On the road with Sweet Lou

Ah yes, the Month of May in the Northwest. For most it is a sign that spring is really here. The sun has shown itself for more than just a minute or two on consecutive days, letting us warm our cold bones. Boating season officially begins, and thoughts of sun soaked summer days on a lake water skiing or canoeing start to dance through our heads. However, for college football Head Coaches and their staffs this is the most crucial four weeks of the off-season.

Why? Because recruiting is the lifeblood of a successful and consistent program. Without it wins cease to come and coaches whither on the vine, forcing them to look for a new place of employment.

For every Division 1-football program this is the first evaluation period for high school seniors to be in the fall. Head coaches and their assistants head out on the road to their specific regional recruiting areas to try and find the next big stars of college football. Only seven of the nine total assistants are allowed to be on the road at any one time, but at various times all of them will be on the recruiting trail during the month. Each assistant is allowed a total of twenty evaluation days during the month.

Along with being able to go by the prospective student athlete's (PSA's) school, they are allowed to visit with the prospects in person on their high school campus and speak with them on the phone one time. Last year a second evaluation day for each prospect was added by the NCAA so that coaches could attend camps that happen during the month to get another look at the prospects in person.

After hitting the road, talking with scouts and high school coaches as well as watching a lot of videotape, the coaches reassemble back in their offices to put together what is referred to by most as their "A-lists." The process of creating the list, after sifting through all of the information (grade transcripts, test scores, and previous injuries), scouting reports, and looking at a teams needs, usually winds well into the month of June and even sometimes into the first part of July. However, when the job is complete most schools will have narrowed the total number of prospects they are looking at to around 500. Typically a school starts out with a list in the 1500 to 2000 range. Now if that doesn't seem like a daunting task it should, because when the top 500 or so have been decided upon the list is broken down even further.

The prospects get categorized into what are considered the elite players, often referred to as "Elite A's, AA's, or A+'s", the very good prospects, or "A's", and the ones to keep an eye on for development during their senior years, or "B's." The Elite players usually signify the top 50 to 75 prospects on the list, with the "A's" comprising the next 100 to 150 spots, and the last 300 to 350 being the B's.

Once the players have all been graded strictly on football and athletic skills the list then has to be organized by position and put up on the "war room" board. This can often be one of the trickiest parts of the process as the coaches have to project what position the players will ultimately play in college, as well as worry about what position the PSA's want to be recruited at. Prospects often cross a school off their list based on what position they are being recruited at. However, a school should really try to be true to their evaluations and not stray too far into the land of telling kids just what they want to hear. Many times when a school plays that game, they reach for a kid they are projecting at one position but are recruiting at another, figuring once they get the PSA on campus they can move them.

Now, as a fan, keep in mind there are players that are worthy of doing this with since their talent is just so superior. The fact is, it has proven to be very successful at times throughout college football history. That is all well and good, but in today's age of people telling kids how good they are and what they should be doing, the transfer has become in vogue. This can often leave a school holding an empty bag a couple of years down the line, and with the scholarship limit of 85 can find themselves in real trouble on their depth chart.

After the prospects have been placed on the board at specific positions the buzzword "need" has to be injected into it. Every school has to look at their depth chart and address where the biggest holes are when it comes to recruiting. So while it might be a great year at a certain position, if a school doesn't have a specific need in that area, they might choose to not recruit any of those great players at all or may make only a minimal effort. Conversely, a player with lesser talent may be a higher priority on the board than a player with more talent at another position based on the fact that the need at that position is greater.

Needs change as time goes on in the recruiting process, affecting the look of the board. Many things can cause this such as position changes, athletes that were recruited finally finding a home, injuries, academic casualties, etc. This can lead to what sometimes appears on the surface as a schizophrenic recruitment of a player, where the schools interest seems to come and go.

These sorts of events can often be tough for fans to stomach or understand, but these moves are always calculated based on the board. The fact is a lot of times a school chooses not to recruit the player at the level necessary to land them based on their needs. That's not a reflection of the kid's ability. The coaches may just like who they have on their roster already. The bottom line is, this aspect of recruiting is absolutely vital because it is not only important to land great players, but to land them at the right positions.

So the process is now complete and it is the end of June, or the first part of July. Each school has their list of players all graded as far as talent goes and a board set up in the ‘War Room' with all those players ranked by position and need. Now what happens? Coaches prepare for their own contact and non-contact camps where they get a chance to coach the kids personally and see how they respond, as well as being able to evaluate players right next to each other.

They also work on getting prepared for the other monumental task at hand, the upcoming season. That alone is ultra important because if you don't win, your job on the recruiting trail becomes even more difficult than it already is.

After their camps, the coaches will spend time watching videotape that has been sent to them. Those evaluations will help them go about moving the board around and tweaking it a bit before the next big round of evaluations in September.

Outside of the four weeks they are allowed in the spring the coaches are only able to evaluate prospects six days each during the months of September and October as well as six days during the first three weeks of November. I hate to say it but 18 days isn't a whole lot of time because this is where the rubber meets the road.

Coaches are able to watch full game tapes of the PSA's senior season and see how much they have improved since they were juniors. They can see how kids react when they are faced with adversity. They can look to see how they react if their team has a big lead. They can get answers to questions like, ‘Are they leaders?' ‘Do they do the little things that help a team win?' ‘How do they play when faced up against a player of equal talent?' These sorts of questions are critical when evaluating a kid and trying to decide how successful they might be on the collegiate level.

However, when you think about how little time that is, it really helps you realize how important the month of May on the road is for these coaches, and how critical the process of making the A-list is and creating the board. Doing a poor job of evaluating during the month of May is kind of like getting behind by three touchdowns in the first half of a game. It isn't impossible to overcome, but it is an extremely difficult hill to climb.

Right now the Huskies have 16 seniors heading into fall, six on defense and ten on offense, with two of them having medical redshirts available if something happens to them during the fall. That would give them a minimum of 14 scholarships available to give next year. If everyone currently on scholarship is back for the fall (which is very unlikely), and if all of the 21 players signed in February qualify, the team would be at the allowed limit of 85 total scholarships. With that they would still only be able to offer 14 to 16 rides next fall. Right now two of the kids from last year's class, Demar Baisy from Seattle (Wash.) Rainier Beach and Dashon Goldson from Harbor City (Calif.) Narbonne have yet to meet the minimum standards to qualify for the fall and both are possible gray shirt candidates.

That potentially gives the coaches 18 rides to offer if none of the current seniors end up needing to redshirt. With the expected typical attrition of 2 to 4 players per year, whether it is for academic or personal reasons, that gives the Huskies somewhere around 20 scholarships to offer. If they were to over sign by a couple, the number could reach as high as 22. This is a pretty normal practice nowadays in college football and the Husky staff has used to their advantage in the past.

While the coaches can't talk specifically to the issues that have just been discussed, they are critical to the overall success of recruiting. With that in mind I am going to be spending a lot of my time analyzing these nuances as they pertain to the Huskies this year, trying to bring the fan as close to the process as possible. To be able to do that the staff of Dawgman.com will be spending time this summer in California, Oregon, Washington and Canada at various camps and passing leagues, all in an attempt to get a handle on what people think about the talent level on the West Coast, and how the Huskies are doing in terms of landing the best players possible.

We have already been out on the road in the Month of April at the NIKE camp in Los Angeles. And again this year we will be in the Bay Area for the NIKE camp in May and in Eugene during the first part of June for the NIKE camp there. So get ready Husky fans for all kinds of great stories, reports and recruiting nuggets in the months to come.

Next up: A look at the depth chart on defense: What do the Huskies need in recruiting to help change their fortunes?

If you have any questions or comments for Jeff 'Sweet Lou' Carr he can be reached at jeffc@dawgman.com

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