- Bill Conley
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One of the most rewarding moments for a recruiter is when he receives that coveted verbal commitment from a player. Oftentimes it happens after months of telephone calls, letters and other means of contact. The excitement, however, is short-lived; verbals are not binding, and the competition rarely lets up even if the athlete commits to another school.
Recruiting goes from an offensive to a defensive mode once a recruit opts for that specific college or university. The recruiter must come up with a plan to keep the athlete from wavering until his name is on the dotted line in February. Each situation and each player is different, but there is one thing for certain: The recruiting process doesn't end until signing day!
Techniques and methods to keep recruits committed
First of all, coaches tell the recruit not to accept telephone calls from other schools once the verbal takes place. That's much easier said than done, since the opposition will not let up. There are no rules against courting a recruit even though he has verbally committed to someone else.
Coaches of the school a prospect has committed to tell parents to answer the telephone in order to screen recruiting calls from other colleges. The parents or decision-makers for the recruit can ward off other schools if they are as sold on the chosen school as the athlete is. Coaches also encourage the recruit to change his cell-phone number once the verbal takes place; hopefully, it will take a long time for the opposition to discover the new number.
A second way colleges can help secure their commitment from a recruit is to ask the head high school coach to get involved. It is smart to ask the high school coach to call opposing colleges and tell them the player is now off-limits. Sometimes the coach's words are heeded, and sometimes they're not. Oftentimes, colleges do not want to anger a high school coach for the good of future recruiting purposes.
Don't let up
Preventing player contact is very difficult no matter what methods opposing universities might attempt, as the recruiting wars continue until signing day. In my opinion, it's better to take an offensive strategy than a defensive one when trying to hold on to a recruit. The school that has obtained the verbal commitment must stay aggressive and treat the athlete like he is not committed. In other words, keep giving him the same or even more attention even though he's supposedly in the fold. A recruiter can absolutely not take anything for granted.
The more times you can get a player to campus after they have committed, the better. Although the athlete must pay his own way after his one-time official visit, trips to campus will continue to convince him he made the right choice. If a recruit is relatively close, he can always come to a basketball game or other athletic event on campus throughout the winter. Also, if the university is fortunate enough to be in a bowl game, it's smart to invite the player to bowl practice on the campus. I always thought it was wise to have him bring a younger player from his high school with him. This not only helps for future recruiting, but it also makes him feel like he is already part of the team and is taking on responsibility.
The coaching staff takes the main responsibility of keeping the recruit's commitment solid by reassuring the player how important he is to the future of the program and about the specific role he will have on the team. The normal recruiting policy is for the position coach and the head coach to absorb much of this responsibility. The process of building personal relationships goes on throughout recruiting; it's crucial to securing the commitment until the player officially signs in February.
Although college coaches can't instruct current team members to call a recruit, players often exchange phone numbers when a recruit is on campus. Team members can be great resources in keeping the future teammate sold, especially those players who play a similar or complementary position.
The final surge
Great recruiters anticipate the tactics that opposing staffs will take as signing day nears. The competition will do everything possible to influence a recruit and the people around him to change his mind or get him confused, especially if the player is a difference-maker. Just like any game plan, there needs to be a fourth-quarter strategy for recruiting.
The coaching staffs that have laid out the best future plan for the recruit in terms of his athletic, academic and long-term future have the advantage of maintaining the commitment and warding off the competition. At the same time, it's vital to be ready to react and respond in the closing moments.
The last few weeks, and especially the last few days, till signing are filled with anxiety. My advice to recruiters is not to leave any stone unturned, and be prepared for a race to the finish.
Bill Conley is a recruiting coordinator for ESPN Scouts Inc. He previously worked at Ohio State for 17 years as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.