Every program targets specific players in the recruiting process. A variety of factors can lead to one of those prospects picking one school over another. Schools will use academics, alums, on the field success, and other things to try to pump up their program as the best option. Relationships, however, are they key to any successful recruiting effort.
"I think this business is all about relationships," Syracuse's Director of Recruiting Eric White said. "With coaches, parents, recruits, coaches on the staff, everything. I think it's all about relationships. The more comfortable we get with coaches, the more willing they are to help us and want to see our program succeed."
Every prospect is different. With some, the support of family is critical. Others feel that they have to make their own decision without parental input. Orange head coach Scott Shafer echoes Eric White's sentiments about relationships. It's just a matter of finding which ones are the most important with each recruit.
"You stay within the rules of the NCAA and call the kid when you're allowed to call him to try to develop that relationship," Coach Shafer outline. "That's the biggest part in recruiting. Anybody can find a good player. Can you find a player that matches your like philosophies and then start to build a relationship on the core values that are constant on both sides of the fence. I knew the first day I met Shamarko Thomas that we had the same core values.
"He's a family man as a youngster. He cared about his mom and his siblings. He cared about his teammates. He was telling me about other teammates he wanted me to look at. He cared about the game, he loved the game. He spoke with great passion about how much he loved the game and how much gratitude he had to play it and get a scholarship. When a kid starts talking that way you say ‘man our core values matchup.' He'd be a great kid to have in the program because he was like me when I was a kid. He really loved what football did for him. You put all those things together and you hopefully find enough guys that share those values."
The recruiting pitch isn't, however, just about one side convincing the other. It's about discovering a mutual understanding of how the two sides can benefit each other.
"I want guys that want to play for me," Coach Shafer declared. "That's the important thing about Syracuse. He was here last week, Daryl Johnston. He was the best example. I'm in the middle of recruiting some kids and I'm not sure they appreciate what Syracuse is or that they want to be part of it. Ironically enough Daryl walks in the office because he's here for a golf outing to see his old teammates.
"I started asking him about when he was recruited and he said, ‘when Syracuse offered me I committed on the spot.' One it was his only offer and two it was his dream to play for Syracuse. That's who you want playing for you. There's a guy that nobody wanted. And he was one of the best in the history of S.U. and went on to be an All-Pro player. They created a position on the pro bowl team. The fullback position was not previously on the ballot because of Daryl Johnston, a kid who had one scholarship from Youngstown, New York.
"That's the part I'm always trying to talk about," Coach Shafer continued. "Embracing who we are and who we can get to come and play for us. You're going to read all the studies. There was something out there about teams that win championships are rated this high and all that stuff. We've had the most success here prior to me being the head coach, Syracuse has had the most success with guys that maybe weren't the most heavily recruited guys coming out of high school for whatever reason. That's not an exception because I'm sure when they turned on the tape of Daryl Johnston, they fell in love with him as a coaching staff.
"It doesn't matter what somebody else thought of him other than the coach, the staff, the guidance counselor, the security guard, and his family. The passion they had for him to be a part of Syracuse. That's just one example of many you could talk about. The Jones brothers (Chandler and Art) weren't heavily recruited. Dwight Freeney wasn't heavily recruited. McNabb was recruited but he was only recruited to play quarterback at a couple places. Here and Nebraska. Everywhere else wanted to make him something else. So you break it down to how he was recruited. Did you recruit a player to play any position or a specific position? I'm sure George DeLeone did an unbelievable job of recruiting Donovan McNabb because he told him he fits what they wanted at quarterback. Because they had a plan for him."
Coach Shafer says recruiting is sales. Schools are trying to sell themselves to players, and players try to sell themselves to schools to some degree. Social media allows players to promote themselves like never before. It allows fans to have an impact on recruiting.
But it's that sales pitch that can make the difference. Especially if a coach can relate to a player on a level that makes that recruit feel like that school is home.
"We can say, ‘hey look, Chandler only had a couple offers.' Coming out, he was a long gangly kid that was still growing into his body. You go out there and promote what your school is. Every chance I get. When a kid says he wants to go into communications or broadcasting, I say Mike Tirico he's a Syracuse grad. So was Bob Costas and so was Sean McDonough. And by the way Donovan McNabb is going into broadcasting like McPherson is. All of a sudden a kid is saying they can see themselves becoming that type of person. You can promote all those talented players that have come through your program. Tom Coughlin. Maybe a kid wants to become a coach. Maybe there's a kid from the middle of New York that wants to become a coach.
"I can tell him that Tom Coughlin played in the same backfield with Jim Brown and Floyd Little. He wasn't the Heisman Trophy guy but he won a lot of games and now he's a head coach with some Super Bowl trophies. So I think you always promote the positives of your program. Whether they're players, former players, or people that just went to school here. I met Marvin Lender of Lender's Bagels who went to school here. Maybe I have a kicker who can kick the hell out of the ball that wants to make bagels and I can tell him he can be like Marvin Lender."
Whether it's throwing a 60-yard bomb in the fourth quarter of a playoff game, or making fresh bagels for your loyal customers ever morning, Coach Shafer says Syracuse is about more than athletics. He says the appeal of his program is how it prepares you for life.
"That's the thing with these kids. What they do know is they love football, most of them, and they want to play football at the biggest stage possible. The Dome's cool and all that. What they don't know is that there are people who sat in the same chairs that they did in all the different disciplines on campus. Once they get here, they kind of got tricked. They came here to wear a helmet and walked out with a degree following in the footsteps of one of those people that was really great in one of those disciplines.
"That's recruiting. Painting the picture of the truth or has the ability to be the truth. Showing them the vision of the future and that they fit the mold. That's it. With any job you have to know the formula of the job, the formula of recruiting. Then you have to find the kid that fits that formula. Then you have to be willing to work the formula. The end result is getting a good kid, a good player who appreciates being a Syracuse player."