Football: Recruiters are artists as well as scientists
MSR OHIO NOTE: This story was orginally published by the Columbus Dispatch on September 29, 2008 & is available on dispatch.com.
By Steve Blackledge
From the time Tim Hinton takes his seat in a high school football stadium, he is programmed to watch an altogether different game than the one seen by fans, players, coaches and media.
Hinton, a University of Cincinnati assistant in charge of recruiting the central Ohio area, is looking for a few good men.
A player might envision himself wearing the jersey of Ohio State, Cincinnati or any other college team he admires.
What he might not realize (or accept) is that thousands of other teenagers with similar skill sets are fighting for the same scholarship. And those empowered to mete out the full rides have a stringent — one might say unreasonable — curve by which they judge potential recruits.
“One of the worst parts of the job is that a lot of coaches you work with are so emotionally attached to their guy, they get really upset and take it personally when you back off recruiting him,” Hinton said. “If we’re considering five kids at a certain position, the decision is based solely on our needs. Four other programs may well prefer one of the other kids.”
It’s no secret that major college programs seek the biggest, strongest, fastest, most athletic players. But that’s true only to an extent.
“At UC, everybody on our staff has a book listing specific criteria that we tend to look for at each position, but we’re flexible enough to make exceptions in some cases,” Hinton said.
“Some recruiters put a lot of stock in bench presses, (40-yard) times and vertical jumps from combines, and those attributes are helpful, but we also look for kids with what we call the ‘X Factor.’ Coach (Brian) Kelly and our staff are big believers in taking a chance on somebody with untapped potential who might turn into a good player for us two or three years down the road. We try to gain an edge on other programs in that regard.”
As the founder of the McCallister Scouting Report, John McCallister provides in-depth information on high school players to roughly 80 college coaches, the majority from Division I. Subscribers receive a directory of McCallister’s top 500 Ohio prospects and a DVD that includes 20 to 25 plays of each player in the February before his senior season.
McCallister, who attends games, practices, combines and summer camps emphasized that his is a scouting service, not a recruiting service. His priority is to identify the top players and spread the word among coaches.
“Generally speaking, I’d say that the most important trait that colleges are looking for — even more important than the ability to run — is to play fast, because that’s
the biggest difference a player will see in making the transition from high school,” McCallister said. “Regardless of what position a kid plays, he’s got to be able to move and think on his feet.”
McCallister said some high school coaches are overzealous in encouraging a player to gain bulk and weight for the sake of fitting the prototype of a particular position.
“The college game is changing, and it’s more dictated by speed,” he said. “If an offensive lineman is going to weigh over 300 pounds, he’d better be fit enough
and athletic enough to hold off those speed-rushing defensive ends coming off the edge that are all the rage today.”
Because Cincinnati plays a spread offense and prefers a zone blocking scheme, Hinton said the Bearcats typically avoid recruiting 300-pound behemoths.
“We like them 250 to 270 and athletic,” he said. “The popular notion is that college players have gotten a lot bigger through the years. That may be true, but at the same time they’ve gotten more mobile and agile. I think the high school coaches are catching on to this, as well.”
Although he also subscribes to a manual with specific qualities sought at each position,
former Ohio State assistant and recruiting coordinator Bill Conley, now a recruiting analyst for ESPN, works hard to evaluate tangibles and intangibles.
“There are guys out there who don’t fit the criteria, but they might play and react quicker than their 40 time indicates, or play with extreme toughness, effort or attitude,” Conley said.
“You want players who are finishers. It might sound strange to some people, but when I was recruiting I’d always look at kids’ attendance records. If that player was late or missed a lot of school, I’d mark him down a notch. If I’m choosing among three guys of equal talent, I want the one who you can count on to be there for you.”
Josh Harris didn’t garner any big statistics or honors as a quarterback at Westerville North, but McAllister recognized his untapped ability. Harris went
on to excel at Bowling Green and played briefly in the NFL.
“His team didn’t throw much and he didn’t look like the traditional pro-style
quarterback, so a lot of people automatically tabbed him as defensive back,”
“But every time I watched Josh warm up, he threw the ball really hard and with a
flawless, effortless technique and a perfect spiral. I fell in love with the kid and told everybody who would listen that they were missing the boat on him. I’m proud to say that I was right on that one.”