Poppinga talks about recruiting experience

As graduate assistants, aspiring coaches are exposed to and learn the inner workings of the coaching business. It's a labor of love wrapped up in patience and hard work. However, what those graduate assistants aren't prepared for when they finally do hold the title of coach is recruiting, as Kelly Poppinga talked about this week.

You just been hired onto a Division I college football staff, and have passed the NCAA Coaching Recruiting Certification test in order to engage in any off-campus recruiting contacts or activities. Now, it's time to hit the recruiting trail.

"It's for sure a lot of fun and it's really different," said a smiling Coach Poppinga. "It's something you were never told about when you got into coaching. They'll tell you all about the coaching stuff and those are the things you learn, but they never tell you about recruiting and what that's like. It's hard. It really is."

Upon taking up the mantle of a coach, one will be assigned to a recruiting area they're responsible for. Then, a young and relatively unknown coach with a short resume will have to make his mark. Visiting high school coaches, establishing relationships, flying to different states, driving distant roads and beating the pavement to scout out and search for potential prospects has now become a part of the job.

"The way it is, you're away for a week at a time and you're all by yourself," said Poppinga. "There was one time I went out to Wisconsin to recruit somebody. That was a really interesting experience driving out in the middle of nowhere, and it was -20 degrees. I woke up that morning to travel to his high school and it was kind of an adventure, and it was fun."

Having served a mission to Ecuador, Coach Poppinga sees similarities between that experience and hitting the recruiting trail.

"Recruiting is a lot like serving a mission except you're without a companion, to be honest with you," said Poppinga with a slight laugh in his voice. "It's a lot like serving a mission. It's cool and I enjoy it. There are some places where you're at and you don't have any appointments."

When one is out on the road with no appointments or homes to visit, it can get lonely. Such was the case for Poppinga during this last recruiting period.

"When I was out recruiting in Oregon I was lucky because I have a friend out in Portland," Poppinga said. "I was able to hang out with him every night out there when nothing was going on. Basically when school is out and there is no basketball practice going on or something like that to attend to watch a potential recruit, you have nothing to do for the rest of the day. There's nothing else to do. You can't go out and visit other high school coaches because school is out and they're home with their families. I was just lucky to have a friend in that Portland area ... Man, there were some lonely nights out there. I got to catch up on all my movies though."

However, it's not all buying time and waiting for appointments to open up. The fun part of recruiting is when the process actually takes place.

"Then there are times when you do have appointments," recalled Poppinga. "There are times when you get to the kid's home for a visit or to a school to talk to a coach and they're excited to see you. You don't have anyone slamming doors in your face."

Well, at least not as much as missionaries anyhow.

"Well, once in awhile you'll have a coach slam a door in your face because they're like, 'BYU? Aw man, get out of here,'" said a lighthearted Poppinga. "No, it was a lot of fun though and it's a good experience. I'm looking forward to getting back out there in May and finding some guys for us."

It was during this past season when Poppinga was elevated as an interim coach before later being hired on as a fulltime member of Coach Mendenhall's staff after the season ended. Between the Wyoming and UNLV games of last season, Coach Poppinga was for the first time able to hit the recruiting trail to the state of Oregon.

"I went out on the season during the bye week," said Poppinga. "I went out to Oregon and that was really my first trip out there in my recruiting area within that state. It was really awesome and we really haven't recruited the state of Oregon in a couple of years."

However, Oregon isn't the only place Poppinga is assigned to.

"I have Oregon and Northern California, which is Brandon Doman's old area," said Poppinga. "I'm going to have a couple of schools in Utah now, basically from Tooele in the west all the way along the I-80. It's basically all the towns on the I-18 from Tooele to the east to Park City to South and North Summit and then even to Rich out there by Evanston [Wyoming]. I've got Wyoming too, but Wyoming is more like a referral state, so those other areas are more of the primary areas. I do want to recruit more of the state of Wyoming though. There has to be a Brett Keisel or a Brady Popping out there somewhere. If there is, I'll find him."

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