Random Thoughts on Recruiting:
Recruiting season is a time of the year where maybe only 12% of football fans really care, and I am pretty sure those 12% all reside in the South. I have friends down here in Louisiana that grind every single recruiting tidbit that they can get their hands on. They know every detail about the 2-Star defensive lineman from Houma, LA who visited LSU once, but they can't remember what they ate for breakfast.
As a player I never really paid that much attention to recruiting. I trusted the coaches were doing a good job and would meet a lot of the players when they came in town for visits, but until they were officially on campus as Cardinals it didn’t really matter. Now as a fan of Cardinal football, I find this time of year a little more exciting than I used to. I still don’t follow it that much, but you can’t help but get excited over what Charlie Strong and his coaching staff has been able to do these last few months. The players that they are getting to commit are absolutely vital to helping the team keep their momentum in getting back to being a championship contender. Also, how awesome was it that we had a few guys in the U.S. Army All-American game last Saturday, with one of them picking Louisville on national television?
There is one other person who has to get credit for recruiting, and that person is Tom Jurich. The facilities at Louisville compare favorably with almost all of the top schools in the country. Everything that the football program needs is right there in one location. The stadium is connected to the locker room, there's a football only weight room, a training room, an academic center, a recruiting lounge, and a player’s lounge. And then right outside is the indoor practice facility and three practice fields.
I never had any official visits coming out of high school, so the first one I ever went on was when I was hosting a punter from Ohio in 2005. The punter was from just outside of Columbus and when it came down to choosing between walking on at Louisville and walking on at Ohio State, he unsurprisingly chose Ohio State.
Anyways, hosting on official visits can be a huge asset in getting players to commit. Players want to go to a school where they feel comfortable, and if they are already high on the football program and school, having a great weekend with their host can seal the deal. Gavin Smart, one of our defensive backs, was as great a host as you could get. Coach Joe Whitt used to joke that if he ever got a head coaching job he would hire Gavin just to host recruits on weekend visits.
I never had any problem with hosting because of one reason, and one reason only: awesome basketball tickets. When you hosted a player you got to sit with them a few rows from the floor and right in front of the student section. Being able to sit with the students right behind you and a great basketball game right in front of you is an enormous asset to the football program.
You get to know the players you host pretty well, and those relationships can last whether they commit to the program or not. In 2006 I hosted Brandon Walker, a highly sought-after kicker from Findlay, Ohio. He had offers to a lot of different schools but had committed to Louisville. He came on his visit in the middle of December and had a great time. We kept in touch throughout the holidays, Orange Bowl, etc. However, the week Coach Petrino left for the Falcons, Notre Dame came in and offered him a scholarship. He called me the day he got the offer and wanted my opinion. I told him that I wanted him to be a Cardinal but that he had to make the best decision that he could with his best interests in mind. He chose Notre Dame. Even though I was disappointed, we have kept in touch. After battling some injuries and inconsistency he is still set to graduate from Notre Dame.
--In 2004 we had a huge snowstorm come through town during a weekend we were hosting recruits. It was also a weekend that we were practicing for the Liberty Bowl. The indoor facility had not been built, but Coach Petrino still wanted the recruits to see how we practiced. It was so cold that the water bottles were freezing and the water coolers with the hoses did not work. It was a miserable experience. I don’t remember who all was there that weekend but if there were any southern kids I am pretty sure we didn’t get any commitments out of them.
--The most interesting recruit I hosted was Tim Dougherty, a kicker from St. Xavier. Tim was a great player to host and we had a great time talking about kicking (what else were we going to talk about?). The interesting thing about hosting Tim was that he received a scholarship offer and committed to Purdue in the middle of his visit to the Louisville campus. He got the offer that Saturday night and really had no choice but to commit. *Disclaimer-kickers rarely get scholarship offers and when you get one and don’t have another offer to fall back on, you commit right away to the school that offered so that it is yours. There is always the possibility that if you don’t commit right away they will pull that offer to fill another position. In reality, Tim did the right thing in taking the offer. Anyways, with Tim having accepted the offer to Purdue there was really no pressure on me.
--Talking about the NFL Pro Bowl experience with Coach Petrino at a lunch for the recruits. One of the rare times while as a player that I had a lengthy conversation with Coach Petrino not involving special teams. He had coached the AFC Pro Bowl team in 2000 while coaching for the Jacksonville Jaguars. We talked about how they would practice, how talented those guys were, and how there is really not much you can tell Peyton Manning. Good stuff.
--Now we all knew the big name commits of course, Brian Brohm, Peanut Whitehead, etc. I remember the day Brian committed to the Cardinals because Coach Levine (our Special Teams Coach at the time) came up to Todd Flannery and me after we had got done kicking and said, "Did you hear the news?" Todd and I said yes and Coach Levine responded, "He is going to help us win a lot of football games in the future." There was a downside and an upside to Brian committing. The downside was that it caused Justin Rascatti, a great quarterback, to transfer. The upside was that it allowed Michael Bush, who was set on playing QB in the future, to make the switch full-time to running back. We have all seen how that turned out.
--After the Syracuse game in 2005, I went to meet my grandfather at the Hilton Garden Inn to pick up for dinner. When I walked in I saw Jonathan Gannon, one of our graduate assistants at the time, in the lobby. We were talking and he told me he was waiting for the coaches to get over so they could take Peanut Whitehead out to dinner for his visit. He introduced me to Peanut, who at the time was being recruited by every school in the nation. He was a beast of a man and at first I thought we had absolutely zero chance to land this guy. The next day I asked Gannon what the odds were we could get him. I was expecting a 10%, but Gannon surprised me when he said that we had a really good shot. I heard that the day he committed a majority of the coaches were standing around a radio broadcast of his live announcement and went nuts when he said he was coming to Louisville. Peanut was a great player whose career was cut way too short by that neck injury.
--Having a shot at Brian Cushing. In 2004 Brian Cushing came on a visit, and at the time we thought we had a legitimate shot at him. It was still a little early in the recruiting process and things were looking favorable. In the weeks leading up to the visit USC came into the picture, and at the time USC could pretty much get whomever they wanted. He still came on his visit and had a great time. Brian Brohm hosted him and Brian showed him the best that Louisville had to offer. I remember going down to their room in Bettie Johnson Hall before they went out and couldn’t believe how jacked this guy was. He was ready to suit up and play right away. Getting guys like Cushing on campus showed that the football program was on the way up. The same thing is happening this year with all of the commitments that Coach Strong is getting.
ULHotHot brought up a great point in his article about the future schedules for the Cards. The schedule does play a decent part in recruiting, but can be tough because of how far in advance some of these games are scheduled. For example, the Georgia-Louisville series was set in January of 2006. When I was looking at coming to Louisville their future schedules were one of the things that enticed me about the football program. They were willing to play anyone, anywhere. The only problem was that after beating Florida State, not a lot of teams were chomping at the bit to play us. We were still able to get UNC, Miami, N.C. State, Utah, Oregon State, etc. Those are games that you can always look forward to on the schedule.
The good thing about scheduling some of the lesser known teams that we played while I was at Louisville was that we got to play them in some great venues. The Temple game in 2006 was a return game from 2003, but we got to at least play them at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles. Same thing in 2006 with Middle Tennessee State when we got to play them at LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans. Players look forward to games like that when they can play in great venues. If we didn’t get to play in those great stadiums it would have been hard for us to get excited about those games. You want to play the big name team in big games. When you can point to a schedule and show a recruit that he will be suiting up on national television against so and so, it can have a big effect. As much as I was looking forward to the Georgia game next year, you can’t blame them for backing out. Money drives college football and they got an offer they couldn’t refuse. I am sure that Tom Jurich will get some big name schools back on the schedule, but as soon as Coach Strong and his guys start winning those games it will be tougher to schedule them.
-Hope everyone has a great weekend and Go Cards.