HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - There are so many physical measurements, so many testing numbers, so many opportunities for coaches to fully evaluate top prospects.
But recently at Pac-12 Football Media Days, another important topic was raised: How important is it that prospects truly love playing football?
Not tweeting out offers and the fleeting attention. How crucial, how vital – and how difficult – is it to identify and then target those recruits who truly love the nitty-gritty of the game?
“Every coach wants that,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “Every player you ask, they’re going to tell you they love football but what are they doing when they’re not playing the games? Are they training year-round? If they’re not training I hope they’re playing other sports, which is a good thing.
“In football, in order to have success, to be good at the game, you have to do a lot of things that are unpleasant as far as lifting weights, running when it’s hot and you’re tired, doing all the hard, physical stuff of football.
“We try to identify that. This guy to pick from, this guy to pick from, which one really loves football? Which one is playing just because they like the attention? Which one is playing because they truly love the game? All coaches are looking for that.”
The questions were varied but the Pac-12 coaches on this day had similar things to say on the topic: Everybody says they love football, but these coaches are looking for proof.
Who’s sitting on social media all day? What’s being said on those outlets? And who’s out there early in the morning, late at night, in the weight room – and also in the classroom – getting the job done.
Getting admitted to Cal is not an easy thing. Not only do you have to run fast and hit hard on Friday nights, but first-year coach Justin Wilcox – who talked about Cal being the top public school nationally on numerous occasions at Pac-12 media days – said getting a well-rounded view of each recruit is crucial as to who the Golden Bears will offer.
“The more information that you can get and how you get it, it's just a lot of conversations and phone calls and really covering all your bases,” Wilcox said. “Talking not only to the high school coach but the counselors and anybody you can talk to, associate with, just to get a background.
“Because you're trying to make significant decisions on people in your program, which is everything. Recruiting is everything. So you have to have the information, whether it's the academics, the character. The football in a lot of ways is the easiest thing because you put the video on. But now you've got to find out what type of guy is he? Does he love football or does he love being a football player? Those are two different things. Academically, does he work in the classroom? Does he truly want to get a degree? A lot of people say they do, but do his actions back that up?”
Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said people on his staff look through Twitter profiles to make certain determinations on prospects but he has another valuable tool for evaluations: He asks his current players what some prospects were like when taking visits.
Usually, every recruit minds his Ps and Qs when sitting in the coach’s office. But out at night during an unofficial visit – the time away from the coaches - could be more telling as to whether a kid will get recruited – and even offered.
“When they have him come around for official visits or unofficial visits, I talk to the kids that are with them,” MacIntyre said.
“Most of the time they'll say, ‘Coach, we don't want that guy on our team.’ So that's kind of how I do it. You learn more from the kids than you do adults or coaches. They want their kids to get scholarships. They want them to. They're nice, but you know how it is. You can just ask other kids, and that's how we find out about young people.”
This is a cutthroat business where too many misses put coaches on the unemployment line. There’s a popular phrase in football that it’s not the Xs and Os, it’s the Jimmys and Joes that win games.
Finding the right ones can be the real challenge.