Weekend Camp Next Stage In Recruiting Season

Technically it is still summer, or so the calendar claims. There have been weeks when Mississippi State football coaches were out of the office if not actually out of town. But those days are already over. "We've had some time off," Coach Shane Beamer says, "but it's been busy, too."

And getting even busier for Coach Sylvester Croom's staff. It's not just that preseason practices are looming on the summer schedule, either. Defensive back coach Beamer is currently whole-hog (whole-Dog?) into the responsibilities described by the other half of his MSU job title: recruiting coordinator.

"Obviously recruiting never ends," Beamer said. "It's a year-round, 24-hour job. It's non-stop."

This year's recruiting campaign reaches a mid-summer peak this weekend when Mississippi State hosts the second 2005 football camp for high school athletes. A big one, too. "We had a good camp in June, then another big one this weekend where we expected about 1,000 players," Beamer said. The athletes arrived on campus today, many with their high school coaches.

This might seem a rather late date to go camping, especially with high school preseasons kicking off shortly. Yet that is exactly the point of Mississippi State hosting a camp in late July, Beamer explains. "It's good this time of the year for the high school guys because we'll have a lot of teams here, coaches will bring their players. It's kind of the last weekend before they get started with football, so they have a chance to get a head-start on practicing the whole team without actually being in a practice!"

Now of course State is not hosting so many young athletes and prep teams for entirely altruistic reasons. After the meeting-and-greeting comes the real Bulldog business of evaluating the available talent pool in this and future high school classes. "It's good for them, and for us," Beamer agrees. "We'll have a lot of prospects that will be here this weekend.

"We had a staff meeting Thursday going over the prospects. We've got 1,000 or so players and we'll be monitoring them all, but we've got about fifty guys coming that we really, really feel good about and we really want to keep an eye on and spend some time with."

And to MSU minds there's no better place for such quality time as on campus, in the Shira Complex, in the just-this-week completed weightroom, around the practice fields. "Any time you can get guys on your campus it's a plus," Beamer says. This is particularly true because at the moment college coaches cannot speak directly to prospects away, either by phone or in-person, unless the kids come to the schools themselves. This no-phone period lasts through August.

But at camp, well, there is all sorts of opportunity to establish or strengthen relationships with prospects, both the elite recruits already on the 2005-06 radar and the rising juniors and sophomores. Plus, State's coaches can get a much better idea of the young man's true physical status beyond what might be listed on a recruiting website or in a high school game program. No wonder Croom's coaches don't mind giving up a July weekend to be on the job; this weekend's camp is absolutely priceless in the recruiting process.

Mississippi State was already well into the process even before this weekend, going back to the Scout.com-sponsored combine of May 1 and the June MSU camp. Those weekends have helped produce a number of summer commitments previously reported. Beamer has a notion that there will be more such announcement by 2005 seniors in the weeks to come.

"I would think (the next round of commitments will come) right before the season. I know there are a lot of guys, particularly some I'm recruiting, who have stated they'd like to make a decision before the season. They want to get it out of the way and concentrate on their senior seasons, and that's great. With us and a lot of other schools too there are a lot of kids that want to get those decisions out of the way.

"And you may see some next week, we've got some guys we offered who are coming to camp. In the best-case scenario they would come to camp, we already feel good about them and they have a great time on campus this weekend and feel Mississippi State is the right place for them and want to go ahead and make that decision."

As to kids who can't or won't decide before their seasons open, the recruiting schedule moves into the next phase. Until September 1 State's coaches are limited to contacting prospects by mailed letters or text messages. After that date one phone call a week is allowed. "Then as we get into the season we'll have six days where we can go out and evaluate them," Beamer said. "We still can't talk to them in-person but we will watch games, so six times during the year we'll leave Thursday night after practice, spend all day Friday in the schools and go to a game Friday night, and fly back for our game Saturday. After the season is over, when we get into the first week of December, that's when you can actually go back out and have contact with them."

This is the third recruiting season for Croom, the second covering a full-year, and after playing a complete season and thinning out the inherited roster the staff is much more clear and confident about their signing goals. Not that it takes a recruiting guru to guess where the priority is and will remain.

"Obviously linemen are really a major need for us this year," Beamer said. "Offensive linemen and defensive linemen, especially at the tackle positions. Defensive tackles are a major need, offensive linemen are a major need. So we know going into it that if we have to sacrifice signing a quarterback or receiver in order to sign good players up-front, where it all beings, then we'll do it.

"But we've got a preliminary deal of what we're trying to do at key positions. And we've been fortunate that we've gotten some early commitments that have solved some problems already and given us a clear picture. OK, we've got these guys committed and here's how many we'd like to take at that slot. It's easier for everybody with those guys already being committed to go out in the fall and winter knowing where our numbers are."

Speaking of numbers, a popular topic in Bulldog Country these days is predicting exactly how many grants State has to give next February. Only 23 new signees can come in, in the last of two classes ‘docked' a pair under NCAA sanctions. It's the exodus of a score and more of scholarship underclassmen since Croom arrived that sets up the guessing game about available aid for '06.

Beamer said the staff has had the same discussion, frequently. "We went over that today, too," he said. "We've got a chance, depending on what happens, to sign around 25 still. Some things would have to happen and obviously it may not be that many, it could be considerably less. It's not as sure a thing as last year, and we can't just be out signing guys. We have to be real specific with what we want to get done. But ultimately people if things fell in the right places we could come close to signing what we did last year.

"Coach Croom has talked about going out like we always would, here's our needs and here's what we want to sign at each position. We want to get that done and sign the positions we have critical needs at, then see where we are continue to build on that." In other words, Croom's aides are not to approach this year's recruiting worried about the numbers; that is the head coach and recruiting coordinator's job as they update the countdown almost daily.

"You plan carefully," Beamer said. "It's complicated and specific and you really have to be sure about what you've got going on. And not so much next year, we're already talking about how many will we be able to sign the following year. We've got a chart of this year's roster and a preliminary of the following year. Like, Jerious Norwood is gone after this year, Kevin Dockery is gone, whoever, this is what our depth chart is going to look like next year, here's who we have on scholarship. Then you talk about the guys that in junior college and keep them in mind as well. So it's a lot of numbers involved, Coach Croom is very much on top of it and knows exactly what the numbers and where we've got to be and is every exact."

Just because there are about fifty campers in the brightest spotlight this weekend, no other rising senior should fear being overlooked. Some of them have just as much a chance to catch a coach's eye and fit a Bulldog position-bill perfectly. The staff will also be gauging who might be the proverbial ‘late bloomer' or what youngster may have slipped through the recruiting cracks to-date. A thousand kids is a whole lotta looking for one coaching staff, but everyone will get his glance.

And when the campers head home? State's coaches won't. They still have summer assignments, such as getting ready for the season. In fact, Beamer reports that everybody has been doing some homework all along. "At the beginning of the summer we want to do a preliminary scouting report on our first four opponents.

"Each coach had a different segment of the report he's responsible for. We worked on that throughout the summer, and our opponents with new coaching staffs. So we looked at Southern Cal and Utah films just to have a head-start I guess."

It's a fact. Summers come and go too fast, but college coaching remains a year-round, 24-hour job.

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