A nice, and now more pertinent, Friday afternoon read from our Carmody's Corner vault. Here's former Cardinal star Brian Brohm talking about life as one of the top football recruits in the country, and how Bobby Petrino ultimately sold him on playing for U of L.
Recruitment of athletes is an ongoing process that starts as soon the coaches realize you can play. It started for me when I was around 5-years-old.
One day I was walking through the University of Louisville football complex with my dad when we were pulled into the coach's office. The Pipe wanted to chat, probably about my two brothers who were playing for him at the time. Whilethe two of them talked in Schnellenberger's office, I was looking at all of his football memorabilia. Towards the end of the discussion, Howard pulled me onto his lap and said that if he was still here while I was in high school that I could come play for him. I committed on the spot and was essentially a Louisville commit from then on.
As I got older, and it was looking like I was going to be a good player, the recruitment process really started. It helped to have a strong family tradition in football and a dad who knew how to get my name out there. My first unofficial visit was to the University of Kentucky when I was an eighth grader. It was to the UofL vs UK game. I was shocked that I was invited to attend because I was actually playing offensive line at the time since I was over the weight limit to carry the ball. However, the word had gotten out that I was a good prospect, and I'm sure the success of my brothers also helped. I was excited to see the rivalry game, but felt somewhat uncomfortable not being able to cheer for the Cards.
Unofficial visits to games are probably the recruiting tool utilized most and are most effective on local talent because of how easy it is for them to attend games. Most of the recruits that attend these games do not have offers from the school, but are still good players who the schools want to look at.
I unofficially visited many games throughout high school. I was invited to every UofL and UK game from my freshman year through senior year, and I attended all those games as well as many others. More UofL games than UK, but I went to a lot of both. I also attended one Tennessee home game and one Notre Dame home game. It is hard to travel very far to see games when you are in the middle of your high school football season, and since Trinity went to state every year I was there, we didn't have any Fridays off to help with travel.
The visits are typically made up of all the same stuff. First, you show up to a recruitment lounge before the game. The schools will feed the recruits and the coaches will come mingle with the recruits and their parents before the games. You have to arrive very early so you can talk to the coaches before warm-ups. They then escort the recruits down to the field to watch warm-ups and then up to their seats for the game. Each school would have some current female students mingle with recruits and parents to answer any questions you'd have. I might add that these females were almost always attractive.
Other recruiting tools that are used by coaches include writing letters, calling prospective athletes, and visiting the athletes' schools. My mailbox at school would be full of letters every day from my sophomore year to my senior year. I would be lying to you if I told you I opened every letter. They came from schools all over the country: Auburn, LSU, USC, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame, Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisville, Iowa, Ohio State, etc. I would open any that looked like they were personalized or hand-written because those were the only letters that really mattered.
The phone calls were not my favorite part of recruiting. Some coaches would call as much as they could and I was not a fan of that. There was only so much you could talk about. I liked the guys who would call, tell me about their school and their offense and then say good-bye. My dad would handle a lot of the calls because he knew I didn't like the idle talk with all these coaches. But some kids want to know that the coaches want them, so I can see why the coaches call so much.
As a coach, I think it is important to understand the recruit and personalize the process for each kid you go after. Bobby Petrino did it perfect when he was recruiting me. He cut through the BS and told me the vision he had for me, and why I should play for him. He left it at that and didn't pester me with mindless chatter. I think we talked on the phone twice while he was recruiting me, which was probably less than any of the other coaches.
The on-campus visits were always very strange to me. The coaches would often visit at times when they weren't even allowed to talk to me. Phil Fulmer showed up in the lunch room one day during my junior year and stood where everyone could see him. Funny thing was that we couldn't even talk, but he definitely wanted to make his presence known. This would end up happening a lot during my junior year. The presence of a coach can mean a lot to a recruit.
After all of the "unofficial" recruitment you get down to the serious stuff. Official visits to schools and in home visits from coaches are where the serious recruiting is done. There is a limit to the amount of recruits a school can visit at home and have on official visits. Most recruits who are extended official visits are offered scholarships, but not all of them.
My first official offer came from out of nowhere. It was from Iowa, and they had never even called to talk to me. The offer came in the mail, but they still never really pursued me. I found the whole thing really strange. I then had an offer arrive from Bobby Petrino while he was at Auburn, which would only help him more when he got to UofL. John L. Smith offered, as did Kentucky. Once the first few offers come in the other schools start to play follow the leader. The offers were rolling in, but I had been pretty sure of what my final list would be for a long time before that. After some time, I officially narrowed my list to five schools: Louisville, Kentucky, Tennessee, Notre Dame, and Illinois. They would be my five official visits and would all visit me at home.
My first official visit was to Notre Dame. Being a Catholic boy and going to Notre Dame was a strong selling point. I could follow in the footsteps of Paul Hornung. Earlier in the season Tyrone Willingham and their offensive coordinator visited my house. They spoke well in my family's living room and coach pulled out a Notre Dame jersey with Joe Montana's number on it. Only he said that it would be my number and he expected me to be as good as Montana.
The official visit to Notre Dame was for the USC game. It was a huge game that USC would go on to win by dominating the Fighting Irish and freshman QB Brady Quinn. My host was Jeff Samardzija, and he did a good job of showing me the campus after the game. He also organized a fun dorm party for us to attend. However, he left me to go see his girlfriend and let John Sullivan be responsible for getting me back to my hotel room. I had a good time after the game with those guys and woke up ready to talk to the coaches and tour the facility. I loved the campus and the tradition of Notre Dame, but there was one issue that had to be discussed: Brady Quinn was the starter and a true freshman, and I had to see how committed they were to him. After my meetings I left with the feeling that they really liked Brady Quinn and that I would more than likely have to wait my turn to play for Notre Dame
My second visit was to Kentucky. I went and saw them get beat by Tennessee. Their pitch was actually pretty good, and they at least made me think for a second what it would be like to play at Kentucky. Gerad Parker was my host and we had a fun time together, but that fun would never get me to go to Kentucky. As coach Ron Hudson would always say in reference to my brother being a coach at Louisville, "blood is thicker than water." He knew he was fighting an uphill battle. It was a good visit, but there was no way I was going to Kentucky!
My third visit was to Tennessee, and becoming a Volunteer had been beginning to weigh on my mind heavily. I had always wanted be a Cardinal, but Tennessee had some strong selling points. I loved my unofficial visit there even though Georgia blew them out at home. 108,000 screaming fans is hard not to like.
I had also gone there for an unofficial visit during the summer. They walked me over to the building where the freshmen band was practicing, which I thought was weird. When the band started playing Rocky Top, the conductor motioned me over and had me lead the band. They said no quarterback had led the band since Peyton Manning. They had no quarterback coming back and were likely going to start a freshman. The only issue with them was that they were going to bring in two freshman quarterbacks to compete.
My official visit was during the middle of Christmas break so there were no students on campus. That really killed the fun of the campus and I was also very sick the weekend I was there. Those two factors made for a bad time on my visit to Tennessee. The facilities at Tennessee were unreal and there was a real possibility that I could start for them as a true freshman, but it just never felt right to me.
My fourth visit was to Louisville. My visit was during the weekend of an away basketball game. My host was Jon Gannon and he planned to show me a good time. On Friday night they were looking for a party they could take all the other recruits to. It was a big weekend for recruiting as I remember Eric Wood, Scott Kuhn, and Gary Barnidge were all on the same visit. We all showed up to a frat party only to find out they wouldn't let us in. I walked to the front and looked inside the house. I saw some guys I went to high school with the year before and talked them into letting all the players and recruits come in. This instantly earned me some points with the current players and the recruits on the trip. I could tell it was going to be a good weekend. We had a good time and then woke up for a day of basketball, tours, and talking to the coaches.
The day started with some tours of the campus and academic meetings. Basically, boring stuff that is essential to please the parents on the recruiting trip. We then went to Jillians to watch the Louisville basketball game. This was a good set-up for the recruits to have fun and interact with the coaches.
After that the real meetings started, I was only interested to meet with Bobby Petrino. In our meeting, he had an outline on the chalkboard of everything he wanted to discuss. He talked about why I should come to Louisville and what would happen if I did. He laid out the format of practice and why it made quarterbacks better. He outlined how we would win conference championships, BCS bowl games, and the National Championship. He also outlined how I was going to break school records, win conference player of the year, win the Heisman trophy, and be the first pick of the NFL draft. He put some lofty goals on the board, but he had the most precise and thoughtful presentation of any of the coaches. He had me sold and I was ready to play. Later, I called Illinois to cancel my fifth official visit and told coach Petrino I was coming to Louisville.
I felt very relieved after I announced that I was going to Louisville. I knew that I made the right decision and was happy the long process was over.