The SEC Coaches' Q&A: Recruiting gems

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
9:07
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Jesse Palmer, Steve SpurrierAP Photo/Peter CosgroveSteve Spurrier said Jesse Palmer, left, arrived at Florida on his own, highlight tape in hand.
In the modern era of recruiting websites, YouTube highlight reels and scouting services, it's hard for a truly talented recruit to fly under the radar.

In this installment of our questionnaire, the SEC coaches say there are still interesting ways that they find players that other schools may have missed.

What's the most noteworthy way you can remember coming across a recruit?

Kentucky coach Joker Phillips: One guy that comes to mind is [Denver Broncos linebacker] Wesley Woodyard. I had recruited Wesley Woodyard's uncle in '98 at Cincinnati and he did not come to Cincinnati. He went to Purdue. I walked into a game, Wesley's a junior, and the same uncle pulls me aside and says, "You need to look at my nephew." A minute later, he recovers a fumble and runs it in from 50 yards. Had I not been at that game, had I not had a tip from his uncle, I probably wouldn’t have recruited the guy the next year, because he wasn't heavily recruited. That tip, me being at that game, that helped us make the decision on Wesley.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik: We found a guy named Cam Newton in a little bit of an awkward way since we weren't going out there looking for him. We were looking for someone else and stumbled across him on our way to look at a wide receiver. I'd say that's probably fairly unique, since he was the first pick of the draft and the Heisman Trophy winner.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier: I'll tell you, sometimes, they come to you. For an example, Jesse Palmer went to high school up in Canada. And one day he showed up in Gainesville, Fla., with his highlight tape. So we looked at it and said, "All right, come on. You're in." And Jesse was a good player for us. He played well.

LSU coach Les Miles: My wife was at a high school football game. My sons were looking at attending schools in the city of Baton Rouge, and they were at Parkview Baptist. It was about halftime and Kathy couldn't stay longer, so they went to leave, and Brad Wing [who has become an All-American at LSU] punted a ball. She said, "I don’t know how far it went, but it just stayed up in the air a loooooong time." That next Monday, I said to our special teams coordinator, "Tell me about Brad Wing." And he said, "Yeah, Here's what I know ..." And basically, Kathy confirmed what was our suspicion, but it got me directly on Brad Wing.

Alabama coach Nick Saban: I always tell the story about Corey Webster, who was really not a highly recruited guy, who starts for the [New York] Giants. He has been a starter for them for a long time, and has done a great job as a football player. He wasn't really that highly recruited, played high school quarterback, but was a very good basketball player. Athletically, in my mind, he was one of the top guys we were recruiting [at LSU], and yet nobody was really recruiting him. It was a projection to a different position, he was going to be a wide receiver or a defensive back. I think of all the guys that were not heavily recruited, he has probably been the most successful college and professional player that I remember.

Arkansas coach John L. Smith: Years ago, you had to look everywhere, you had to look under every rock, because you didn't have the Internet, of course. It was a matter of going everywhere, of listening to every lead. But nowadays, I don't know how you discover some gem out there. All the rocks are uncovered just because of the Internet. [Do you watch clips on YouTube?] We do, constantly. [And what do you think of the soundtracks to some of the clips?] Some of it is ridiculous, to be honest with you. [Laughs] Kids with their own websites and things like that, I think that's ridiculous. As a recruiter, you're going to find out what the high school coach has to say about him and what the high school coaches in the area have to say about him. And then you're going to make your own evaluation about what you see off the game film. But I know kids get recruited off that stuff.

Florida coach Will Muschamp: A unique way to find players is on the basketball court. Seeing guys move, seeing guys change direction, seeing their explosive power from the floor. I love watching guys play basketball. I think that is really a great evaluator to see a kid play.

Vanderbilt coach James Franklin: There was one kid that played on a very good high school team that was a wideout but just didn't get the ball a whole lot, but was very athletic. I had him go out into the backyard with his dad and catch balls and show what his ball skills were like. He also went into a gym and dunked a basketball, and this kid could dunk off two feet, off one foot, he could 360. You saw a really, really good athlete. We ended up taking him [Derrick Fenner] and he ended up starting for three years, and having a really nice career.

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley: Well, the best ones are the ones that fall right in your lap. You don't know anything about them and they show up at your camp, and they want to come to your school. You evaluate them and you go, "Holy smokes, how come we haven't been recruiting this guy?" You didn't know he had some tie to Tennessee. It happens at Tennessee more than most other places, because we have such a national reach. There are guys out in California, Hawaii, all over the country that may have some tie or family back in Tennessee, or they pull for the Vols. Those are the best ones. It's like gravy, man. You wish recruiting was like that all the time.

Georgia coach Mark Richt: That's a tough one. I don’t care where I go, I'm going to get handed a note from somebody who knows somebody that thinks somebody is a player. So I'll take every one of them and give it to our recruiting offices and see if they can track this guy down and see if he's a player. We had a situation where my brother-in-law, who is a Marine, was at a Marine Corps event in Athens [Ga.] and, I think, the grandfather of a recruit who was in the state of Texas, he mentioned him to my brother-in-law. My brother-in-law mentioned him to me. He was a pretty darn good football player, and we actually offered him a scholarship. We didn't get him, but that was a pretty unique way to find out about a player.

Mississippi coach Dan Mullen: With technology, they're hard to miss. But still, in Mississippi, you do it. Two years ago, I was in a high school to recruit one kid and be there to find out about a junior. It's already in January, getting close to signing day. Everybody at [Morton High School] -- I went into four different offices, and they all said, "Are you looking at this guy?" And finally I said no and looked at the assistant coach and said, "But you better start looking into him." And we ended up signing him. ... Taveze Calhoun. Great student, great player, great kid. But it's one of those deals where these guys still get overlooked. He's got a 4.0 [grade point average] still. He wasn't a 4.0 student in high school even, but everybody kept saying there was something special about him. He redshirted for us last year, and we expect him to have a great career.

Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze: I had [a highlight tape] mailed to me and within the packet, I opened it up, and there was some Orville Redenbacher popcorn in it, and it had a note on it that said, "Enjoy the show." Could not resist. It was the most unique thing, and it caught my eye. I shared it with the whole staff, and said, "Look what this kid did." [Did you check out his tape?] I did take a look, but I didn't like him.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel: We were recruiting a player at a high school, and we went in and the high school coach kept telling us about another player he had. We had evaluated the guy in the spring and didn't think much of the guy. Finally, we went back and looked at him, and ended up going on him, and were one of the few teams that recruited him, and he became a great football player. So, lessons learned there.

[Note: Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin's schedule during the interview didn't leave enough time to get to this question.]
Dave Wilson is a college football editor for ESPN.com. He joined ESPN.com in 2010 and previously worked at The Dallas Morning News, San Diego Union-Tribune and Las Vegas Sun.

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