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Recruiting technology: Football players open up online, sign up in person
The Gazette takes a look at how the Digital Age has added to the increasing competition to get noticed in the world of college athletics.
The series began Sunday and ends Wednesday, national signing day.
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Aaron Johnson had a message. And he needed to let everyone know.
He’d finally decided where he was going to play college football.
“Today, I was like I need to tell the world this,” Johnson said Saturday. “I went on Twitter, then went on Facebook, then texted all my coaches.”
The 6-foot-5, 185-pound Vista Ridge wide receiver verbally committed to Eastern New Mexico University and posted it first on Twitter, one of his more than 7,000 tweets.
Johnson might be the best example of a student-athlete growing up in the Digital Age. With multiple websites available for high school athletes to post video and market themselves, college recruiting is changing as quickly as technology itself.
Johnson has used it to his advantage. Via hudl.com, Johnson went through his game film to piece together a highlight video of his performances. Then he emailed the video to about 30 college coaches to land his name on their desks, sending to every level.
“I sent one to Ohio State for grins and giggles,” Johnson said. “It was cool. The D-II schools got back to me really fast.”
The irony might be that ENMU was not on his original email list.
While technology has reduced and condensed the process, it still can’t do everything. Like look a college coach in the eye and shake his hand. Or talk passionately about one’s potential as a leader and a contributor to society. Or how about running, jumping and throwing? Nope, technology can’t do that.
“Today, we use technology as an introduction to recruiting,” Vista Ridge football coach Les Johnson said. “But I recommend kids write letters and get in contact with schools they’d like to go to. We go out there and lobby for our kids. Those things haven’t changed.”
Quite simply, athletes can’t expect to be discovered once their video concludes uploading. Not when thousands of videos arrive at hudl.com throughout any given season.
That’s where old-fashioned personal conversation and interaction enters the picture.
“If you have the means, you have to get in front of coaches,” said The Classical Academy senior linebacker Justin Miller, who recently made his verbal commitment to Gardner-Webb in Boiling Spring, N.C. “They want to see you run, see you do drills. They want to see how you compete and present yourself as a person. That’s really important.”
Mesa Ridge football coach Rob Braaten agrees with time-tested tradition and makes sure his athletes arrive at campuses prepared.
“We talk a lot about first impressions,” Braaten said. “Even in this modern era, you can’t replace looking a man in the eye and shaking his hand. I tell my guys they need to act professionally. They’re selling themselves. There’s more than just a video.”
Braaten remembers the days before texting, tweeting and Facebook, spending time running back and forth to the post office. He recalls a foray into the digital scouting and recruiting frontier with Apex, a company that was bought by Hudl nearly one year ago.
Hudl, a Lincoln, Neb.-based company, allows coaches to break down video electronically, from their team and the opposition. It also kicks up the recruiting game with the ability to upload and share highlights. Most high schools in the Pikes Peak region subscribe to Hudl's services.
But video alone can’t seal the deal.
“Video is just half the piece,” said Fountain-Fort Carson senior running back Anthony Davis, who gave his verbal intent to Northern Colorado. “When they see you in person, they see how you play, how you are at your position. It definitely comes down to seeing what they have and meeting people one-on-one."
And that means pounding the pavement and spending time on the phone still prevail, even in an electronic and social networking age.
Recruiting was, and still is, mostly about who you know.
“We want to make sure we find good schools for our kids, in a program that’s obviously a good fit for them where they can succeed,” said Les Johnson, who was instrumental in putting Aaron Johnson in touch with ENMU. “It’s a busy time for high school coaches, as well. Hudl makes sending easier, but you still have to call people.”
Said Braaten: "Recruiting has changed some with technology. But through it all, it's still about the relationships you forge with people. That will never change."