By Terry Troy, FNF Coaches Correspondent
Today’s successful college coaches dig deeper than ever when researching high school players. Athleticism, size and talent are all important, especially at the NCAA Division I level. But if a player doesn’t possess some intangible skills that go beyond a highlight video, coaches will find out, and find out fast.
The largest and most successful programs start their direct evaluations and recruiting process very early, sometimes as early as a player’s freshman year, and certainly no later than his junior year.
High school coaches looking to help their players gain opportunities to play at the next level should start the process by helping produce highlight videos.
“You start with films, then you get them to come to a camp for a further evaluation,” says Frank Solich, coach of the Ohio University Bobcats and former coach of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers. “Then that carries over into their senior year.”
But the highlight video is only the first impression.
“We tend to stay within the footprint of our university because we know the high school coaches better,” said Urban Meyer, head coach of The Ohio State University Buckeyes.
“The No. 1 characteristic of a good football player is whether or not they are a true competitor,” says Meyer. “It’s not just height, speed or vertical jump, because we have all seen those kind of guys who are not great players. It helps, but number one is competitiveness. And that is unchallenged. Toughness is No. 2.”
It then comes down to skill sets for specific positions.
“For linemen, it would the ability to gain leverage on people,” says Meyer. “Many of the guys we recruit for our line are bigger than many of their opponents in high school. You never see them really have to move people. We need to see how that big 300-pound plus guy is able to bend and fit into a block—that’s something you really have to evaluate.”
But if you can’t see it on film, how do you know?
“We love to see an offensive lineman that has also played basketball,” Meyer said. “That means he can move his feet and is good with things like lateral movement.”
Footwork is also important at quarterback, but it’s not the number one skill set.
“Accuracy as a passer is most important,” says Kehres, “but footwork and your ability to create plays with your feet is number two. Then you would have decision making, arm strength and finally leadership and poise.”
Passion and heart are intangibles that go beyond your measurable athleticism. And many times these intangibles come directly from high school coaches.
“I was at a recruiting fair not too long ago, where this high school coach was recommending his quarterback,” Kehres recalls. “His measurables didn’t jump off the paper, but his coach kept talking about his passion and heart.
“That young man was Kevin Burke, who came here from St. Edward High School. He ended up being the Division III Player of the Year his junior and senior years.”
Intelligence, academic performance and character are becoming increasingly important in the evaluation of prospects, according to all football coaches in all NCAA Divisions.
Even the biggest Division I schools today won’t consider a prospect if they are not proficient in the classroom, or if they have character issues or have been in trouble.
“If someone becomes overwhelmed in the classroom, it can have an impact on how they perform here on the football field,” says Meyer. “We evaluate character by asking high school football coaches that we know and trust. And if we don’t know the coach, we ask secretaries or assistant [athletic directors].
“Another way of evaluating character is to see if they have had any attendance issues, or if they have been in trouble,” Meyer adds.
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