Recruiting has become one of the most popular parts of collegiate athletics. Fans of different programs follow which players commit to their school as much or more than the actual games. So much about that world is a mystery, despite the immense coverage it receives.
How does a school discover a prospect? How do they determine if a player is the right fit? What criterion are involved in that decision making process? So many unknowns surrounding something that receives so much attention.
Could it really be as simple as watching film on prospects and deciding you like a player? The answer is both simple and complicated. Director of Recruiting at Syracuse University Eric White explains how the Orange approach the task.
"I'm sure every school does this, is they purchase a set amount of prospects from a scouting service," White detailed. "Such as Collegiate Sports Data or Elite Scouting. They'll send us their top 10,000 kids and we'll sort them by the area. So the coaches responsible for recruiting areas x, y,z, they'll watch those kids. Then if they like them, they'll pass them along to the position coach. If the position coach likes them, they pass them on to the coordinator. Then, if they like them, Coach Shafer will evaluate them.
"Another common way are these camps that we go to during the summer," White described. "That's another good way to discover talent. A lot of kids will come to our camps we have at Syracuse, or the satellite camps we have down in New York City. That's a great way to find kids. Then the spring recruiting period. We send our coaches out to their areas. They will go into some schools that generally have, time after time, some good kids. Our coaches form relationships with those coaches and then those coaches will tell them about some prospects that they think are ACC caliber kids."
Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer says there is another part of the process in there as well. Once the staff has a list of prospects, the academic evaluation begins. The Orange coaches will request transcripts from the high school the recruit attends. If a player passes that test, the staff will look to evaluate them in a few different ways.
The first way is obvious. Athletically. Can a prospect play? Does he fit the system a school is trying to run? Is he talented enough to compete at that level?
"As soon as you get the transcripts here, you want to take a look at the video tape," Coach Shafer said. "Sometimes we get them on Scout, sometimes we get them on Rivals, sometimes just on YouTube. More and more kids are putting their tapes on YouTube. Or maybe it's Hudl, which is the one that probably has the most right now. Inevitably you start and you watch a highlight tape and that scratches the surface. If you don't like their highlight tape then you're done. If his best plays aren't that good then you run away as fast as you can.
"Once you get the highlight video, then you try to back it up with game video. You try to see the good and the bad. You look at the kid's schedule and you say, ‘OK this kid's from Mount Carmel, Illinois. They played somebody and they beat them up pretty good. He has a bunch of highlights from that game, but how did he do against St. Rita? Or how did he do against another team that you know is pretty good? Maybe all of his highlights were against bad teams. Whereas you look at his lowlights, maybe the team didn't play well but how did he play?
"The things we're looking for is are the players productive in the game," Shafer continued. "If they're not productive do they play really hard? Let's say it's the right corner and it's a run to the left. Does he show up on film because he's hustling? You look on camera and say he flashed on camera. He may not have made the play or may not have had a game where had a lot of opportunities, but did he hustle to the plays or did he take plays off? For me, you can have talented kids but who plays hard? Will you have kids that will come in and play hard when things aren't going well? Those are some of the things we look at from a conventional standpoint."
From the outside, there is a perception that athletic performance is the top criteria. That schools and coaches are willing to overlook other areas of evaluation to just to bring top talent into a program. At Syracuse, Eric White says there are many other factors that go into finding the right prospects to recruit.
"It's not just based on their athletic performance," White admitted. "We have to know that they'll be able to succeed in the classroom. We obviously want to be good citizens and good men at Syracuse. It's more than just an athletic evaluation. Hearing what the coach says about the kid and if he's a good kid. Researching the kid and finding out about his background.
"Getting to know the people that make him tick, talking with his parents. It's a whole process. It's forming relationships like I said. It's evaluating the kid as a person and not just an athlete."
One of the new ways to learn about a player off the field is through social media. That's one of the areas in which Eric White utilizes regularly.
"You can tell if a kid is having a bad day because some of them are a lot more extreme and will post exactly what's on their mind," White outline. "That can send up red flags for the coaching staff. We want kids who are good kids, who going to succeed and fit in at Syracuse. We definitely monitor that."
Scott Shafer has some other tried and true tactics he utilizes to help him determine if a recruit is a good fit off the field.
"When we go to the high school, some of the things we do that might be a little more unconventional is if you go to the coach that put the kid's name on the list, you know what he's going to say about the kid," Coach Shafer said. "He's going to say he's good and that he could be good enough to play for you. He may have an inflated opinion or he may be dead on. You don't know that unless you've worked with that coach in recruiting in the past. What I like to do if I don't know the coach is have the guys go to the guidance counselor.
"Or when you go in, like with Shamarko, I went in and I've always done with this schools that have security when you go in. I ask the security guard on the side, ‘hey what do you know about Shamarko Thomas?' Those guys will tell you the truth because they don't have anything in it. It's not their game. They're like, ‘hey that kid's a great kid' or they'll just roll their eyes and you'll walk away. Then you don't even have to spend more than a few minutes with the coach."
Regardless of how organized the process may be for some schools, there are always unique ways of how prospects enter someone's radar.
"Unconventional, would be, I've recruited Miami for so many years," Coach Shafer explained. "Maybe there's a coach that I've coached a lot of his kids. He calls me on a kid and says, ‘hey look I've got a kid that no one knows about. He's just like so and so that you coached at Northern Illinois.' He just hasn't played a lot yet because he has an ankle injury. And by the way the two players starting at his position when he was a sophomore, one went to Miami the other to Florida State. So you can see why he wasn't playing as much.
"But watch his defensive tape even though he's a wide receiver. And I say, ‘well you called so that means a lot because you tell me the truth about guys.' They're all going to tell you the truth as they see it, but is there a common ground so that they know what you're looking for. What type of a player you're looking for. Socially, is he a good kid or is he a kid that has some grey areas that you have to investigate. For me, when I go to Miami, I have four or five coaches that I call. They'll tell me about their kids and they'll know about kids they've played against. And because they've been right for so long, that jumps way ahead of some rating somebody might have on a pamphlet you bought."
A recent example of this practice can be found on Syracuse's current roster.
"A good example would be Durrell Eskridge," Coach Shafer said. "He was at Miami Central and as a junior he played kind of a back up role. He didn't play a lot. They won the state championship and had 23 kids sign division one scholarships in one year. Initially you'd say the kid didn't even start as a junior so he can't be that good. But, wait a minute, the guy he was behind signed major BCS scholarships.
"So you go down and you've got the name. Coach tells me he's a good player. You go down and you watch him at practice and you say, ‘this kid's really good why doesn't anyone know about him?' Well maybe the kid doesn't have a permanent home. Maybe he doesn't have a cell phone. Maybe he doesn't use the internet because he doesn't have a computer so he can't promote himself. Now you're banking on a coach saying, ‘I got a kid I think.' You go to practice and he's playing wide receiver. Well, we aren't taking anymore wide receivers so it could end right there. Durrell was a good example.
"I told the coach we weren't taking anymore wide receivers but I liked him at practice," he continued. "Three weeks into the season, he calls me and says, ‘Coach I'm playing Durrell at free safety and he's playing great.' You get on YouTube and you get the video link and all of a sudden he's a great defensive back. They're coach did a good job finding a spot with a player nobody knew about. That's an unconventional example of how you have to look at recruiting."
The world recruiting can best be described as organized chaos. Despite the more diligent and organized efforts, things evolve on a seemingly minute-to-minute basis. Yet it is the lifeblood of any college program.