May 25, 2008

The secret to finding players: Don't travel far

MORE: Roundtable: Which metro area is the best to recruit?

The decision has been made to keep head coaches off the road during spring recruiting, but that doesn't mean the process can afford to slow down. Assistant coaches are allowed to be out evaluating football players for 20 days in May and they need to get as much done as possible.

Most of the top players have already been identified and evaluated, but there is still plenty of talent to be found. There is also the PR aspect of spring recruiting. Coaches must get to as many in-state high schools as possible even if they don't have any prospects just to keep the local coaches happy. You don't ever want to get the reputation of overlooking the homegrown talent – even if there isn't much of it – to get players from somewhere else.

But what if there isn't enough local or state talent to fill your needs? Where do you go from there? There were 202 top-division players signed this year within a 75-mile radius of USC but there were only five total recruits from the entire state of West Virginia.

No two teams face the same set of demographic circumstances and no two teams can adopt the same recruiting plan. Still, there has to be some method to this recruiting madness.

First of all, except for a few elite programs, the closer a recruit lives to your campus, the more likely it is that you will be able to sign him and the more kids you can sign from the state in which your university resides, the better off you will be. There is just something about the support and coverage that a recruit gets back home that makes it a better proposition if he is from the same state. When I was the head coach at Auburn, Atlanta was closer than Birmingham to our campus, but if I spent more time in Georgia than in Alabama you can bet I would hear about it at my next booster meeting.

The thing to remember is that not only do you need to go where the players are but also where you have a chance to get them.

To go back to my Auburn example, when I would make the two-hour trip to recruit in Birmingham, you could pretty much count on the fact that almost every kid in that high school was going to be either an Auburn or an Alabama fan. And, more importantly, the recruit who you were after likely grew up an Auburn or Alabama fan as well. However, when I headed the other direction to Atlanta, which was only an hour and a half away, Georgia and Georgia Tech would more often than not be the schools of choice.

Recruiting by state
Rank State Top. div.
in State
out of
top. div.
1 Texas 10 161 213 374
2 Florida 7 123 235 358
3 California 7 109 238 347
4 Georgia 2 23 135 158
5 Ohio 8 72 74 146
6 Alabama 5 47 48 95
7 Louisiana 5 45 37 82
8 Pennsylvania 3 32 47 79
9 Mississippi 3 38 36 74
10 Illinois 3 19 44 63
11 Michigan 5 35 25 60
12 Virginia 2 25 32 57
13 North Carolina 5 32 20 52
14 New Jersey 1 9 41 50
15 South Carolina 2 18 30 48
16 Tennessee 4 17 30 47
17 Arizona 2 11 35 46
18 Maryland 1 9 35 44
19 Indiana 4 18 20 38
T-20 Oklahoma 3 16 19 35
T-20 Colorado 2 16 19 35
22 Washington 2 20 11 31
23 Arkansas 2 20 8 28
24 Missouri 1 9 18 27
25 Kansas 2 8 17 25
T-26 New York 2 11 13 24
T-26 Hawaii 1 9 15 24
28 Utah 3 16 3 19
29 Kentucky 2 6 10 16
30 Minnesota 1 5 10 15
31 Nevada 2 5 9 14
T-32 Iowa 2 6 6 12
T-32 Wisconsin 1 7 5 12
T-32 Connecticut 1 2 10 12
35 D.C. 0 0 11 11
T-36 Idaho 2 7 3 10
T-36 Nebraska 1 6 4 10
T-36 Oregon 2 3 7 10
39 Massachusetts 1 3 4 7
40 New Mexico 2 4 2 6
41 West Virginia 2 1 4 5
T-42 Delaware 0 0 3 3
T-42 Montana 0 0 3 3
T-44 New Hampshire 0 0 2 2
T-44 South Dakota 0 0 2 2
T-46 Wyoming 1 1 0 1
T-46 Alaska 0 0 1 1
T-48 North Dakota 0 0 0 0
T-48 Rhode Island 0 0 0 0
T-48 Maine 0 0 0 0
T-48 Vermont 0 0 0 0

I had a couple of simple rules to guesstimate my chances of actually signing a prospect. When I walked into a high school and looked into a classroom, if 80 percent of the students were wearing one particular school's hat, then there was about an 80 percent chance that prospect was going to go to that school when signing day rolled around. I called this the hat rule.

If I was recruiting a kid a little bit farther away, I used the hop rule. That is, if I was looking at a prospect in Dallas, I would count all the top-division schools (there are 10 in Texas alone) he would have to hop over get to Auburn. My chances of signing the young man would get smaller each time he had to hop over another school.

That doesn't mean you don't spend a lot of time in Georgia if you're the head coach at Auburn. There were 158 high school players in Georgia who signed top-division scholarships and only 23 stayed in-state (there are only two in-state, top-division schools).

You also need to look at how easy it is to get from your school to where the prospects are. Don't think for a second that it doesn't matter that there are a lot of direct airline flights into Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, Dallas and Houston when it comes to the number of recruits from those metro areas. You can spend a lot of time at Syracuse driving around the state of New York looking for football players (there were only 24 top-division signees from New York this year) or you can take a 2½ hour flight down to Miami and be in the middle of more than 140 prospects within about an hour-and-a-half drive from the airport.

Where would you want to be?

The fact is, the location of an institution relative to where the athletes are is a lot more important than how good of a recruiter the coach might be. In other words, Nick Saban and Les Miles were much better recruiters at LSU than they ever were while they were coaching at Michigan State and Oklahoma State.

If you are going to try to figure out where all of the prospects are this year, a good place to start is to find out where they all came from last year. I came across a fantastic web site,, that gives you an in-depth analysis of exactly where each recruit came from this past year. Not only does it tell you which state had the most recruits, but also which major city had the most recruits. It tells you which prospects stayed in-state and which ones signed with a college from out-of-state.

So, where are the players?

• Texas, Florida and California had more than twice as many recruits as any of the other states.

• Georgia and Ohio round out the 'Fab Five' best recruiting states in the country. More than 50 percent of all top-division signees came from these five states.

• Mississippi had the most top-division athletes per capita in the United States with one per every 39,443 people. (California has one per 105,341)

• Louisiana had more top-division signees than Pennsylvania.

• Nebraska had only 10 top-division recruits.

Terry Bowden is Yahoo! Sports' college football analyst. For more information about Terry, visit his official web site.
Send Terry a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

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