More Recruiting Insight

Among the most insightful sessions at Penn State's Football Fantasy Camp earlier this month was with Mike McQueary, PSU's wide receiver coach and recruiting coordinator. McQueary walked us through the ins and outs of the PSU recruiting process — targeting, offering and pursuing prospects. Go behind the scenes in the third part of our series.

&tIf you missed the First Part or Second Part of this series, they provide good insight into how the Nittany Lion staff determines which prospects receive offers, what coaches look for in a prospect, how they devise their recruiting strategy, as well as many other inside aspects of the Nittany Lions' recruiting process.

NCAA rules prevented McQueary from addressing specific recruits the Nittany Lions are targeting this year. But he was able to discuss the recruiting process in general terms. Here is some more of what he had to say on the topic.

Dividing It Up

McQueary explained how the staff divides up the recruiting regions, saying, "You know how we do it? We [divide up the regions] mostly by highways. So, Coach [Larry] Johnson has down [Route] 322, [Route] 83 and all of Maryland. So anything that is right off that corridor — Harrisburg High School, York, any of those, those are his."

McQueary talked about his own recruiting region as another example, "I have above [Interstate] 80 on the western side — I've got all of Erie, Sharon, all that stuff up in there — I have below 80 on the eastern side, I have the northern suburbs of Philly, above the [Pennsylvania] Turnpike, I have Lancaster and Reading, all that lower Coal Region, like Mount Carmel. I've got all of western and upstate New York — Syracuse, Binghamton, Buffalo, Watertown. And I've got a lot of national areas."

He explained another example, saying, "Philadelphia city and below the [Pennsylvania] Turnpike is [Coach Vanderlinden], down through South Jersey and Delaware."

Gathering Intelligence

Previously, we covered the coaches' need to know the prospects they represent inside and out. "Players have to sign a release only for their academic transcript release," he explained. "But that is just the start of what we want to know. So we dig and dig."

When asked if he uses Google, McQueary said, "I do everything. Because you can never have enough information. It may be something I found out today with a kid I have been recruiting for a year that does it for me. But that can also work against you too.

"You'd be amazed as to how much information is on the message boards for recruits," he explained. "If you're not doing it [every other school] is. That's your job, that's the way it is"

Keystone Talent

Asked to assess the current talent levels in Pennsylvania, he said, "I think it's gone down the last 10 or 15 years — like a guy like me comes out of Pennsylvania, that's not saying much. Coach Joe [Paterno] always tells the story that [years ago] you could go down one of the rivers in Pittsburgh and just hit the high schools along that river and take your whole football team out of those high schools — there was that much talent there."

He points to the decline of some major industries impacting the population of various regions and subsequently the football talent levels, saying, "Some of the big industries have closed down and now they are moving out West. Since our natural demographics have shifted that way it was only bound to change some of the talent."

He continued, "If you go out to Pittsburgh, 40 years ago there were three or four players at every school you're recruiting — All The Right Moves — if you go out there this year there are probably 20 Division I guys and probably five that we'd like to have on our team."

He then went on to say, "A lot of [players] get highly recruited becuase they are from the South or West. We beat those teams consistently over our time. Sure we've got some losses, but the last two SEC or ACC teams we've played, we've beaten them."

Sizing Up the Competition

"One of the things I said to myself three years ago when I became recruiting coordinator was 'I am not going to lose kids to Ohio State and Michigan.' I don't care if they go somewhere else, but I don't want to lose kids that we should get to schools we are playing against.

"You'd be amazed at how many things come back to this at Penn State," pointing to a grade projection sheet he was holding. "We graduate 83 percent of our kids. Our African American graduation rate is 87 percent. Our APR is 960 — we're first or second in the Big Ten and top seven in the country every single year. Some schools recruit kids that we will not recruit — that's the way it is."

Keeping Up with the Rules

One of the biggest jobs for the recruiting coordinator and the coaches is keeping up with all of the rules the NCAA mandates. The coaches get a book and take an annual test, administered by the school's faculty representative.

"To think I know every single rule right off the top of my head ± no, there are so many that you would be amazed," he said.

Money Corrupts

McQueary was asked about prospects who essentially ask for money during their recruitment. As he said, "That doesn't happen very often, but if it does [Penn State] is done with that kid, absolutely. We have had one or two kids since I have been [on staff] who have said 'What are you going to do for me or my family?' That's it, we're done at that point."

Letter of the Day

"Stay on them," is the approach McQueary and the PSU coaching staff takes after a player has verballed to the Nittany Lions. "We text them, we write letters — I am going away this coming week, so I came in early today to write all the kids for the next week." He writes the letter and addresses the envelope for every prospect. "If you're not doing it all the rest of them are — all year round.

"You'd be amazed at what some of the letters say — and you have basically 16 months to come with content. You're allowed to start writing them Sept. 1 of their junior year and you've got to go all the way up to early February — and if you let up one week or one day..."

The staff has a list of top target recruits that they are writing regularly.

He was asked about specific letters that have impressed recruits. "I had a kid who did not end up at PSU who said 'The best mailer I got was from you.' The mailer says "We can't spell S_CCESS without U."

Optimizing

McQueary said he is constantly evaluating the recruiting process — like which coaches cover which regions, how they target and recruit players, how they conduct visits, etc.. He has been reviewing many of these items recently.

This goes back to the pressure the coaches place on themselves, "Again, people think the fans are bad. But we're ruthless on ourselves, really. It's no one's fault but ours when we lose a game, lose a recruit. You'd be amazed."

Staying Energized

"I'm young, I'd better have the energy" McQueary said. "How Coach Paterno has done it I really ... if I'm doing this at 65, shoot me," he laughed. " I'd better be on the golf course somewhere.

"I learned a lot of my recruiting style and approach from my father. He is an administrator for an outpatient health clinic here in town. As a kid I used to listen to him on the phone recruiting doctors — now how do you get a big shot doctor to come to rural Pennsylvania in State College? So I learned a lot of it from him. The difference is that he recruited doctors who go typically through a dramatically different thought-process than a high school football player."

Stay tuned to Fight On State for continual coverage of Penn State football recruiting.

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