In the FCS Huddle: It's harder to mine hidden recruiting gems

Philadelphia. PA (Sports Network) - Football coaches from rival schools enjoy catching up with each other and talking about the profession, but as they spread across the nation during recruiting season, few hope to run into the others.

That would mean they are recruiting the same players.

It's an everyday part of recruiting, of course, but coaches can still hope they are targeting players whom the competition has overlooked, leaving them the chance to pluck a hidden gem seemingly out of thin air.

Recruiting has changed heavily in recent years. A coach could probably get it done without ever leaving the office. It's not recommended, though, because few coaches ever have a recruit all to themselves.

Between recruiting services, social media, highlight tapes - everybody has a highlight tape and is willing to share it - we're not just in an information age, we're in an information overload age.

"It keeps getting harder all the time," New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell said. "Just about every kid we have recruited in the past three to four years has been involved in some way or another with another school. Usually they have had some type of contact or offer from some other program we know or play against. There are very few if any secrets or hidden gems, as you say. The thing that you have to do and, most importantly, believe in is your evaluation of this kid and how he fits in your program."

"There's nobody out there that you find that nobody really didn't know about," Colgate coach Dick Biddle said. "Maybe their evaluation is different than your evaluation. There's so much information that it's hard (to find an overlooked prospect). There's almost too much information out there."

High school seniors can start to commit formerly to college football programs on National Letter of Intent Day on Feb. 6. Many receive numerous scholarship offers, others may have only one.

Even if it's the latter scenario, other schools know about that player. The school which offers a scholarship is simply the one which saw something more in the prospective player than others.

"You have to be willing to take guys that might not be quite as big or might not be quite as tall or might not be quite as fast, but they love the game of football and they want to play, they want to get an education," Stephen F. Austin coach J.C. Harper said. "I think there's guys out there like that."

Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh said, "Sometimes those hidden gems are not up to a particular coach's standards, and that's why they pass them up. However, with another program, they end up being very good players who probably could have played at a higher-level school."

The Internet has changed almost everything in life, and that includes the faster, more complete recruiting information available to college coaches. Players can connect to schools easier and Johnny Football can be known about when he is Johnny Seventh-grader.

But coaches still rely on the eyeball test, so some prospects can remain less heralded depending on their situation.

For instance, it's much easier for a coach to visit with six or seven schools in a day in, say, the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex than it is for one to travel out to sparser East Texas. Thus, the player out in East Texas has a better chance of being an "overlooked" commodity. Maybe not unknown, just not as well regarded as others who received more evaluations.

Colgate All-America quarterback Gavin McCarney was being recruited as a basketball player, but he wanted to play football, and the Raiders were in on him when others weren't. Stephen F. Austin All-America wide receiver Cordell Roberson also wasn't highly recruited because he played in a high school offense that didn't highlight him like others.

"I wouldn't consider them hidden gems, it's just how you see a player fitting into your schemes and plans," Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley said. "A guy like (running back) David Johnson fits that mold. He was overlooked by the bigger schools, but we saw him and projected him as a player that could make a difference for us."

"Locating a hidden gem was never an easy task," Robert Morris coach Joe Walton said, "but I do think finding one in today's world is certainly more challenging than when I started here due to the proliferation of the Internet, recruiting websites and social media. If you know about a high-quality potential prospect, odds are somebody else does, too."

Feeling overlooked in the recruiting process or having to become a walk-on tends to motivate athletes. So what happens once a player is on campus makes the biggest difference. He can improve skills or grow physically. He can change positions and excel more in the new spot. He can gain from a system change.

Every team has the story of a lightly recruited player or a walk-on who goes on to be a standout. But, rest assured, some other school's coaching staff knew about him from the start.


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