I always felt it was very important for a coach to be in the home of his top three recruits the very first day allowed by NCAA rules. I always wanted to beat my competition to the punch, and somewhere during the recruiting process, I would remind the recruit and family the Buckeyes were the first to stop by. I made sure the parents and recruit realized how important they were to the Ohio State football program.
I thought it might be of interest to all Bucknuts readers if I was to answer some of the most asked questions regarding college recruiting. I am very proud of the recruiting system we put into place nearly a dozen years ago. By answering these questions, I am hoping it will give all of you great insight into the recruiting process.
Question: How do you find out about players?
Answer: Obviously, there are a variety of ways we start to compile the best list of potential recruits. First of all, if the recruiting coach for a specific geographical area has been in that same area over a number of years, they become familiar with the upcoming talent they have seen while recruiting other players in the past. While watching senior players at practice, in games, or watching film, the recruiting coach notices young talent.
Secondly, we subscribed to recruiting services that would send a list of players and oftentimes films of top recruits. We would continually cross reference the various lists and evaluate the films to help determine which players would make the all important mailing list (the players who would get weekly mailings from the football program).
Another way of identifying talent was through our summer football camp -- a camp that steadily grew from just as few hundred in 1991 to over 3,000 in recent years. An outstanding performance at camp could result in a player being put on the radar screen for future evaluation.
Still another way of obtaining names of potential recruits was by contacting a few key high school coaches in a specific recruiting area. It was common for the same names to come up over and over. As long as there was mutual trust, the high school coaches were comfortable to share this information.
Alumni and Buckeye fans constantly give the college recruiters names of high school talents they observe at games and athletic events. A good college recruiter tries his best to follow up on all leads. You never know when there may be a "diamond in the rough."
These are a few of the key ways college coaches compile their lists of talented high school football players. Only the best of the best end up getting offered and the evaluating process is continual.
Q: How do you decide on what areas of the country to recruit?
A: First of all, it's crucial to have a good home base to be consistent in recruiting. At Ohio State, it's always vital to control the home front. Ohio high school football is outstanding and we always had as the number one goal to "keep the great ones at home."
When it came to out of state areas, we concentrated on places that were traditionally strong in terms of large amounts of talent, areas in which we had success in the past, and large metropolitan areas where travel wouldn't be a problem.
Because you are so limited in time, a college recruiter can't gamble on too many long shots. If you recruited a player from a non-traditional area, you must really feel good about your chances of landing him.
Q: What is the key to landing a great recruit?
A: The key element in landing a great recruit is to find out who is going to be the key person in the decision making process. A lot of recruiters assume it is going to be the parents or a certain parent. Sometimes the recruiting coach finds out, too late, that it may be someone else. It could be the high school coach, another relative, family minister, college alum or someone else in the community. No matter how independent a young athlete tends to be, there is usually someone else involved in helping the recruit make a final choice on what college or university to attend.
A good recruiter will work hard to sell the decision makers on the positives associated with going to a specific school. It is crucial for the recruiting coach to ask the right questions or to come up with key clues as to what "hot button" needs to be pushed to land the prospect.
A well organized, hard working college recruiter has a solid game plan when it comes to landing a player. Each situation is different, and each recruit is different. A good recruiter recognizes this and varies his strategy accordingly. The important thing is to be relentless and do not leave any stone unturned.
Q: How much impact does a win over Michigan help Ohio State's recruiting efforts?
A: That is hard to say. That game happens on one day and you hope the impact of it lingers with recruits. I know as a coach, as hard as you work toward that, when you win that game you feel like you've hit the lottery.
That good feeling can really take you into recruiting and the traveling you have to do with some momentum. People are happy to see you and they welcome you -- especially around the state of Ohio -- when you've won that game.
Q: What is a recruiting weekend like for a prospect?
A: Most colleges and universities do basically the same things on a recruiting weekend. It becomes a matter of familiarizing the recruit with persons and places associated with the football program at that school. These include:
Persons: Head coach, position coach, strength coach, academic counselors, professor in desired field of study, team trainer, equipment managers, and of course the players.
Places: Practice facilities, stadium, academic study center, campus classrooms, dormitories, and on campus recreational facilities.
At Ohio State, we tried to be creative in several ways to make the official visit special from the norm. For one thing, we tried to make sure the recruit and parents met the athletic director, university president and Archie Griffin, if at all possible. We even had members of the marching band perform at one of the recruiting meals on campus. They would play the various fight songs for the parents and recruits. Many of them had never been to a game, so to hear the Ohio State Marching Band was exciting.
Another variation to the normal routine was to announce the recruits name over the loud speakers when we walked them across the Ohio Stadium turf on Saturday nights or Sunday mornings during the 48-hour visit. They really got fired up when they heard their names and saw them displayed on the scoreboard.
The weekend was very structured, but a real key is having the recruits spend as much time as possible with the players. They were the ones they would go to class with, hang out with, and go to war with for three to five years.
Q: Specifically, what role do the hosts play?
A: There were three things we really asked out of our hosts. Number one, let them know what it's really like. Be honest with them because they could be your teammate for the next several years. Number two, show them what normal campus life is like at Ohio State. And, three, we would ask our hosts to give us an evaluation after the weekend was over to let us know if they felt that young man would fit into our program and fit in with our team.
Q: Logistically, would the school handle buying the airline ticket for them? How does that work?
A: The way it worked recently, under NCAA regulations, is the kid would have to show his ID when he got to the airport. That's how they would get their boarding pass. There would be no hard ticket. Parents had to buy their own ticket, of course, if they were coming also. If they drive, we could pay mileage to and from the campus.
Q: Is two days enough to cover everything you want to show a potential recruit?
A: As a recruiter, you hope it is. We wanted to cover the academic aspect of campus. We wanted to cover the football part of it. And third we wanted to cover the city of Columbus.
During the academic part of it, you would get the recruit and parents set up with our academic counselors as well as with a professor or a dean in their proposed area of study. Most recruits had at least two academic appointments.
Football-wise, you want to at least get them with the position coach and the head coach. They would have at least two football appointments. Part of it as well you'd want them to meet the team doctors, team trainers, the equipment people and our strength coaches. Plus, you would want to show them our facilities, both practice and game. That right there takes a day in itself almost. And, all this time, you're feeding these kids.
The city of Columbus, we normally handled that by going to dinner either Friday or Saturday night. We would usually take them to a restaurant somewhere in the city and let them really see the skyline of the city of Columbus, Ohio. All of those areas now have been affected by new NCAA regulations. You can only take them to a certain type of restaurant, limited by NCAA rules and also by distance.
And you can't stay at what they call five star hotels any more. That really wasn't a problem here. We would use really good hotels, whether it was the Blackwell here on campus or some of the other chains. That rule has more affect on schools in resort areas.
A lot of pressure is on the coaching staff to make the 48-hour visit special for the recruit. It may be the one and only chance to really sell your program, your school and your people to the prospect. If the recruit is disappointed he has to leave campus on Sunday, you've done a good job.
Recruiting is the life blood of great football programs, it never slows down and it never stops.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Bill Conley, an OSU assistant coach for 17 years, provides insights through columns and Chat sessions on Bucknuts.com on a regular basis. Plus, catch Coach Conley on his weekly radio show from 9 a.m. to noon each Sunday morning on WTVN-AM (610).
This week, he appears on the "Bucknuts Radio Hour" to recap the 2004 Ohio State season and discuss a number of recruiting topics.
During the weeks ahead, Coach Conley will have Chats scheduled on Wed., Dec. 8, and after the Alamo Bowl on Mon., Jan. 3. These will be held at 3 p.m. each day.
He will also have a column looking at bowl preparation in two weeks on Wed., Dec. 15.