Recruits turned recruiters

Ohio State and others use committed players to target potential recruits

Updated: September 12, 2013, 2:25 PM ET
By Jeremy Crabtree | ESPN RecruitingNation

It was simply called "The List."

As nine Ohio State pledges made the trip to Oregon this summer for The Opening, a showcase of the nation's top high school football recruits, each had in his possession a list of top targets given to him by Buckeyes coaches. Some of the OSU recruits said they wrote "The List," as they called it, on paper and did research into what other schools were after the names on it. Others went the extra mile and added each target's name, cell phone number and Twitter handle to their contacts.

[+] EnlargeRaekwon McMillan
Miller Safrit/ESPNRaekwon McMillan has been a prime target of Ohio State commits trying to convince him to sign with the Buckeyes.
"The List" contained names of high-profile Ohio State targets such as five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross), five-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), four-star offensive guard Demetrius Knox (Fort Worth, Texas/All Saints) and four-star athlete Curtis Samuel (Brooklyn, N.Y./Erasmus Hall). While in Oregon, it was the mission for the Buckeyes recruits to bring these players on board.

"They sent out a big list out to all of us and told us to work on certain guys," Ohio State four-star linebacker commit Kyle Berger said. "We definitely took it serious while we were out there. The coaches believe in us and trust us to say the right things to the right players. They're our age, so we're talking to them just like normal kids."

The sales pitch worked on Knox and Samuel, who both eventually committed to Ohio State. McMillan hasn't made up his mind yet and will take visits to Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Georgia and Ohio State, but ESPN projects him to end up with the Buckeyes Insider. Carter likely won't leave the South, as Florida, Alabama and Georgia are the top contenders for him.

"The List" is an example of an ever-growing trend of schools using commitments as tools in the recruiting process. In today's world of social media, text messaging and information on virtually every high school player available with a few clicks of a mouse, college coaches are empowering 17- and 18-year-olds to represent their football programs on the recruiting trail more than ever before.

"I think that's one of the most recent trends about recruiting -- the recruits now communicate with one other on a much higher level and much more frequently than they ever did before," said Ohio State assistant coach Kerry Combs, who also spent 16 years at Cincinnati Colerain High. "Kids want to play with the best. They're coming here for a specific reason, you know, and the way to get what they want is to get other great players to come with them."

As soon as he committed to the Tigers in early February, ESPN 300 quarterback Deshaun Watson (Gainesville, Ga./Gainesville) asked the Clemson coaches if there were any players they wanted him to reach out to. Within a few minutes, a list was in his hands. As he checked it out, he noticed almost every name on the list -- four-star receiver Trey Quinn, four-star receiver Artavis Scott, McMillan and a number of others -- were people he already was following on Twitter or had traded text messages.

Social media -- especially Twitter -- has erased geographic boundaries that in the past would prevent recruits from building relationships with each other. Now, a player in California can be as close to a recruit in Florida as he would be with someone in his own city.

"In the era of social media, you don't even have to encourage it," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "They all know each other. They post on Instagram, on Facebook, on Twitter. They're ballyhooing their colors and they really develop relationships from coast to coast. It's certainly a great weapon for you as a coach in recruiting."

It's a recruiting weapon committed prospects take great pride in to help their future schools. Watson, the nation's No. 1 quarterback and No. 16 player overall, knows he's the face of the Clemson recruiting class, and he's trying to lure playmakers who can catch touchdown passes from him.

"I want to win a national championship," Watson said. "I want to have guys around me that are good, and have the same goals and dreams that I do. Honestly, the coaches didn't even really need to ask me to help recruit. I wanted to do that on my own already. I know there's a lot of other kids across the country that feel the same way about the schools they're going to."

Leonard Fournette
Tom Hauck for Student SportsNo. 1 recruit Leonard Fournette isn't a big fan of his fellow players recruiting him to their schools, calling the practice "annoying."
There are 88 undecided players in the ESPN 300, and along with the pressures of dealing with school, their high school teams and college coaches, many are getting bombarded with tweets and texts from other recruits.

Running back Leonard Fournette, the nation's No. 1 player, said he "tunes out everybody else" and thinks peer recruiting is "annoying." In addition to some finding it bothersome, there's a question of how effective it is. An ESPN.com survey of more than 750 junior and senior recruits revealed only 4 percent of prospects said other recruits are the most influential representative in recruiting.

While at The Opening, Carter was also getting a sales pitch from Florida State recruit Kain Daub, a four-star linebacker. Carter said jokingly at one point he felt as though he was being stalked by Daub.

"He called coach [Jeremy] Pruitt at Florida State while we were out there doing the SPARQ testing, and he told coach Pruitt, 'Hey, Lorenzo wants to talk to you. He's about to commit,' " Carter said. "Later on, I was in the bathroom, and I came out and he was right there waiting on me. He was like, 'Stop ducking me, you know you're going to Florida State with me.'"

Most recruits say their peers understand when to step off the gas. They know there's a fine line between trying to be somebody's buddy for personal gain and having sincere interest in what's best for the recruit. Jeb Blazevich, a four-star tight end from Charlotte (N.C.) Christian who is committed to Georgia, said before he committed he would often get texts or calls from players he never met.

"The day before I was about to commit, some player was like, 'Hey man, how are you doing?'" Blazevich said. "I was just like, 'Are you kidding me? You're trying to be my buddy and we've never even met before.'"

There's no question Watson and Blazevich are some of Clemson and Georgia's biggest recruiters. They also know even though most recruits won't make a decision solely because of another recruit, peer recruiting certainly does have an impact.

"We all know we're not going to be around the coaches as much as we will be with our teammates, so you want to have that brotherly bond when you get on campus," Watson said. "You're going to be the one playing with those guys, not the coaches. So it's good to build that relationship with the other recruits, and as that happens, you really start to pay attention to what they say about a certain school."

So don't be surprised if you see coaches employ their own versions of "The List" more and more in the future, because it's now a part of the recruiting process.

"It becomes a snowball effect," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. "I think it's something that's going to continue and probably be even bigger than it is today. It's a trend that is really taking off and isn't going away any time soon."

Jeremy Crabtree

RecruitingNation, Reporter

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