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USC support staff doing more with less

In this three-part series, we delve beyond primary and secondary recruiting designations to spotlight the importance support staffs have on modern day college football recruiting.

For the minority of college football fans interested in recruiting, the process has evolved from building extravagant facilities to carefully piecing together auxiliary coaching staffs capable of turning relationships into Letters of Intent. 

USC Director Of Player Development, Gavin Morris, has witnessed the support staff arms race in college football first hand.   

“We have a great support staff,” said Morris. “But when people look at the support staff they see me, Eric (Ziskin), Alex Collins, Bryan (Ellis), Alex Rios… and they say, ‘okay, you don’t have as many guys as Alabama.’

“Well, you have support staff in terms of X’s and O’s, and then support staff for recruiting. Some guys can do both, but I think every school should have a number. Every school should have . . . let's say, 25 staff members max. 

“What people don’t see is that we have student-workers that never get credit or recognition. They help with so many things. From mailers to giving tours on official and unofficial visits . . . stuff that the five of us as support staff can’t do on our own. I think we have the best student-workers in the country. 

“When you add them to the mix, we have a good staff. When Clay got the job, I think we had nine, maybe 10 people total on the staff. That’s including full-time coaches. We still ended up finishing top 10 in recruiting and going to the Pac-12 Championship game. More doesn’t always mean better, but when some schools have 10 more people than you do, that does make it harder.” 

Florida Atlantic defensive backs coach Keynodo Hudson spent six years as a support staff member at USC. 

With USC transitioning through three different coaching staffs in four years, Hudson would become one of the few support staff members in college football to hit the road as an off-campus recruiter. Due to personnel shortages, Hudson went from being a defensive analyst on the support staff to a full-time recruiting asset. 

He shared that distinction at USC with Morris, and later, offensive analyst Keary Colbert

“USC has the most powerful brand in college football, but we weren’t really close when it came to the resources these other schools had for their support staff,” said Hudson. “We weren’t even one-fourth in size of some of these other schools. 

“I’ve been to camps and coaching clinics all over the country. I just came back from LSU and I’m driving up to Gainesville right now for Florida’s camp. LSU’s recruiting department has to be at least 20-strong. Alabama is probably 30-strong. 

“SC had maybe three or four guys when I was there? I mean, the year Clay got hired, it was just me, Gavin and Alex Rios.” 

But USC is still a good example of people signing top recruiting class not 30,000 square-foot weight rooms, player lounges and flat screens. 

Trojans head coach Clay Helton is the one ultimately praised or chastised for the triumphs and failures of the football program, with primary and secondary recruiters on the assistant coaching staff getting the nod from the semi-informed mainstream media on National Signing Day. 

“It starts with the head man, Coach Helton, then goes down to the coordinators and the position coach,” said Colbert. “We’re able to sit in on those meetings to make sure we’re all on the same page. 

“What’s the want, what’s the need? When the opportunity presents itself for a guy like me to go on the road and recruit, I’m not going in there blind. I’m speaking on things we’ve addressed as a staff. 

“To be honest, one of the most unique things about USC is that the school speaks for itself. Whether it be the NFL Draft picks or the education, the tradition, the weather . . . it speaks for itself. We’re not going in-home selling anything. It’s really a matter of presenting facts and answering questions. It’s about helping kids make the decision that is best for them.” 

But in today’s world of college football recruiting, Gavin Morris could be the first person a recruit meets at USC and the last person he hosts on an in-home visit before signing a Letter Of Intent. 

During the 2017 recruiting cycle, Morris was heavily involved in recruiting Greg Johnson, Stephen Carr, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Josh Falo and Hunter Echols to USC. He was also the primary recruiter for California’s No. 1 rated player, Darnay Holmes, who eventually enrolled at UCLA. 

“I was so blessed with the opportunity Clay Helton gave me,” said Morris. “I’m not going to say it was easy, but I had already built those relationships with kids, so when I went out on the road, that made it easier. 

“I’m usually the first face kids see when they come to campus to visit USC, whether it be for a practice, an unofficial visit or an official visit. So when I show up for an in-home visit, they know who I am. 

“What also helped is that I was already working for two of the best recruiters in the country. The first guy is Tee Martin, who is my role model -- someone I look up to. The second guy is Johnny Nansen, who is our recruiting coordinator. 

“Those guys showed me the ropes. I took the NCAA Recruiting Test and everything, but a test on paper is different than reality. In the real world, you don’t know what to expect, so Tee and Johnny really prepared me for things. That made the transition of going on the road easier.”

Hudson, who played a major role in helping USC sign Leonard Williams, Nelson Agholor, Quinton Powell, Lamont Simmons, Jamel Cook, Keyshawn Young and even Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, salivated at the opportunity of recruiting on the road in January.

“That was huge for me and I thank God that I had the opportunity to be developed by some of the best coaches in the country,” said Hudson. “I sat in the room with Ed Orgeron for three years.

“Lane would come in and tell us to go watch the master work. And once Coach O trusted you, he would put you in the recruiting department and gave you assignments. That’s how I was able to develop. Once he trusted me, he gave me more and more to do. 

“Then with Coach Sark (Steve Sarkisian), he kept it going from there. When Clay took it over, he did that same thing. I was fortunate enough to have coaches invest in me and believe in me. Coach Sark was real big on staff development. 

“All of those Pete Carroll guys were big on that. They all were big on developing the young guys in the building. I thank God every day that I had a chance to be a part of that — it changed my life. I was a part of the 33rd team.”

In part two of our three-part series, Hudson, Morris and Colbert discuss how relationships pave the way in recruiting at USC. 

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