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How college football programs are adapting to recruiting during the COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 7:00 AM, Jun 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-30 18:34:15-04

CINCINNATI — University of Cincinnati head football coach Luke Fickell and his staff grew accustomed to using Zoom and FaceTime for recruiting this past spring.

They really had no choice.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is sure to bring plenty of uncertainty over the next several weeks leading into the college football season, the importance of keeping up on recruiting trends is an aspect of college football programs that doesn't change.

"I think that people are doing a lot better job because they have a lot more time," Fickell told WCPO. "Where the time that you would normally be spending with your players, the time that you might be spending in camps and things like that -- you're actually spending more time evaluating the film of those guys that have played."

Without opportunities to visit high schools this spring or player camps this summer, college coaches are adapting to a year that has been anything but normal.

"The technology has helped them," said director Mark Porter. "I think where there is a will there is a way and with college coaches they weren't going to let other schools find a way to get recruits and then fall asleep at the wheel with whatever the new way is to reach out."

Even though college programs were without spring practice, the time created opportunities for coaches to become more creative (such as with virtual campus tours) and technologically savvy with building relationships with recruits and their families.

"If you know anything about college coaches, they're alpha males," Porter said. "They're not going to waste a second. It's not like they were sitting at home wondering what to do."

Miami University coach Chuck Martin said the RedHawks were already entrenched in recruiting in mid-March when COVID-19 impacted sports programs at all levels.

Miami University head football coach Chuck Martin said the RedHawks received up to 18 verbal commitments during this spring.

Instead of having a recruit and his family visit Martin's office overlooking Yager Stadium, the Miami coaching staff was able to connect via FaceTime.

Martin joked in some ways it was almost like going back to the 1980s and 1990s, when film study was the primary way to evaluate a recruit without the benefit of spring visits and summer camps.

"I said two things could happen in the quarantine," Martin said. "I said, 'I have no idea what's going on, just like the rest of the world right now, but we are going to take care of our current players.' We're going to make sure that they have all the stuff -- that they have all the academic support they need -- we're going to do whatever we need. And then all we got left is to recruit. So I said we should have the best month recruiting in Miami history. And the next thing you know we had 17, 18 commits, so it worked out pretty good for us. We really didn't have anything else to do but recruit."

That was certainly true for the Mount St. Joseph University staff this spring. The NCAA Division III program in Delhi Township missed out on a great deal of in-person evaluations at combines and camps from April through June.

Information sheets, stats and film don't always tell the entire story, so coaches often like seeing how a prospect interacts with others and his demeanor on the field.

"Seeing a guy in person brings validity," MSJ head coach Tyler Hopperton said.

Mount St. Joseph University head football coach Tyler Hopperton said the Lions have taken advantage of opportunities to meet with recruits in Zoom meetings.

Yet, the next best thing is a film evaluation and the ability to collect information from the high school coach while speaking remotely with a prospect.

MSJ conducted an estimated 3,000 player evaluations through Hudl through mid-June. As a Division III program, MSJ does not offer athletic scholarships, but recruiting is vital to its success.

The MSJ staff increasingly relied on high school coaches for prospect lists.

"We're definitely six weeks ahead in terms of reaching out for roster spot offers," Hopperton said.

Assistant coach Adam Heidrich had completed 750 Hudl evaluations in Indiana alone as of June 22.

"If you just glance at Twitter, every school is ahead, right?" Hopperton said. "Everybody is sending out roster spot offers and [scholarship] offers, having Zoom visits and being creative online. So although that's been different, to me it's been really good just from the sense of to me we have a better quality control over our local area and regional area and pipeline areas in general."

Caleb Corrill, MSJ's offensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator, estimated earlier this month the staff has met with 250 to 300 players on Zoom whereas 76 players visited the campus last summer.

"In recruiting you text a lot," said Corrill. "That's just what you do. Just like anything, taking a text of introducing yourself to a kid and now the same day or same week you are face to face with them essentially. It's completely changed the perception that not only what we have of the student-athlete but also them looking at us. We are just not another name behind a text. Now, it's a personal feel for these kids and their families. It's definitely helping both parties."