FAIRFIELD, Ohio -- When high-profile college football coaches Nick Saban of Alabama, Dabo Swinney of Clemson and Jimbo Fisher of Florida State took private jets into Butler County Regional Airport in late January, they meant business.
Money is no object when it comes to recruiting for the Power Five college football programs. Landing in Greater Cincinnati this winter was no different.
And when Fairfield High School has two high-caliber recruits in the 2018 class like four-star defensive end Malik Vann and five-star offensive tackle Jack Carman, the stakes are even higher.
“It’s a rigorous process,” Fairfield coach Jason Krause said. “I think that’s what I’ve seen the most of. In the winter, when all the head coaches were coming in, it was interesting to see the expense these schools will do to recruit. We had guys flying in just to come over for a workout or come over just to get information on Jack.”
Fairfield had 52 head coaches visit the school within two weeks of January -- from the aforementioned big names to Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst, Louisville’s Bobby Petrino and Penn State’s James Franklin.
Often, the head coaches arrived without much notice. Some texted Krause a day before while others communicated little in advance.
The dialogue varies. Some head coaches speak casually while others get to the point quicker. They want an emailed transcript of a recruit and a constant flow of information.
Sometimes an assistant coach will take notes during a meeting in Krause’s office. Other topics include asking about the player’s family, academic standing and work ethic in the weight room.
The opportunity for a Power Five head coach to make an appearance is valuable. It also puts pressure on the assistants to carry through the effort in May.
“That’s the game now,” said Mark Porter, director of ScoutingOhio.com. “You spare no expense to get the recruit.”
As the high school academic year concludes this month, there is still an all-out blitz on recruits like the 6-foot-7, 340-pound Carman, who is ranked the nation’s No. 4 player overall in the 2018 class by Rivals.com and the No. 1 offensive tackle.
Last week, a Pac-12 assistant coach sat in Krause’s office and pulled out his smartphone with an offer to book a flight reservation for Carman’s official visit.
Krause demurred. He wanted to be sure Carman’s parents could also afford the trip before anything was finalized.
But the point was made. Getting a prized recruit from Ohio to schedule a trip to the West Coast would go a long way in trying to further the courtship.
Power Five programs will go anywhere to recruit linemen and linebackers, otherwise known as spot recruiting. California, Texas and Florida lead the way in recruiting but major programs will go anywhere for a player like Carman.
Those college programs want to be in good favor with the recruit on social media and offline.
“Everybody wants to know when they come in to recruit this spring, ‘hey are we in the mix and do we have a chance or are we wasting our time?’” Krause said.
“For Jack -- a young kid -- it’s been hard to narrow that list. It’s kind of overwhelming obviously for a kid who is 17 years old to have people all over the country offering you and texting you constantly and hitting you up on Twitter.”
The recruiting experience can be a whirlwind for a high school player or coach. Each college program has a sales pitch. Cutting through the hot air is half the battle.
But access to Hudl film can make a distant major college program instantly transform into a significant player in an Ohio player if desired. Oregon made a good impression on La Salle 2018 tight end Josh Whyle (UC commit) when it connected with him on FaceTime in early March.
“A school can recruit Ohio really fast and get up here in a hurry and not have to get through so much legwork like the past,” Porter said. “The legwork used to be getting phone calls, finding a game tape and getting a highlight film if there was one. All that used to be a part of the vetting process.”
The terminology has changed quickly in the past few years. There are “committable” offers, which means a recruit is actually making a pledge to a legitimate verbal offer instead of just being another number on a recruiting board.
There also college camps and recruiting services with combines.
Social media also adds to the rapid pace and allows for fans to interact closely with a recruit during the decision-making process. Attention spans are limited. Time is valuable.
Yet an old-fashioned visit to a high school still has its place, even for a multi-millionaire head coach.
“I know it’s still just exciting when a big-time college coach comes in,” Moeller 2018 defensive tackle Aeneas Hawkins said. “When they first started coming in, there was a week where it was Urban Meyer, Saban, Dabo and then (Michigan State coach Mark) Dantonio. I kind of was dumbfounded. It was like, ‘Man, I’m really talking to these guys I watch or hear about on TV every day.’”
Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney flew in on a private jet to Lunken Airport two weeks ago to visit Moeller.
Saban flew into Lunken from Lexington earlier this school year and drove over to visit the Moeller weight room.
Moeller coach John Rodenberg is used to dealing with the college coaches during weight room sessions. He is quick and to the point in his conversations. His aim is to be informative.
He also makes sure to speak with his players and their families about the recruiting process. Appearances from high-profile head coaches are all a part of the process at a Greater Catholic League South division school.
“The thing that created this was the coaches’ salaries,” Rodenberg said. “With coaches’ salaries comes winning. With winning comes unlimited funds. I guess it’s the way of the world right now.”
Fairfield's Vann, a 6-foot-3, 270 defensive end, verbally committed to UC April 18 after he had scholarship offers from several other schools. His other finalists were Michigan State, Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
Vann didn’t do anything differently during offseason weight room workouts, but he did notice when a high-profile coach was in the room.
“It was a great feeling knowing the head guy wants to come by and see me,” Vann said. “It just felt rewarding knowing I've caught their attention.”
Hawkins said he’s learned to keep his composure about the coaching appearances but he still looks forward to making an impression in the weight room.
“There’s definitely an extra sense of urgency in everything I do,” Hawkins said. “And maybe even a slight tiptoe to give myself an extra inch when I walk past them.”
Very few area players receive the type of national attention that requires a head coach flying on a private jet.
But accelerated NCAA college recruiting efforts also impact the entire 2018 class.
Last week, the Collegiate Commissioners Association approved a 72-hour football early signing period starting Dec. 20. That is in addition to the traditional February signing date. An impact of a mid-December signing period remains to be seen amid the coaching carousel that often happens after the regular season.
There is also newly adopted NCAA Division I legislation that allows football players to take official visits earlier in their junior year. That starts with April 1, 2018.
“I think it gives them a better chance to see schools before they make their decision,” Elder coach Doug Ramsey said of the revised scheduled for official visits.
“Most kids have made their decision before they go on an official visit the way we have been doing things.”
The pace and recruiting strategies from college programs influences high school programs. That isn't always the best order.
Some college assistant coaches don’t go through the high school coach for lines of communication either. That doesn't help win favor from some area high schools.
“I think the system is broken,” St. Xavier coach Steve Specht said. “I am a fan that if a school is going to offer a young man and he wants to commit, then good, sign right then. Because we see all these kids de-commit. What does that mean? That’s not even a word. That is so frustrating because what kids end up doing is they’ll commit to a school just to hold that scholarship and then they’ll continue to look at other schools. I’m sorry but we’re in high school.”
At Lakota West, 2018 middle linebacker Xavier Peters, 2018 defensive lineman Tyler Bentley and 2019 defensive end Steven Faucheux are three of the heaviest recruited players in Ohio this spring.
The foot traffic has been constant in West Chester.
“This is hectic because it’s different because recruiting strategies have changed,” Lakota West head coach Larry Cox said. “The committable offers, the camp offers -- it muddies the waters.”
None of the three standouts have narrowed much with their options, but that’s fine with Cox. He wants them to make the right choice. Even as four college coaches and two reporters interrupted his lunch hour last week.
“There is a lot of time spent on this,” Cox said. “It can be draining at times. But you remember it’s for the kids. There are certain kids that need you to help them through this.”