Archive: A closer look at football recruiting

Nov. 19, 2008, 5:59 p.m.

This week, the Daily will examine Stanford football’s recruiting procedure, broken down into the process, the pitch and academics, and the players. This is part one: the process.


Stanford football is on an undeniable upswing. Since Walt Harris was fired two years ago after a 1-11 2006 season, the program has undergone a renovation, starting at the top with head coach Jim Harbaugh, and down through the rest of the coaching and administrative ranks. Now, not even two years into their tenure on the Farm, Harbaugh and his staff have elevated Stanford from the depths of the Pac-10 — if not all of Division 1 — back to respectability.

Part of the redevelopment process deals with the existing team: improving coaching, training and ultimately the current players. But with an ever-changing roster, new talent from the high school level must be constantly evaluated and courted. Recruitment is the frequently unseen side of college football, and the process is as intricate as it is lengthy. In order to (re)build a program, a coach must not only be able to manage his team in practice and games — he must also be able to draw top athletes to his school.

Since the departure of Ty Willingham after the 2001 season, Stanford’s recruiting has been mired in mediocrity. Harris and his predecessor, Buddy Teevens, put together classes that were ranked only as high as No. 26 in the country, and fell as low as No. 43. The once-proud Cardinal football team suffered accordingly. In the five years that Teevens and Harris coached Stanford, the team never had more than five wins in a season.

But now, with Harbaugh at the helm, the Cardinal is not only one win away from bowl eligibility for the first time since the Willingham era, but Stanford’s recruiting is back near the top in the nation as well. The 2009 class — the first which Harbaugh has had complete control over — is poised to be among at least the top 15 classes in the nation, with an outside shot of cracking the top 10.

This dramatic shift is the result of over two years of continuous work on each recruiting class. As a result, even though the 2007 and 2008 recruits were signed when Harbaugh was the helm, he was not with them throughout the entire process.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” said recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Lance Anderson, who came with Harbaugh from the University of San Diego.

Indeed. Recruiting is a seemingly endless endeavor, and one to which countless man-hours are devoted; recruiting assistant Jordan Paopao estimated the he works 12-15 hours a day.

Harbaugh felt that this devotion separated his staff from their predecessors.

“We put in a lot of man hours,” Harbaugh said.

It’s not hard to see why: The staff is frequently working on at least two classes at a time.

“We’re really focused on 2009 right now, and have some commits,” Anderson said. “We’re also doing a lot to identify prospects from the Class of 2010.”

The recruiting process generally begins in a player’s sophomore year of high school. Harbaugh, Anderson and the rest of the staff start by parsing down a list of 3,000-4,000 high school players per class who are considered talented enough to play Division-I football.

“High school coaches and Internet services recommend players,” Harbaugh said. “We then identify BCS caliber athletes.”

After evaluating each player’s skill set — the football office has entire bookshelves filled with game tapes — as well as the team’s needs and, perhaps most importantly, the recruit’s academic standing, the list is whittled down to 100 players that the staff will focus on. The coaches hope to land around a quarter of those athletes.

From there, the coaches begin to establish contact. A number of NCAA rules prohibit how much interaction a coach can have with a player before his senior year of high school. Coaches can send mail, but can’t call or text. And even then, only the coaching staff can get in touch with recruits. Administrators, who otherwise devote nearly all of their efforts to Stanford’s recruiting, are forbidden from visiting high schools, evaluating film or sending emails.

Early in the process, the goal is to get a player to visit campus unofficially. Athletes get a total of five official visits, which they can take during their senior year. On an official visit, the university houses recruits, and their expenses are covered by the school. On an unofficial visit, the recruit pays his own way; however, once on campus, he can have as much contact with coaches as he wants. If a recruit is a junior or younger, this is the only time he can have face-to-face contact with the staff before his senior year. High school athletes can take an unlimited number of unofficial visits.

This is where administrators, such as Mike Eubanks, an assistant athletic director and the director of Football Administration, make their impact on the recruiting process. Eubanks, who estimates that he spends 95 percent of his time on recruiting, tries to “make unofficial visits as close to an official visit as we can.” This entails taking recruits to games, showing them around campus and “anticipat[ing] the things that are going to be important to them.”

“[Administrators] can’t pick up the phone and call these kids, and we can’t sit in their living room,” Eubanks said. “But we can be an extra resource.”

This is the groundwork stage of the process — the sell comes after July 1 of the summer between a recruit’s junior and senior years of high school. Coaches are then allowed to visit and convince not only the player but also his parents that Stanford is the right place for him.

“It’s a trust,” Harbaugh said. “You get to be a part of their family. You have to pledge that you will return their son as the same young man that they left with you.”

Each coach is assigned a different area of the country to cover. For example, D.J. Durkin, the Stanford defensive ends and special teams coach, covers Pittsburgh and Atlanta, while Clayton White, the defensive backs coach, covers Los Angeles and Texas. Additionally, when the team has a road game, the coaches generally recruit on the Friday before the contest. When the Cardinal faced TCU, for example, the staff looked at recruits from Dallas; when it played Notre Dame, they looked at Indianapolis and Chicago.

“It’s 30 hours a week for guys on the road,” Harbaugh said. And that is in addition to regular coaching duties.

“We’re on the road as much as we can be,” Anderson said.

Eubanks’ white board proved as much — at the time of his interview, he had Harbaugh’s flight details up for a recruiting visit.

It’s here that coaches will make their pitch and try to convince recruits to make an official visit, when Eubanks will, among other activities, set up meetings with professors and students.

If the recruit likes what he sees, then he will make a non-binding verbal commitment. If another school doesn’t sway the player in the meantime, then he will make his intentions official come February’s National Signing Day.

It is then that the year’s class is solidified. And not a moment later, the coaches get back to courting the next year’s group of talent.

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