Syracuse's new offensive coordinator George McDonald came to the Orange with a reputation as a recruiting guru. He has extensive ties to Florida, and has had a lot of success bringing in Florida prospects at previous coaching stops. While coaching at Miami, he helped the Hurricanes bring in some of the best recruiting classes in the country.
One of the reasons Coach McDonald was brought to the new Arkansas staff was his recruiting prowess in the Sunshine State. Why is Coach McDonald able to recruit one of the most talented states in the country so well?
North Miami Beach High School head football coach Jeff Bertani says he takes a different approach when recruiting talented prospects.
"He's just blunt and honest," Bertani described. "I think too many people pat a kid on the back and tell them how great they are. How they're going to be a superstar wherever they go and whatever they do. Obviously that's not always the case. I think he's just honest.
"He says, ‘you're another piece in what we're trying to build' at the places he's been. He says, ‘we like you' and ‘this is what's going to happen.' But I don't think he tries to boost them up or blow their heads up too much. It's just complete honesty with him."
Another reason McDonald is able to have such success in Florida is the relationships he's built over the years. Coach Bertani says he is a sincere person who genuinely cares about the kids he recruits.
"I've known for probably about the last twelve years at least," Bertani said. "We're really close. He's an honest guy that I think cares about the kids. He really tries to help the kids decide what's best and what's in their best interest.
"Sometimes it's not who he's recruiting or what he's doing. I just think he has a genuine interest in helping kids and helping kids develop."
One of the targets Syracuse is after the most is North Miami Beach wide receiver Steve Ishmael. Coach McDonald has been in on the 6-foot-2 wide receiver since he was at Miami and continues to make him one of Syracuse's top priorities.
Coach Bertani says Ishmael is one of the more talented players in the state.
"Steve is pretty much offered by everybody in the country," Bertani explained. "He's a consensus pretty good player. I'll tell you, he has phenomenal ball skills. His brother was drafted in the seventh round by the Atlanta Falcons, Kemal Ishmael out of Central Florida. Steve is just a football player. Loves to play and works hard to get better every day. Probably the best ball skills of anyone I've had in seventeen years.
"Coach McDonald has said the same thing and kind of formed the relationship. It's been tough because you're only allowed one phone call during the spring. He's seen McDonald come down and I think Coach McDonald recruited his brother Kemal for a minute. He understands the honesty involved. Obviously with Coach McDonald being the offensive coordinator now at Syracuse, that's an attractive destination also."
As the spring turns to summer within the next month, Ishmael could be nearing a decision. Coach Bertani says Syracuse continues to build that relationship through Coach McDonald.
"He has," Bertani recalled. "At all three of these schools (Miami, Arkansas, Syracuse), he's been interested in Steve. It's just continuity. I think that's kind of funny to say when he's been at three different spots. But the continuity of, ‘hey I liked you at this school and I like you at this school.' Again, I think it's not so much the school but the person he's interested in.
"I think Syracuse is obviously high on his list. Obviously Coach McDonald does a great job and Coach (Scott) Shafer is trying to build something over there. We're going to sit down after the spring and kind of narrow it down and go from there. We'll see what's available to him and see what he likes and doesn't like. I'm anxious that it'll get done fairly quickly."