatever reason, he’s got a knack for being able to shed tacklers and get that extra yardage after contact. I think he’s a guy who’s going to be in the mix.
”Of course, bringing in the two guys that we signed in 2017 (Daetrich Harrington and De’Vonta Smith), so I think we’ll be able to afford to sign one (in 2018).
”Taking one would be more the norm, but this past year we thought we would take one but then when you get the opportunity to take the two we got, how do you not take a guy who’s leading the country in rushing (Smith) or a guy who was number one on your board since the beginning of the process (Harrington).”
Q: Conversely, no tight ends were signed in the ’17 class. How do you anticipate addressing the position in 2018?
Sloan: “In an ideal world you’d love to find that guy that can flex out and be a match-up nightmare in the pass game, but then also line up there behind the guard and just go smash-mouth a linebacker and bend him over backwards. But, those guys tend to play in the SEC.
”Finding as good as we can that has both of those skill sets, or even consider taking two with one of each. One that’s more of an H-back, more of a smash-mouth blocker like (Levi) Duffield, and then a guy that’s more of a vertical threat or can catch the ball out in space, like Barrett (Burns) was or Collin (Reed) is now.
”Certainly, we’ll take one and haven’t ruled out taking two at the position, because as we’ve evolved over the last two years we’re really going to play with a tight end on the field 90 percent of the snaps. To get one is a definite and there’s a good chance we take two.”
Q: Offensive Line Coach Shawn Clark mentioned during spring practice that he’s looking for nastier attitudes among the reserve offensive linemen. How does the staff go about assessing that during evaluations?
Sloan: “You can notice it some on film, because you can see guys finishing blocks and enjoying putting defenders on their back. Then, it’s doing your homework and talking to the kids, and probing them about their mental make-up.
”You talk to the high-school coaches and that’s where your relationships in knowing and trusting guys is important. When he says the kid has some edge and nastiness to him, being able to take note of it. You just have to ask the right questions of the kid and the coach."
Q: Moving to general recruiting, the camp situation has been in turmoil for the past couple of years with threatened rules changes. What’s the current 2017 camp schedule as you understand it right now?
Sloan: “What it looks like right now, which could change tomorrow, is we’ll get 10 camp opportunities. They can be at any point in June or July outside of the dead period. Now, the prior dead period the past several years was the last week of June and the first week of July, but now we’re looking at having a month-long dead period which would be the last week of June and the first three weeks of July.
”Therefore, you’ve got the first three weeks of June and the last week of July for 10 camps. Now, if we send one coach to another university – to NC State, Clemson, Virginia Tech – for another camp, that counts as one of your 10. So, what we’re looking at is we’ll probably have three camps on campus (at App State), and then we’ll spend seven days strategically going to (other programs’ camps).
”It will be an organized, structured approach where we send coaches to different places and split up offensively and defensively, so we have offensive and defensive coaches at each site. So, right now, we’re spending seven camps at other locations and three at App. That’s what we’re working with now.
”When (the NCAA) has their spring meetings they could change it completely, but right now that’s what came out of the head coaches meeting back in January and that’s what everyone is planning on right now.
”It changes things for us a good bit, because in the past we’ve used June to do a lot of camps, evaluations, and homework, and during the last two weeks of July we hammer guys to come visit as soon as the dead period is over. A lot of times we’ve picked up 9-12 commitments in the two weeks after the dead period. Now after the dead period we’ve got about five days and then we’re going to start training camp with our own team.
”So, that time for visits would now be pushed prior to the dead period which would force us to do our homework a little sooner, and make some decisions on who are the guys we would take a commitment from and who are the guys you just offer but are still doing homework.
”That’s the thing that’s different today; back 5-10 years ago you did all your homework before deciding to extend an offer, but now you have to extend an offer just to get your name in the hat because guys are out there collecting offers on a daily basis. Then, you do your homework and figure out of this is a guy you’re really going to take.
”But, this new schedule has thrown a curve ball into what our format has been this last couple of years and speeds it up. But, so does this December signing date.”
Q: With your mention of the December signing date, I know it’s been recommended but not officially adopted by the NCAA yet. How confident are you in the new date being approved and how will it influence App State recruiting?
Sloan: “I have high confidence that it’s going to happen, because it was a strong recommendation from the Division I head coaches to the NCAA. The NCAA will have their spring meeting, but they look at the recommendations of the head coaches.
”That’s why the coaches get together at the AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) meeting in January and they talk about NCAA issues and what they’re for or against. So, I think there’s a high probability it goes through.
”Where it helps us, this past season, for instance, we had 15 commitments before we started practice in August. Of those 15, 13 or perhaps all 15 would’ve signed in December, and then you’re just filling in a few final spots in January.
”I think the last-minute poaching, if it’s going to take place, is going to start happening in late November or early December, prior to that December signing date. Hopefully, that potential of losing a guy that’s been committed for 4-5 months the very last week (prior to signing day) to a Big Ten or ACC team gets minimized by this December signing date.
”That’s what my hope is and I’ve been a proponent of it for several years now, Once the poaching really started and we lost guys to those Power Five teams during the last week before signing day, that’s when I started thinking it would’ve been nice to sign that guy in December.
”That lets you know to go recruit three more at that position and re-up your numbers. When you look at it, we have to offer on a four-to-one or five-to-one ratio at every spot you need. If you’re going to take three linebackers you have to offer at least 15 to have a shot to sign those three.
”When you commit three that fall and two of the three actually sign in December, one of them says he wants to wait until signing day in February, but you go out and offer five more on top of him and now the numbers shift back in your favor for that last spot.
”When you have a player who says he’s committed but doesn’t want to sign in December then that sends a pretty strong message that he’s not really committed, and allows us to protect ourselves to fill that last spot in February.”