Today’s successful college coaches go much deeper to find their players.

By Terry Troy, FNF Coaches Contributor

If you’re a high school player thinking of taking your football talents on to the college level, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve already developed a highlight video.

“Almost every high school prospect, now has a direct link to their highlight video,” says Vince Kehres, head coach of the Mount Union Purple Raiders, national semi-finalists for NCAA Division III championship last year. “You look at the tape and get a good first impression of their capabilities.”

“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 the former coach of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers. “Then that carries over into their senior year.”

But your highlight video is only the first impression.

Today’s successful college coaches go much deeper to find their players. True, athleticism, size and talent are all important, especially at the NCAA Division I level. But if you don’t possess some intangible skills that can not be represented on a highlight video, coaches will find out, and find out fast.

Naturally, the largest and most successful programs start their direct evaluations and recruiting process very early, sometimes as early as your freshman year, and certainly no later than your junior year.

“It is getting earlier and earlier, especially within the footprint of our state,” says Urban Meyer, head coach of The Ohio State University Buckeyes. “We don’t recruit young people from very far away, unless they are premier players that we hear about. We tend to stay within the footprint of our university because we know the high school coaches better.”

Rick Finotti, incoming head coach of the 2016 Division III Semi-Finalists John Carroll University Blue Streaks, was formerly an assistant involved in recruitment at the University of Michigan. He was also the former coach of St. Edward in Lakewood, winning two state titles while preparing and advising many high school athletes on how to handle collegiate recruitment.

“The players who have the most success at all three division levels are the ones who love football and those who are dynamic competitors,” says Finotti. “These are the people who have a great work ethic and just want to outwork everyone. Talent will only take you so far.”

“The number one 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 number two.”

“You look for talent, but you really need guys who are willing to build toughness because this is a physical sport,” adds Solich.

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?

“There are things like speed or how many times you are able to bench press 225 pounds, but those are all evaluation numbers, they aren’t decision makers,” says Meyer. “We love to see an offensive lineman that has also played basketball. 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 your 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. He wasn’t very big, undersized for a quarterback even at our level. But he came from a very good high school team and a coach, and that carried a lot of weight.

“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.

“We have actually developed a specific player profile,” says Lee Owens, head coach of the Division II Ashland Eagles, “because when you recruit, you not only want the best player available, you also want the player that is the right fit for your school.”

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.

So you may be a star on the field, but your attitude, character and integrity off the field will play a big role in how you are evaluated for any college football program.

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About the author

Dan Guttenplan