Being The Best Recruiter: Useful Tips From Expert Coaches

With the February 7 Signing Day right around the corner, Inside the Headset brought Eron Hodges (Assistant Director of Player Personnel at Ohio State) and Tony Jennison (Head Coach at Macalester College) to discuss recruiting at the FBS and Division III levels. Here’s some useful recruiting tips from their interviews.

Build Relationships

This tip should come as no surprise to an experienced recruiter. Both coaches offered tangible steps to help develop bonds with recruits. Ohio State wants to communicate with recruits at least once a day, so they send out “Daily DMs” (Direct Messages via Twitter). This message could be as simple as sending out a YouTube link with a virtual tour of the campus. Hodges also makes sure that coaches are contacting their recruits on a regular basis to develop a solid relationship. Jokingly, he states that sometimes his role is to be a “bug in a coach’s ear.”

When recruits visit Macalester, it’s not uncommon for Coach Jennison to spend two hours with the student-athlete and his family. “We save ourselves a lot of time when we figure out who that young man really is, who [his] family is, and what they’re looking for.” The unique academic requirements of the school means most of his players are coming for reasons beyond football—“They want to get into a top [medical] school, a top law program, and we better appreciate that.” By investing time, the staff can determine the fit between the person and the program; this is critical for retention since they routinely bring in only twenty freshmen each year.

Evaluate In Person

Hodges is quick to point out that “there [are] no lowlights on a highlight… I want to see the real you.” His goal is to get recruits to an Ohio State camp and have them instructed by the Buckeyes’ coaching staff.

“I want to see if Ryan Day—one of the best quarterback coaches in the country—can coach you. Can you take instruction or do you just have that deer-in-headlights look? Let me get a feel for you as a player to make a decision if I take you or not.”

Seeing an athlete at a camp helps coaches better project how that athlete will fair while making a position change in college. Coaches can put a player through drills at various positions (i.e. corner, safety, and wide receiver) and identify their athleticism. Additionally, camps offer a chance for athletes from lower-recruited areas to prove they belong. However, Hodges recommends attending camps as a junior.

“If I find [a less recruited player] in September and he’s signing in December, that’s not realistic. If I find him his junior year and I get him to camp by his senior year, I’ve got a real shot now. Now I can really dig in deep and see that this small-town kid can make it here with the big lights. It’s a culture shock. Get to camp and show off what you’ve got.”

Consider Academics and Character

Macalester College is incredibly selective when it comes to admitting students, and Coach Jennison points out that a recruit “may be accepted to Harvard and Yale, and they are denied Macalester.” It’s important to consider the profile of a student-athlete for a specific institution. At Macalester, that’s likely “someone in the top 5% of their [graduating] class with really strong test scores… They better have strong AP and Honors courses, and they better have done well within the curriculum.”

At the FBS level, admissions may be more “cookie-cutter,” and a coach can judge a qualifier with some ease by examining a recruit’s transcript. When the institution has rigorous admissions requirements, great relationships with admissions and academic counselors are vital. Sometimes a staff can advocate for recruits with borderline scores to receive acceptance to an institution, but be careful to promote the right type of individual, not just a solid athlete.

“If you’re recruiting the right type of young men, [they’re] going to go to class, they’re going to treat people with respect across campus, [and] that’s going to come back around. If you get the wrong people coming into your program, where they’re getting in trouble, that’s going to come back around, as well.”

Look for Competitors

Multi-sport athletes are often a hot topic when it comes to recruiting. Competing for multiple teams can display various skills that may not readily show up on a highlight tape.

“Different sports give you different tell-tales that you can check the box off. We look for competitors. That’s like number one on our board—are you a competitor?” Hodges will look at track times for recruits (depending on the position they play), or he will find out if a player is also on the wrestling or basketball team.

“Wrestling teaches you that the kid is tough. Track teaches you that the kid has speed or he has the ability to get faster. Basketball [shows] he has a great vertical leap, he’s aggressive, he has great hand-eye coordination, [and] he’s quick.”

Don’t Discount Walk-Ons

Hodges takes great pride in recruiting walk-ons, and he considers it a specialty. Ohio State begins cutting up film for walk-ons in August, and they project which recruits will fall through the cracks and not get major offers. Hodges is quick to point out the importance of in-state walk-ons—“It’s unfair to recruit a kid from California and tell him to pay $36,000 to go to school here versus telling a guy [from Ohio] to come pay $22,000.”

The Buckeyes had one out of state walk-on last year, but that player reached out to Ohio State and made the initial move. This year they will have a walk-on from the west coast, but his father is an alumnus of the university.

In the end, successful walk-ons are characterized by toughness.

“[Walking-on] isn’t easy. Paying your own way, and then you’re on scout [team] for two or three years? I want to know if you’re tough. Can you physically and mentally handle it and get back up and go again?”

Find Balance

There’s no profession like coaching, and this tip is easier said than done. While Coach Jennison is still working on finding balance between work and daily life, he tries to take small steps.

“When I’m eating, I don’t take calls anymore… If I miss [a phone call], I’ll get back to them later. Setting limits is very important, and I’ve tried to do that in some respects. One thing I’ve been doing lately is I’ve been taking Wednesday mornings for myself. Maybe I exercise, maybe I spend a little more time with my wife, [or] maybe I sleep in a little. Normal life stuff, finding just a few hours in the morning just one day a week.”

Check out the full interview from the AFCA’s Inside the Headset podcast at the top of this page.

This article was written by Alec Finch, Graduate Assistant for the AFCA.

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