Wednesday, July 11, 2012
What recruits really want
By Mitch Sherman
BEAVERTON, Ore. -- O.J. Howard, the nation's No. 2 tight end prospect, has heard almost every pitch in recruiting.
The guarantee from one school that he would start immediately. A promise from another that he would catch a certain number of passes. Assurances that his talents would take him quickly to the NFL.
You want to know what Alabama coach Nick Saban promised Howard? Nothing. When they last talked, Saban asked Howard about his baseball team and told the rising senior at Prattville (Ala.) Autauga Academy to say hello to his parents.
Chris Hawkins (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Rancho Cucamonga), on a visit to Stanford, watched his high school film with coach David Shaw. In the middle of the viewing, in walked several assistant coaches. Hawkins said one tempted him with this: "Do you want that here? Do you want to start here?"
Hawkins ultimately committed to USC because of his relationship with secondary coach Marvin Sanders, who never even so much as encouraged the cornerback to pick the Trojans.
"He was acting more like a father to me," Hawkins said. "He's just like me. We listen to the same kind of music. We laugh at the same things. He just told me to find the best fit for me."
The sentiments of Howard -- a centerpiece of the Crimson Tide's third-ranked 2013 class -- and Hawkins represent the majority of recruits.
Last week as approximately 150 of the top prospects gathered at The Opening, RecruitingNation sought an answer to the age-old question in recruiting: What do kids want in a college?
Surely, in today's era of immediate communication and instant gratification, the desires of premier recruits would reflect the changing times.
Not so much, the results say. The football players interviewed largely said they seek the same reliable comforts in a college program that have served top coaches well for decades.
Highest on the list of priorities were relationships, chemistry and a family feel among the current players and coaches, in addition to strong academic support.
"I wanted a place I could feel like I'm at home," tight end Marcus Baugh said.
Baugh, of Riverside (Calif.) John W. North, committed to Ohio State, calling the Buckeyes his "dream school."
The moment in recruiting that has most impressed Prosper (Texas) High School uncommitted receiver Torii Hunter Jr.? When Iowa told him of its strong graduation rates for football players.
"If sports doesn't work out, I'm going to need a Plan B," said Hunter Jr., MVP of the seven-on-seven tournament at The Opening.
Hunter Jr., also a baseball star and the son of Los Angeles Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, is considering both sports in college. Hunter Jr. said the best advice he's heard in recruiting came from Stanford baseball assistant Dean Stotz.
"He told me picking a college is like picking your wife: You've got to stick with it your whole life," Hunter Jr. said. "So be like a lawyer and read the fine print."
OK, so perhaps that's a new twist on recruiting.
The best experience for Alabama quarterback pledge Cooper Bateman (Murray, Utah/Cottonwood), though, was simple and straightforward.
Bateman toured LSU, Auburn, Alabama and Florida during a busy spring trip.
"In no way did Alabama try to lay out the red carpet, which was great," Bateman said. "Other schools did. I'm not going to single anybody out, but some places had girls with me the whole time. I don't really see how that's going to persuade someone.
"Some of the things they said, promises they made, it's far out there."
Top-rated receiver Ricky Seals-Jones (Sealy, Texas/Sealy) committed to Texas in February, then decommitted in June. He's considering offers that include UT, Oregon, Texas A&M, Baylor, Oklahoma, Notre Dame and LSU.
Seals-Jones does not count Alabama among his favorites, but a phone conversation with Saban ranks near the top of his most memorable encounters.
In fact, Saban's name surfaced more than any in discussions with players at The Opening about the most impressive coaches they had encountered.
And let's just say he's not into sugarcoating his message.
"He told me, 'If you want to come to Alabama, you can. If not, so be it,' " Seals-Jones said. "I was like, 'Whoa, I wasn't really expecting that one.' It shows me that he doesn't beat around the bush."
Of course, not every coach can be Nick Saban. Bateman said he once spent 30 minutes on the phone with the Alabama coach.
"I didn't really get the chance to say much," Bateman said.
His most important factor in choosing the Crimson Tide involved offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier -- not Saban. Those relationships mean so much.
It's a big part of the reason linebacker Alex Anzalone (Wyomissing, Pa./Wyomissing) committed to Notre Dame last weekend. Anzalone pledged to Ohio State in April while in Columbus for the Buckeyes' spring game. He backed out of the commitment in May and waited two months to decide on the Irish.
When Anzalone looked closely at his finalists -- Notre Dame, Penn State and Florida -- it all made sense, he said, for many of the same reasons kids picked their programs 20 years ago.
"Your first impression of a school does have an impact," Anzalone said. "But once you get down to the nitty-gritty, that stuff wears off and you see what's really important."