By: Daniel Izquierdo
A screeching fax machine in early February can only signify one thing to those involved with college football and its recruiting process – it’s over…for now. By no means does recruiting end with the faxing of letters of intent last week. Instead it is already taking place for next year, and the year after that.
The process that most describe as nerve-wrecking includes attending summer camps, taking phone calls, visits and receiving correspondence as early as ninth or tenth grade.
“During my freshman and sophomore year in high school, schools would send me letters telling me about themselves,” quarterback Jamie Burke said. “That’s all they do at this point because they can’t really talk to you at this time.” The NCAA and its governing body implement rules that prohibit coaches from speaking with a player until May of his junior year as well as different periods that specify when and how a recruit may be contacted. These rules are not exclusive to coaches but do include boosters and so-called “friends of the program,” who are responsible for rules violations a majority of the time.
While a recruit may be unable to establish contact with a recruiter or coach until after his junior season, he may, however, attend a coach’s summer camp. “We have a lot of teams that come to our Air Strike Camp and some of our recruits have attended the camp,” head coach Don Strock, who runs a 7-on-7 camp every summer, said. “It has been very helpful for us.”
While Burke admits that he did not spend time putting golf balls in Steve Spurrier’s office like Eric Shelton, a former recruit who ended up signing with Florida State in 2001 did, he still felt a sense of importance over the others that attended. “If he wanted someone to teach the others how to do something, he would ask me and a few others,” said Burke, who did not take an official visit to Florida because he was already set on FIU.
“It’s really a good way for them to meet you if they can’t talk to you yet, and you get to show what you can do.”
A student-athlete can rack up quite a bit of mileage during the recruiting process, primarily the summer between their junior and senior years of high school. Just ask defensive end Josh Alexander, who blazed quite a trail after his 11th grade baseball season, taking unofficial visits to Georgia Tech while attending camps at UF, Clemson and FSU, where he won co-defensive MVP. “I think summer camps are a great recruiting ploy,” Alexander, who described recruiters as “used car salesmen,” said. “It is really exhausting but it is also a great experience.”
Once all these contacts are established and evaluations take place, it is then time to hit the road again. Players take visits, which can be either unofficial or official, the latter being limited to 48 hours by the NCAA. Some institutions have a staff made up of female students that show these young men around searching for their commitment and eventually a signature on a letter of intent. While some schools take players to parties, that are at times set up because of their visit, others choose to make it more of a bonding experience, in which the current players can get to know the recruit. Shelton signed at FSU because that was the only school that did not throw people at him pretending to know who he was.
Others have almost signed with someone else because of how much they partied on their visits. Kevin Jones being a prime example, an eventual Virginia Tech signee almost chose Penn State because of his social interactions while on campus.
FIU chooses to make it more of a personal experience in which players get to know the recruit and vice versa. A typical visit to the University Park campus includes flying in on Friday afternoon and being greeted by the coaching staff and academic advisors. Following their meeting with university staff and coaches, the potential student-athletes will go to Don Shula’s Steakhouse for dinner with the coaches. Saturday night will consist of some players taking the prospects for a night out on the town.
Even though dinner with the coaches is not restricted, hosts are permitted $30 a night to show recruits around. “We try to take them to nice places, usually South Beach and Coconut Grove, showing them what it would be like to come to FIU,” Alexander said. “It is usually a nice family environment and we’re not allowed to take them to any bad places like strip clubs.”
The visit will conclude Sunday with a scholarship offer if the program deems the student-athlete worthy of one. Though a recruit may offer to sign with a certain university, he has only done so verbally. A verbal commitment is non-binding.
Intensity increases with every passing day in the recruiting process and magnifies tenfold once the late autumn months of an athlete’s senior year roll around. “Depending on how many schools are after you it can get pretty bad,” Burke said. “I would usually get at least two phone calls a day.” Another highly sought after prospect that can attest to that is newly hired running backs’ coach Tony Nathan. “It got to a point that I wouldn’t give anyone my phone number or my girlfriend’s phone number,” Nathan, who played at the University of Alabama, said. Even though it may seem as if the process has to come to an end, it has merely been halted for a short period of time. There is constant correspondence being sent out to recruits year round. Every school has different methods and tactics, but rest assured that coach Strock has his assistants checking up with their assigned high schools even while he is at Pebble Beach for the week. The moment you sign your latest class, you’ve already been working on next year’s.
“The most intense part of recruiting is December, January, and the days in February leading up to signing day because that is when everyone takes their visits,” Strock said. “But we always send out cards just to let them know we’re here.”