Strained relationship?


Elijah Qualls knew what he was doing when he asked recruiters the question.

"Be honest: Do you plan on staying here four years?"

In recruiting, that guidance counselor-esque query can mean a world of difference. Most coaches vowed to him they weren't going anywhere. Some admitted they'd have to listen to new job offers.

The ESPN 150 defensive tackle from Petaluma (Calif.) Casa Grande appreciates the honesty. Qualls has been committed to Washington since June. He loves the campus, Seattle and the opportunity that awaits him.

But to Qualls, the one thing every prospect must find is a meaningful bond between recruit and recruiter that's grounded in trust.

As Clemson recruiting coordinator Jeff Scott puts it, the glitzy stuff -- stadiums, uniforms, game-day traditions -- gets kids in the door. But they're not what seals the deal.

"As the process goes on and they make a decision, it really comes back to those relationships," Scott said. "Relationships are definitely the No. 1 key in recruiting."

The dynamics of those relationships are about to change, perhaps irrevocably. New reforms passed this month are setting the recruiting world up for an avalanche on Aug. 1. On that date, college coaches can begin texting and calling 2014 prospects as much as they want. The deregulation of communication is poised to redefine, both in the eyes of coaches and prospects, what exactly makes a good recruiter.

Some assistant coaches fear the implications. Scott doesn't. The wide receivers coach already trades messages with his recruits throughout the day via Facebook chats and direct messages on Twitter. The medium might change slightly, but what matters most to him won't: This battle is about the ties you make.

"When that young man comes to your university, he's going to have a maximum of 14 days he's stepping out between the lines and playing in front of 85,000," Scott said. "There's going to be 351 days in that year when he's a normal student-athlete, one who has ups and downs."

Stanford recruiting coordinator Mike Sanford doesn't plan on changing his approach much, either. Texting will be easier, yes, but differentiating from the competition -- via Twitter, Facebook, even Instagram -- is critical.

"I still think Twitter DMs is a better route to go," Sanford said. "Now the elite 2014 recruits, their Facebooks are absolutely blown up and they can't keep up with it. I was talking to a big-time 2014 guy. I said, 'How many people are hitting you up on Twitter DMs?' Only one. So there you go, that's an opportunity to find a niche."

At the end of the day, big recruiting decisions come down to whom a kid trusts. That's why Sanford visits schools every time he can, because actions speak louder than emails. It's why Scott ingratiates himself with family members and why, to him, football is just a fraction of knowing a prospect.

And that's why coveted 2014 linebacker Raekwon McMillan says Scott is his favorite recruiter. An ESPN Watch List prospect from Hinesville (Ga.) Liberty County with more than 20 offers, McMillan appreciates that the coach cares about his parents and mentor.

But he's also wary of the changes coming in August. McMillan likes five schools right now -- Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina -- but won't talk to any more than eight by the time the calls and texts start flooding in.

"I'm going to give them a time frame when I want to talk to them, like from 4 to 7," he said. "If it all gets too heavy, I'll just stop doing it."

Will the rest of his peers be that ready?

Houston Alief Taylor junior cornerback Chris Hardeman had no idea the NCAA's texting rule is being tossed out. The more the ESPN Watch List prospect thinks about it, the more he can see the benefit.

"That's going to be huge," he said. "Then you start to separate the teams that really want you and the teams that just don't."

Recruiters won't like to hear that. It hints at what may be a truism of the new text-heavy system: Kids 18 and under could see maximum texting as maximum interest.

Hardeman says he's a different story. He committed to LSU this summer due entirely to his relationship with Les Miles, secondary coach Corey Raymond and recruiter Thomas McGaughey. Hardeman still has 45-minute calls with each coach several times a month.

He knows the risk of that early pledge. Any one of those coaches could be gone in 12 months, if not less. Just ask defensive backs Su'a Cravens and Chris Hawkins. Each were longtime USC commits who enrolled in January. Their position coach, Marvin Sanders, was just let go last week.

Recruiters can promise a kid plenty, but nothing is guaranteed. And Hardeman is realistic about the promise he's made.

He's committed to LSU's coaches, not necessarily LSU. If Raymond left for another school, Hardeman said, "that school would probably be No. 1 on my list."

He's not alone. ESPN 150 linebacker Reuben Foster made the ultimate commitment -- an Auburn tattoo on his forearm -- but still backed out of his pledge last month after assistant Trooper Taylor wasn't retained.

Tosh Lupoi, Qualls' top recruiter, has that same kind of pull. When he left Cal for Washington last January, three recruits backed out on the Bears. The best of the bunch, safety Shaq Thompson, signed with UW.

Qualls is confident Lupoi will stick around. He's just as close with coach Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, but Qualls is glad he didn't have to deal with their endless calls and texts during his recruitment.

"I think that's going to suck, honestly. It's going to suck for recruits, especially for guys with big-time offers," Qualls said. "For somebody with 20 or 30 or more offers to get unlimited texts, your phone is going to be blowing up."

Still, many recruits will embrace the attention as they tend to do. Some elite ones may recoil, limiting or rejecting the contact as a safeguard against a distraction-heavy senior season.

One thing is certain -- the arrival of Aug. 1 will only up the drama for all involved. Those calls and texts from rival coaches can chip away at even the most rock-solid pledges. The traditional recruit-recruiter relationship is in for a shake-up.

What this all will lead to is a question that, right now, neither coach nor recruit can answer.

Be honest: Where will recruiting be in four years?