- Justin Heckert
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Justin Heckert has been following the start-up football program at Georgia State since August. You can read his piece on GSU's first recruiting class here (). The video embedded here is part of a recurring video series (with text) that you can access here.
We were glued to the fax machine. It was February 4th and we were huddled next to it, seated in a semi-circle, like we were waiting for marshmallows to blacken over a campfire. It was National Signing Day and we were there from seven in the morning until nearly four in the afternoon in the hallway of the Georgia State University football offices. And we really didn't move. It was a compulsory situation, because the faxes that might come through were the most important things in the world.
The fax machine was a Brother Intellifax 2820. We ogled it. We basked in the color of its red and green lights. We looked at it a couple times a minute, a hundred times an hour. The coaches literally begged it not to malfunction. No one strayed too far into the hallways. No one knew what would happen if it suddenly went on the fritz. The fax machine was situated on top of a small wooden cabinet, next to a bookcase, and it was a source of much anxiety. At one point in the afternoon the fax machine surpassed a mere fixation for the coaches and became totemic.
Then there were the noises it made—blooping and whirring—when a piece of printed paper slid out onto its plastic tray. Each piece of paper was a national letter of intent, signed by a high school football prospect and faxed from one of a number of high schools throughout the country. There were 28 names written in blue Sharpie on a dry erase board in the waiting room of the office, names of players who had been recruited hard by GSU. A member of the coaching staff put an X by each name after his fax arrived: Eduardo Curry. Sam Burkhalter. Dan Williams. Justin Orr…
By 8:30 a.m. GSU had recruited—actually landed—its first three players of its first ever roster. By 9:30 there were 15 X's on the board. Then there were 21, only six fewer than the entire recruiting class, and it wasn't even noon.
The noise of the machine was a big deal. It's stentorian bloop jangled the insides of the ninth-floor office and the noise meant the coaches had landed another recruit, right before another sheet of paper whirred through. "We got one!" yelled recruiting coordinator/assistant head coach George Pugh at around noon; he was sitting with Anthony Midgett, the defensive coach and former All-American at Virginia Tech, and Mike Riddle, offensive line coach and director of football operations. Each told recruiting stories nervously while they lingered in front of the fax.
"There are no locks in this business," said Pugh. "Sometimes you spend years tracking a kid. And you wind up sitting on pins and needles on signing day. Through the years I've learned not to take it personally. You figure out that they can change their minds at the drop of a pin, and sometimes they won't even call to tell you why. All the hours you spend with them, someone can come in at the 11th hour. The mistake a young recruiter makes is getting attached, emotionally."
The coaches were dressed in dark khaki pants and button-up shirts. They left half-empty Coke cans and Diet Coke bottles on floors and tabletops. They incessantly checked their Blackberrys, picking them up, looking at them, fidgeting with the tracking balls.
After an NLI (National Letter of Intent) had been faxed over and checked with the compliance office, the coaches called the kids. "Hey man—congratulations!"
"Don't forget your hat."
"It's done—you're now a part of history."
A couple of the last signees took their time, which is to say they made use of the time the NCAA allotted them to decide, and the fax machine went silent for a while in the latter part of the day, which was depressing. The coaches milled around, went into their offices to make calls, talked to each other, lingered about the room as anxious as if they were about to take the stage.
During recruiting, coaches like Midgett and Riddle had not only become friends with the players, but they had befriended their families, their friends, and other people who knew them. They had visited and seen the inside of their homes and memorized anecdotes about their adolescent lives.
Even though the Panthers had never played a game, and wouldn't until 2010, it turned out that it hadn't been so difficult to get high school students to want to come there, and by 3pm, the school had landed everyone it recruited, save one player. The first recruiting class in GSU history totalled 27.
John Bond, GSU's offensive coordinator, offered a succint explanation of what it was like to recruit this first class, and what it was like when the players took their first official visit to the school: "We brought them in. Coach Curry stood up. He gave a speech. The parents cried. We showed them the Georgia Dome—and it was over."
Bond was in his office, reading the Atlanta Journal-Constitution website. He was engrossed in an updated interview with Mark Richt, the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, who had inked their entire class by the early afternoon.
It was strange to see a coach in the middle of his own signing day reading about another coach in the same situation. By that point Bond was leaning back in his chair, reading the new Bulldog names, watching a video of Richt, and for the first time that day, he was completely oblivious to the fax machine.
To read more about Georgia State's first recruiting class, go here ().
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