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Thursday, September 12, 2002
Updated: September 16, 11:47 AM ET
Your players are your best salesmen

By Jim Donnan
ESPN.com

Recruiting is the lifeblood of a college program. In order to have success on the field, you have to have talented, dedicated athletes in your program. A lot of attention is given to the official visits taken by high school seniors, but it is probably as important to have great unofficial visits.

One of the keys is that unofficial visits can be taken not only by high school seniors but by underclassmen as well. The entire recruiting process is about building trust because you are asking a player to give four years of his life to your school. So the more times you can get a guy to your campus, whether it's for a basketball game or football practice or summer camp, it builds camaraderie between you, the player and their parents. If you have a player come to your campus just for his official visit, it's hard to really build a relationship over a 48-hour period.

Make your list, check it twice
It's important to identify players you want as early as possible. Before the season starts, letters are sent to the players that rank high on your list. Then the recruits send back a return card noting the games they would like to attend. That will give you a good idea of who is coming to what games. It's very competitive as to what games recruits will come to, which makes follow up calls very important.

There are always a lot of kids who want to come to your campus for a visit. Unfortunately, you can't have everyone. It takes a lot of planning by the recruiting coordinator to make the visits count. The coordinator keeps up with the tickets and who comes, so you can turn that in for compliance. It's important to keep a good paper trail on this. It makes sure nobody received more tickets than they are supposed to or brought someone they weren't supposed to bring. You also document calls made to the seniors during the week and send a letter inviting them to your campus.

At a big home game, for example, we tried to invite any player we thought we would offer a scholarship and any juniors we also thought we'd offer. If there was a game where we thought recruit attendance might be low because of a big game or two somewhere else in the region, we would have a day exclusively for juniors.

An average of 200-300 prospects would come for a game. We had around 500 tickets for recruits per weekend. You can only give three tickets per person for any unofficial visit. Early on visits are usually taken with a coach, but the more a recruit comes, the more a recruit will bring a girlfriend or family member. If it's an underclassman, you usually work through a high school assistant coach or another player on his team.

Gameday routine
Once the player gets to campus, it's important to be as thorough as possible. Let's say you have a 1:30 p.m. game, you try to get the recruit to campus early in the morning. By 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. you'd have a tour of the athletic facilities. You also try to have the guys meet with the student hostesses, like the Georgia Girls, because the players are involved with pregame activities. You usually have a very simple lunch, as the NCAA requires the recruits to pay for it.

The recruits are then taken down on the field during warm-ups -- they can't be on the field during games. After games they can come to the dressing room. It's really important because they can be around your current players and get a good feel for what your program is like.

On game day the hay is in the barn, there's not a lot you can do that Saturday morning before the game. If a guy is going to make a difference for you in the next few years, you need to spend a lot of time with recruits before the game.

The No. 1 thing in recruiting is your own players. They can tell the kids how they'll be treated. They are your best salesmen. The coaches can paint a rosy picture, but it's your players who can do the most for your program -- and it can be current players, former players or guys who played for you when you were at a different school. It's important to rely on them as much as you can.

It's all about the details
It's hard to accomplish a lot on an unofficial visit, but you need your staff to be as informed as possible about players. Just about every kid who comes to your campus is also going to visit Georgia Tech, Florida, Tennessee, Auburn or whatever other schools are recruiting them. What are you going to do to separate yourself from the other schools?

We always had meetings with the hosts and hostesses to go over the background of a recruit. You don't want a host to come approach a recruit and ask, "Where are you from?" when at another school a host says, "Hey, you're from Spring Branch High School. You had a great game last night."

The first impression is so important. Auburn does a great job recruiting but there's one circumstance that I still kid Tommy Tuberville about. David Greene's parents went to Auburn, but when he went there for the Spring Game, they got him mixed up with someone else and nobody really talked to him. When he came to Georgia, we all knew who he was. The first impression is really a key.

ESPN.com college football analyst Jim Donnan, the former head coach at Marshall and Georgia, will be taking part in chats and making observations on Saturdays as part of College GameDay Online.