(STATS) – Signing day always feels like a text or social media post away. Information about high school seniors who can officially commit to a college program on the first Wednesday of February is instantaneous.
During the long recruiting process, Charleston Southern coach Jamey Chadwell uses an old-school way of connecting with student-athletes – something that isn't as fleeting in a digital world.
Even if the written letter seems out of the ordinary to potential recruits who receive one from Chadwell.
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“The personal letter means so much more,” said the coach of the 2015 Big South Conference champions, “because prospects know you took time to write it and put thought (into the words).”
Landing a recruit isn't just about his height and weight or time in the 40-yard dash. There's a human element that's especially important.
On signing day at the FCS level, the linebackers may be closer to 6 feet tall and 210 pounds rather than the 6-2, 225-pound commitments of the FBS level, or the wide receivers might be two-tenths of a second slower than the FBS signees with comparable high school success.
FCS coaches say there are various aspects of recruiting student-athletes that fans, media and recruiting websites can overlook with so much focus on a player's passing yards or sack total.
“There's so much preparation and legwork that goes into it,” Jacksonville State coach John Grass said, “building a relationship with a recruit, maintaining and nurturing that relationship during the recruiting process” is important.
“Honesty,” said Illinois State Brock Spack, who gives high school players a sense of reality in a recruiting world of high expectations and false hopes. “It goes a long way and if you are honest throughout the process, it usually works in your favor.”
With today's information about recruits so readily available and sooner than ever, hidden gems are hard to come by. Recruiting has gotten more intense and there's greater focus on ensuring the right fit, from a school's perspective and from the player's.
Coaches say it's important to connect with people who have the biggest impact on a player's decision.
“You have to know who is going to influence him on his decision to come to school here. There is no question that it gets overlooked,” Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman said. “It could be a girlfriend. It could be that his grandparents want to come see him play. Most people think it is the mom and the dad, but there are other influences out there and other reasons he is making his decision. You have to find those reasons and why he is picking that particular school.
“Most of the time it is mom and dad, or mom or dad. However, you can win or lose one by not knowing every aspect of his life and people may overlook that sometimes.”
“And then,” adds Sam Houston coach K.C. Keeler, “you have to make sure that you are educating the decision maker about the opportunity your program offers.”
Coaches rely on the players in their program as well. Not only do the players double as salesmen during a high school senior's official recruiting visit on campus, but the players will find out how the recruits interacted and potentially fit in should they become part of the program. They can learn if the recruits are serious about their future and will put the distractions aside.
It always comes back to the relationships and human angle that coaches need to have a grasp on. And as Stephen F. Austin coach Clint Conque said, coaches are looking for overachievers.
“I think one thing that you can't really do it measure the drive of a young man,” he said.
“You can go out and get a 6-6, 285 offensive tackle and put him at offensive tackle. But if he doesn't have the heart and the drive and the work ethic – those are intangible things – he's probably not going to reach his full potential. Where if you take a 6-4 kid, 255 pounds, that's been overlooked – he has a great work ethic and a great drive – he's going to make himself 290, 300 pounds in a couple years, and you've got yourself a pretty good football player.”