- Gene Wojciechowski, Senior Writer
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Presenting
THE LITTLE BLUE-CHIP RECRUITING HANDBOOK
A Collection of Recruiting Wisdom by ESPNU 150 Blue-Chippers for Blue-Chippers (with some help from their coaches)
Chapter 1: It Gets Old Fast
• "At first, you'll walk into the locker room hoping there'll be letters waiting for you. But after a while, you can tell just by looking there's nothing important in them.
"If it was a handwritten note, I would read it. If not, I wouldn't even open it. Nothing worse than a [recruiting] form letter. That's another thing recruiters should know: 99 percent of recruits would open your letter if it was handwritten."
• "The mail's ridiculous. I'm looking at five letters, and they all have my name spelled different."
• "That's happened a lot to me. Whenever I get a letter with my name misspelled, I don't feel like they really put in the time."
• "I was 14 or 15 when it started. I played on the varsity a little bit as a freshman and got recruited a little bit. I went to camps and stuff and, by my sophomore year, I was getting verbal offers. I'm wide-eyed and all excited. These elite programs -- they want you.
"But you have to be careful. Some of these kids, they get overwhelmed. They have like 15 [college] coaches talking to them. They start thinking, 'I don't have to work anymore because these schools want me.' You get lazy.
"I wouldn't have been able to do it if I didn't have a good high school coach who helped me. And my brothers, too.
"We'd get the letters, the calls. My coach would ask me, 'Are you interested in this one? Are you interested in that one?' It was, 'Thank you. No, thank you.' You listen to what they have to say, but I got it narrowed down pretty quickly.
"The biggest mistake kids make is getting too caught up in it. You're still a kid; you've got to live your life."
• "The recruiting process can help you a lot. The interviews you do. The character you have to show. Having to be a leader. It shows what type of person you are. It might get tiring every now and then, but if you stick with it and pull through it, you learn how to communicate with people better."
• The calls? Unbelievable. Too many to count. At first it was cool, but then it got aggravating. It's their job -- I know -- they have to do that."
Chapter 2: Campus Visits Can Be Your Friend
• "Visit as many schools as you can. You get five official visits, but I probably took 20 unofficial visits to schools. I visited [the school I committed to] five times before I committed to them.
"At first I had some offers from smaller programs in the Midwest, where I'm from. But then these other schools started calling. [One school] called, but it was eight hours away. I didn't want to go that far. But I thought, 'Why the hell not?' I took the visit, and I just fell in love with it.
• "Take all your visits, especially the guys who have been in-state their whole lives. Get down to the schools as many times as you can. You've really got to know the place where you're going to be.
"Have fun with your visits. If you go on a visit and try to make it totally businesslike, you'll miss out. Meet the guys. Make friends. Have some fun."
• "Look at every school and give them a chance. I almost messed up because I didn't give everyone a chance at first. I was committed to [an in-state school], but I ended up decommitting after I took a visit to another school [out of state].
"I was going [in state] because of my mom. But I didn't really feel that was a good fit for me, so I changed my mind and signed to go out of state."
• "It's a blessing to be out here. If you can go visit five different places for free, take advantage of it. Enjoy it while you can because once you sign on that dotted line, you're pretty much through. That's pretty much it. It's gone. [The recruiters] disappear. It's done. You're on your own."
Chapter 3: Don't Fall Helmet Over Cleats for Your Coaching Staff
• "Coaches take other jobs. Those guys who came to Texas to play for Will Muschamp? He left for Florida. Those guys who came to Florida to play for Urban Meyer? He's leaving, too.
"Don't go to a school because you like the coaching staff. It's a big business, and coaches move all the time. Look at their bios in the media guides and you'll see how often they change schools.
"You have to ask yourself: If the coaches left after you signed, would you still want to go to that school? If you got hurt and couldn't play, would you still want to go to that school?"
• "You'll hear a lot of sales pitches. Most of the coaches will be truthful with you. But I had one coach tell me, 'You can come in and start, and I'll be here your whole career.'
"He's gone now.
"At the beginning of the recruiting process, you believe whatever the coach tells you. Coaches are kind of like celebrities. But after you spend enough time with these guys, you learn about them: who's trying to sell something and who's telling the truth. You really can't tell unless you spend time with them."
• "Don't just look at a school because of coaches because coaches can leave, but you'll still be there."
Chapter 4: When Recruiters Get Desperate
• "One prime example is when a recruiter comes in and starts to rag on other schools and other conferences. After I narrowed my finalists down to four or five programs, I went down to visit a school and their coaches picked through each school I was considering. That bothered me. I felt like that wasn't a classy thing to do."
• "Good recruiters don't negative recruit. They don't say things like, 'Hey, man, you don't want to go to that school -- they've got four feet of snow.' Or, 'They're not any good.' Or, 'Who have they put in the NFL?'
"That's the difference between the good ones and the bad ones. They're not salesmen; they're coaches telling a kid, 'We've got something to help you. We're going to make sure we look out after you.' It's not, 'We've got 35 guys in the NFL.'"
• "I get that sometimes, the negative recruiting. So I basically go find out for myself. My biggest thing in recruiting is the relationship the coaches build with the recruit. You have to be there for the next three, four, five years. You need to get a relationship with that guy where you know you can trust him, that he'll be there for you."
• "At one point, I kind of let people know Penn State was probably going to be my school. A lot of recruiters tried to convince me that [Joe Paterno] was going to retire. Obviously, I want to play for him, but the reason I'm going to Penn State is that I felt comfortable with the other coaches and that I fell in love with the university.
"The negative recruiting was a turn-off, it really was. If I could give advice to recruiters, I'd tell them that if you've got to talk trash about other schools and coaches, then your program is not that strong. I want to hear about your program, not what's wrong with other programs."
Chapter 5: We Notice the Little Things
• "There's a lot of good [recruiters]. You're really impressed by how hard they work. There was one [recruiter] who was going to fly here to see us, but his plane was delayed. So he jumped in a rental car and drove 3½ hours so he can say hello. It's admirable for someone to do that. It shows their commitment.
"Another thing that's impressive is when a coach comes to a game and he doesn't leave at halftime to go watch another kid in the area. They'll stay for the entire game."
• "Coaches who stay the whole time, it kind of shows how much they want you."
• "If I go on a visit and notice their players aren't working hard, then I don't want to go to a place like that. Or if I can go to a place and pick up a defense just like that, I don't want to go there. I want a place where the defense is complex and where it will really benefit me to know the whole defense inside and out."
Chapter 6: In a Perfect Recruiting World
• "I would tell recruiters that one of the reasons I committed early is because the phone calls were getting absurd. One school e-mailed me once a day. To recruits, it starts to get annoying after a while. It ruins your impression of that school. At least, it did for me.
"Once a week, on a certain day and at a certain time, I was going to talk to [recruiters]. Most of them, when they start to call, they repeat the same things over and over again. Some guys tell you stats over and over again. I don't want to hear that. I want to hear family stuff, what the guys on the team are doing. We just don't want stats."
• "I want the guy who keeps it down to earth. I would tell a recruiter, 'Just be yourself.'"
• "I'd set a day to accept calls from recruiters: Wednesday night from 7-9. Limit the calls to 3- to 5-minute calls. I mean, if I'm recruiting you, there's only so much I can tell you. You know you're a top recruit, that you'll play as a freshman, that you know how many players we have in the NFL, that you know about our academics and how many seniors we're graduating. It's almost to the point where you hear those things repetitively every single phone call."
• "Coaches need to know when to push, when not to push. And when a coach calls, he needs to make sure he's got something to say. Not just football stuff, but life stuff. It gets frustrating because they all say about the same exact thing.
"But I had one coach, he was the best. When the call came, we talked about important stuff. We had something to talk about. He'd message me on Facebook, but not every day. He didn't push."
• "In the beginning, it was all fun having everybody calling you. Now, sometimes I answer, sometimes I won't."
• "Sometimes we just want to relax. If players aren't picking up your calls, that's not a good sign. If you call and we pick up on one ring, that's a good sign."
Chapter 7: Playing the NFL Card
• "There was one guy -- I'm not going to mention his name -- and he'd flash his Super Bowl rings and talk about all these NFL players that he coached. Everybody in the industry knew he was a bad egg and took what he said with a grain of salt.
"I wonder about recruiters when they start bragging on themselves that they got this guy in the league or that they're responsible for getting that guy that much money in the league."
Chapter 8: We're Not Stupid
• "[A recruiter] told me: 'We're not going to promise you anything. We're not going to put your face on billboards. But we'll try to get the best out of you. If you work hard, we'll get the best out of you.'
"I really liked that." (And the player committed to that program.)
• "Don't lie about playing time. Coaches can look at a kid on video and be able to tell pretty much if he can play as a freshman. Don't tell a kid he can play and then he gets down and he doesn't play at all.
"Don't lie because, in the end, he'll know the difference. Just say, 'Son, you might be able to come in and help us play as a freshman.'"
• "Whenever coaches make you promises like that, you have to remember there are other guys on the depth chart. You have to use some common sense with it. They recruited those other guys, too."
• "Recruiters will tell you anything to make you happy. They'll lie to you and tell a different kid the same thing, like, 'You're going to start [as a freshman].' Just tell the truth."
• "I would tell them to be completely honest. Sometimes they'll tell you, 'You can come here and start. You can come here and do this.' I wanted a recruiter -- and this is why [my school] really intrigued me -- who would tell the truth. [My school's recruiter] said, 'You can start, but it's going to be tough. You're going to have competition.' That's what I liked. I liked the fact that they were being honest with me."
• "I can tell the [bulls------s]. Since I've been through this for almost a year now, I can tell when a recruiter is lying to me. You can tell just by the way they say things to you."
Chapter 9: Do What's Right for You
• "Take your time and make the right choice. Most of those guys who commit in the spring [as juniors] and summer [before their senior seasons] seem to decommit later on. Those are the guys who rush into it. They get that one offer they're looking for and, once they get it, they don't look anywhere else.
"Maybe the school is telling them to take it now because it might not be there later. But if they really want you, I think they'll hold [the scholarship] for you.
"My biggest thing is to get into an offense that fits me, that will get me the ball so I can make it to the NFL. That's my dream, to play in the NFL. So I want to put myself in the best position to do that. That's basically how I'm looking at it, as a business decision."
• "I'd tell guys not to worry about recruiting. Finish your high school career and finish strong.
"Recruiting is a business, so make sure you ask questions. My main thing was dealing with academics -- how good was their graduation rate. I wanted to know what the depth chart looked like, how did my position look on the depth chart, what would my team look like.
"The process started for me when I was 15. I'm 17 now. I talked to every recruiter who called so I'd get to learn them. It was a great process. But committing early was a big help to me. I'm starting [college in the] spring semester."
• "Scope out the recruiter. See what type of person they really are. Are they into it to help you out, or are they just doing it to get somebody and get paid? Do they care, or are they selling you something?"
• "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Don't try to rush through it. You're going to have the one school you've been rooting for since you were a little kid. It's the school you always looked up to and your favorite player went there.
"But sometimes you have to make business decisions over emotional decisions. The emotional decision for me would have been to go to the school where my brother was [playing]. But I had to think what was best for me."
• "Stay focused. It will play out. The [recruiters] are going to come and they're going to go, but you need to stay focused. Do what you need to do. Concentrate on what's important."
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.
So what do recruits really think about recruiting? They tell all in this inside look at the life of a blue-chip prospect, Gene Wojciechowski writes.