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Taking their talents to ...

7/24/2014

It's been less than two weeks since LeBron James' latest decision. While King James is working to put together a loaded team in Cleveland, his previous move is still resonating as an ever-growing trend among football recruits.

Recruiters call it "the LeBron effect."

It's one explanation for why Alabama signed the nation's top recruiting class for three straight seasons and is well on its way to a fourth in the Class of 2015. Like James' desire to join forces with other superstars, and to entice them to join his pursuit of a championship, many football recruits are attempting the same feat. Coaches all over the country have noticed that package deals are more common than in the past. Players work in tandem with each other and commit to the same school or are lured to a particular school because of another player going there.

"It's become more prevalent over the past three, four, five years," said Matt Dudek, Arizona's director of on-campus recruiting and player personnel. "The LeBron effect is real. Guys recruit other guys. We could be the greatest recruiter in the country, you could work for the greatest school in the country, but at the end of the day kids are going to recruit kids. Everyone wants to play with greatness."

The recruits themselves agree.

ESPN.com conducted a wide-ranging survey of the top 300 high school football recruits in the nation, and 68.5 percent of the respondents said they would rather join a class full of other elite recruits than be a big name on their own. Interviews conducted at Nike's The Opening with a number of the nation's elite players backed up the results, as a majority said they would accept less playing time, fewer personal accolades, and a smaller media spotlight if it meant winning championships.

"At the end of the day, you obviously want to be the guy," said ESPN 300 receiver Christian Kirk of Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, Arizona. "But for all of us, the schools we come from, we've either won a state championship or lost only one game. Once you've won for so long, you don't want to go and start losing. I think that is a big thing going through the minds of all these guys going through the recruiting process.

"For me, success plays a lot into it for me. Any school I pick will probably have one of those big-time classes or will have a bunch of other really good receivers. I just want to win as much as possible."

While NCAA rules prevent UCLA coach Jim Mora from talking specifically about prospects he's currently recruiting, he has seen firsthand in the 2015 class how landing one quality player can cause a domino effect that leads to others. After ESPN 300 quarterback Josh Rosen of St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, California, committed in May, the Bruins have reeled in three ESPN 300 offensive linemen, a four-star receiver and two quality running backs. All of them identified playing with Rosen as a factor in their decision.

"Prospects follow recruiting very, very closely, and they know where others are going or where they're leaning," Mora said. "A kid from Florida now knows a kid from California because he watched his highlight and because of Twitter. They get to know each other much closer, as opposed to 10 years ago, when you maybe met somebody on your visit or you kind of heard of them."

The numbers support Mora. In the same survey, 43 percent of the respondents said they communicate with six to 10 recruits across the country regularly, 36 percent said they talk with one to five frequently and 16 percent said they speak with 11 to 20. It should be no surprise that recruiters are taking advantage of those relationships more than ever before.

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said his staff spends a considerable amount of time talking with prospects, their family members and coaches -- and following prospects' social media posts -- to see if relationships appear that they can use to their advantage in recruiting. Dudek said Arizona's staff and coaches all over the country do the same thing.

"You can't just ask him 'What's your favorite ice cream? What's your favorite color,'" Dudek said. "You start talking to the guys about, 'Are there any players you think are good that you think would be great in this class? Who was toughest that you played against? Who's a guy you think we should be recruiting?' Those are questions we all ask. And from there, you're able to find out what relationships matter most to other recruits and begin to use that."

And much like James' efforts, coaches from all over the country say recruits have taken it upon themselves to use relationships with other prospects to do some recruiting on their own. Now coaches will point committed prospects in a certain direction, pass along a list of phone numbers and get out of the way.

"Losing sucks," said ESPN 300 cornerback and Oklahoma State commitment Jaylon Lane of Nacogdoches (Texas) High School. "That's why LeBron left Cleveland the first time. It's also why you have a responsibility to help your school get the best players possible. Talking with other recruits and being part of a special program is something today's recruits seem to respond to. I know I did."