Football Recruiting -- Approaches, Strategies and Philosophies

Submitted by DonAZ on March 11th, 2012 at 10:47 PM

Like most of you, I'm thrilled with Hoke and his recruiting prowess.  I can't begin to imagine what it's like to oversee the recruiting process for a top-tier school like Michigan.

That said, I find it all fascinating -- it's like a chess game overlaid with a ton of psychology.  That got me thinking about the various dynamics that swirl around the recruiting process.  I commented on this in the "Hello: Gareon Conley" post.  User "elaydin" suggest this might better be its own board post, so here it is.  User "PurpleStuff" made an interesting comment about Texas and their having to turn away top recruits from Texas seeking to go to UT.

I'm thinking about the dynamics around:

  • The pros/cons of capturing 4* commits early vs. holding out for big name 5* recruits
  • The strategies behind protecting early commits against poaching
  • The perspective from the truly elite 5* recruits
  • The perspective from the very good 4* recruits hoping to be 5*
  • What schools can truly pull off the "choose only the best" approach .. if any
  • Which programs employ what kinds of recruiting strategies

I realize a lot of this is speculation on our part, and I agree that we should trust in Hoke and staff to do what is right.  But as we prep for the BBall tournament and spring ball, a little speculation might be fun.

What do you think?  As you survey the college football landscape and think about the various recruiting styles and results, is there a way to map it all out in any discernible way?



March 11th, 2012 at 11:13 PM ^

In short, no.  Recruiting rankings are for us outsiders, the coaches DGAF.  They have their board, and they're going out and getting their guys.

As for recruits getting poached, you have to start early, build strong relationships with these kids, and don't lie or make promises with no intention of keeping them.  Otherwise you open yourself up to losing a commit. 


March 11th, 2012 at 11:22 PM ^

You're right, it is in many ways a chess match, and as such there are many different strategies, and none are "right" or "wrong." I trust that Hoke & co. are doing the best they can, and are doing way better than many others. I'm sure there will be mistakes--losing a shot at a 5* because we already filled up at that position, or something else, but that's the game. The early returns are that he is a dynamite recruiter who is especially good at getting kids to commit early, which really builds good momentum for a class going forward. I think it is that part of the strategy that I like best. Hopefully we won't see many situations where we get burned by it.


March 11th, 2012 at 11:25 PM ^

There are probably 10 recruits at the most every year that are labeled can't miss by recruiting services. Of those 10 maybe 4 or 5 don't miss. High four star and low 3 star is just another way to sell info as premium when the kid visits. Higher ranking=more buzz=more clicks. So pretty much it's all bullshit. We are landing our Plan A guys right now and at a rate that is being matched by no other school. 

Ron Utah

March 11th, 2012 at 11:45 PM ^

Not to mention that one man's 4* is another man's 5*.

Our system is different from ohio's, it's different from Alabama's, it's different from Eastern Michigan's.  Recruits have different value to us than they do to other schools.  I'm sure Hoke & Co. have a big board and aren't offering players they don't think will be able to be great players in our system.  We won't REALLY know the answer to this question for 3 years, but I'm very confident that the quality of our men and program is improving with every recruiting class.

It's also worth mentioning that character is a big part of this equation.  The recruiting process shows a lot about a school and a player, and I'm sure we're taking guys that will fit in at Michigan, that understand what it's about, and want to be a part of our culture.

To answer the OP:


  • The pros/cons of capturing 4* commits early vs. holding out for big name 5* recruits

See above.  The difference between 4* and 5* is rarely that big, and I don't think it's worth it to hope for a 5* when you can get a great 4* who wants to be part of your program.

  • The strategies behind protecting early commits against poaching

Get them in the class.  Make them part of the culture.  If they really are best of at Michigan, they won't leave the class.  If they do leave, we really didn't want them.  Dunn is a great example.  I only wanted him if he wanted to be here.  I wish him the best, but my guess is that he'll regret his decision to play in the spread.

  • The perspective from the truly elite 5* recruits

I'm no 5* recruit, but these kids have big, tough decisions to make.  For them, they believe they are going to be NFL players, and want the program that will maximize that potential.  I don't blame them for taking their time or wanting to take visits.  But when you know, you know.  Ty has visited.  He's met the staff.  He spent time with Shane.  If he doesn't know yet, Michigan may not be his best landing spot.

  • The perspective from the very good 4* recruits hoping to be 5*

Seeing as how these kids are 16/17, who knows?  They haven't even played their senior season yet.  Some will rise.  Some will fall.  Like I keep saying, a good 4* is basically the same as a 5*.

  • What schools can truly pull off the "choose only the best" approach .. if any

None.  No one can afford to wait around that long, and no one does.  Schools with geographic advantages (Texas, USC, Florida, FSU, ohio, Georgia, LSU, Auburn, 'Bama) can afford to wait longer because they have such a backlog of guys they can get.  But SEC schools oversign for a reason: they know they're going to lose some guys.  Even the best programs lose out on great recruits.

  • Which programs employ what kinds of recruiting strategies

It's clear that ohio waits longer and tries to cherry pick the best talent.  Texas recruits hard early like we are now.  'Bama, Auburn, LSU, Geogria, USC, ND...most schools take it more slowly.  SEC schools are bound to have more battles on NSD because they have more top recruits that want to take their time deciding among their 30 offers.  NO ONE tries to go slowly.  You can't afford to.


March 11th, 2012 at 11:58 PM ^

This is more of a coaching staff preference than a school specific issue.  Tressel wasn't very good with January/Ferbruary type recruits, so OSU under Tressel tended to fill up earlier.  He was much more comfortable with Ohio kids, and kids he had a chance to see in summer camp.

I think Michigan's start makes it look like OSU is being picky, but 5 commits by the end of February is actually a VERY fast start when compared to a typical year.  "Early" used to mean the fall, similar to last year's class.  Now it seems to mean get your recruiting done by the summer.


March 12th, 2012 at 12:35 AM ^

Some will rise.  Some will fall.  Like I keep saying, a good 4* is basically the same as a 5*

Yes, agree with that.  I guess my original question was an attempt to speculate as to the kinds of things going through the mind of a good-and-maybe-great player.  Take the offer in hand, or hope for something better? 

I think you're spot on for most -- if the program is a good fit for the young man, he'll know it and make his decision.  But for some -- particularly those who have people whispering bad advice into their ears -- it might be like trying to draw to the inside straight ... lots of hope, perhaps long odds, but a terrific payday if it happens.

In some ways this is like players leaving early for the NFL ... for some the path is clear; for others (Donovan Warren) not so clear.


March 11th, 2012 at 11:46 PM ^

Good point.  Hoke is not filling up the class early because he does not want to risk getting shut out on NSD, he is filling up the class now because he is getting the guys he wants now.

He will likely save a slot or two for top-shelf eltite recruits who are committing late and expressed an interest in Michigan, but other than that, he will fill up the class without hesitation.



March 12th, 2012 at 12:40 AM ^

Agree 100% -- there's no part of me that thinks Hoke is playing desperate or insecure about things.  On the contrary, I think in a lot of cases Hoke and staff are able to see talent/potential others are missing.  Just a guess, but I think it's a good guess.

It's the "save a slot or two" element that baffles me ... there must be some careful thinking about all that.  Like saving timeouts for later in the game.


March 11th, 2012 at 11:43 PM ^

I would say Texas and USC are the start and finish of the list; whoever is top dog in Florida has it better than anyone in fourth place, but not as good as either Texas or USC.


March 11th, 2012 at 11:48 PM ^

I think Texas, and back in the day, Penn State are examples of the early strategy.

FSU has traditionally been an example of the late strategy, though of late, USC and Florida might be better examples.  As for the rest of your post, I'll go ahead and copy what I said earlier here:



In a perfect world, I assume coaches would prefer for all recruiting to happen in January, a few weeks before signing day.  This would give coaches the most possible data on a recruit (senior season, summer camps, all star games).  Obviously, a lot of recruits don't want to wait so long.  In fact, a recruit can get burned by waiting so long (Alex Kozan would a decent example).  I don't think a 3 star has the luxury of waiting too late, especially if there's a school he really wants to go to.

A lot of recruits either want to get recruiting over with, or look at a super early offer as a sign of "respect".  I don't have any stats to back this up, but this seems more common this year.

As far as what strategy is more succesful, they obviously both have their ups and downs:

Early Pro:

- Can make a good impression by going after recruits early

- Have more time to focus on top recruits

- Have more time to spend on coaching during the year

Early Con:

- don't get to see how kids develop during the summer and senior year

- could get stuck with someone you don't like as much as someone else


In general, I think only the top schools can pull off the late strategy.  I think if I were a lesser school, I'd be handing out offers to sophomores, hoping to get in before the big boys do.


March 12th, 2012 at 12:13 AM ^

Top Tier Recruiting Powers in my mind in no particular order :Michigan,OSU,ND,Alabama,Florida,Florida State,LSU,Texas,Oklahoma,and USC.The 2nd tier are schools like Miami,Penn State (Post- Paterno),Georgia,LSU,Oregon,Clemson,South Carolina,Auburn,and Tennessee.


March 12th, 2012 at 12:56 AM ^

Early indicators look promising, don't they?

I don't know much about PSU's new coach.  Time will tell, I guess.  But one thing I'm pretty certain of -- long before the scandal broke, it was becoming increasingly obvious the program under Paterno was a kind of holding pattern ... not unlike what some say Michigan was in the last several years under Carr.


March 12th, 2012 at 12:51 AM ^

+1 for every one of your top-tier.  I'm a little surprised by Oregon being second tier, but only a little.  Certainly relative to USC they're not in the same league for getting the big-name talent.

A variation of this -- who are the trending-up and who are the trending-down?

Up -- South Carolina (I think ... not entirely certain), Stanford

Down -- Tennessee, Notre Dame ... TN because Dooley's position is so tenuous, ND because they've been wandering in the desert a long time.  Kelly has to do something this year.




March 12th, 2012 at 1:04 AM ^

You have LSU listed twice... which makes me wonder where they really belong.  I tend to think they're second tier, mostly because they're in the middle of Louisiana and I don't see that being a huge draw for kids around the country (they seem to recruit pretty regionally).

Dooley sucks, but I always though that Tennessee was in a nice position.  Not so south that you can't get kids from the midwest, but south enough that you can get kids from the south.

Stanford seems to be creeping up to the second tier.  They could turn out to be what Notre Dame thinks they are.

We didn't really see it last year, but I'd have to think that Nebraska has more recruiting clout than Clemson (or it should).


March 12th, 2012 at 10:37 AM ^

Sometimes crazy things happen like with Landon Collins, but they generally have their home state locked down.  And Louisiana is sixth or seventh in terms of NFL players produced.  It's the most talent-rich one-school state.  Add in a handful of kids each year from the other SEC states and a couple from Texas and you're golden. 

Their recruiting appeal is top 5 nationally and 2nd only to UF in the SEC imo. 


March 12th, 2012 at 10:45 AM ^

I could certainly be wrong, but I don't see Stanford maintaining its recent level of success for much longer.  With Harbaugh already gone and Luck headed to the League, I think they are certainly due for a drop-off.  Stanford has not been a traditional power in football and I think if they stop having so much on-field success, their recruiting could take a nose-dive right with it.  I think their situation is much different than Notre Dame, which continues to recruit well due to its Catholic base and historical record, despite being a very mediocre program throughout the last decade-plus.  


March 12th, 2012 at 12:13 AM ^

There is a regional factor to all this.  When it is all said and done, most kids wind up commiting close to home, within their geographic region.  

It is actually not common for kids to leave their region.  The combination of kids who are willing to leave their region and are elite talents is relatively rare.  There are only so many of these kids to go around.   Being able to fill up a class with these kids by waiting to NSD to pick them off is even rarer.

The programs that have the most success with waiting are programs like USC and FSU that have the talent in their backyard.  They know the talent will be there when they are ready to choose.

Texas is kind of odd.  It seems to be just a style preference to fill up their classes early.  Texas could wait until much later to see how in-state recruits develop in their senior seasons, and still get who they want.

Michigan unfortunately, is not quite in this category.  The midwest is not as talent-rich as some other areas of the country, and we have a lot of competition for that talent.  

That's why I really like what Brady Hoke is able to do . . . identify talent early, get early committments, build a solid base in the midwest region, then cherry pick talent from other regions.  He can take a flyer on a handful of top recruits from FL or CA, but he is not dependent on them to fill out a class.  His approach is reliable and sustainable. 



March 12th, 2012 at 12:27 AM ^

It is actually not common for kids to leave their region.  The combination of kids who are willing to leave their region and are elite talents is relatively rare.

Good point ... there are notable exceptions, of course -- Denard Robinson -- but you confirm what my sense is ... kids stay relatively close to home.

This is one of the reasons why all the hype about Urban Meyer stocking up on Florida speed burners didn't cause me much concern.  He'll get some; he won't clean the state.

This is also one of the reasons why I'm skeptical of RR working magic at U of A.  I think he'll do okay ... but he's got a few things working against him with respect to recruiting -- (a) USC being a vacuum cleaner for CA talent; (b) an emergent Stanford vying for the same talent; (c) Oregon doing its best to get CA talent; (d) Oregon competing for the same spread athletes; and now (e) Mike Leach at WSU also competing for the spread athletes.  People can talk about getting Florida kids to go to Tucson ... but trust me (I live in Tucson) -- for anyone born and raised in lush greenery, Tucson is like the back side of the moon.

That's why I really like what Brady Hoke is able to do . . . identify talent early, get early committments, build a solid base in the midwest region

I'm convinced a big part of this strategy is a sincere campaign to win the hearts and minds of the mothers.  To them, it's not just about football ... and Hoke is definitely selling a whole lot more than just football at Michigan.

j.o.s.e maizenblue

March 12th, 2012 at 1:10 AM ^

Aside from academics, championships, facilities etc... Kids will land in a place were they feel comfortable following and respecting their coaches. I think the student body embracing Hoke at Yost left an impression on Isaac and the ND night game left an impression on McGary in basketball. Having kids wow other kids by moments like these has to be one of the biggest selling points, otherwise your just anothr school trying to sell the same thing



March 12th, 2012 at 1:32 AM ^

I think the student body embracing Hoke at Yost left an impression on Isaac

On the flip side, I think Hoke embracing the atmosphere and moment at Yost (dancing, victors, pointing) also probably does as well. Seeing a coach that truly loves the school that goes beyond just the program he coaches? That goes with the whim of the student body? That's willing to just throw down and have fun? It's very telling as to the kind of situation he'd be going into.


March 12th, 2012 at 1:34 AM ^

Real priorities for most top recruits

1. Girls  


2. Distance from mom

3. Girls

4. Opportunity for playing time/getting to the NFL


5. coaching staff

6. teammates

7. tradition

8. facilities

9. weather

10. academics

If academics were important, the SEC would never get any good recruits.  It's all about distance and girls.  



March 12th, 2012 at 8:19 AM ^

Not sure if RR alluded to it, but Tressel flat out told the NCAA in his interview that other schools were offering TP money. RR and Tressel were pretty close, so they might have shared the story.

I don't disagree that some late recruits might be looking for something extra. They're not usually hard to spot, but the mods frown on anyone stating the obvious example from this year.


March 12th, 2012 at 11:27 AM ^

If girls were what mattered to recruits (after their recruiting visit) Schools like Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State wouldn't be powers, and UCLA would clean up every year, and Miami would have never slid so badly. #2 matter for a lot of them, and #7 might matter more if the kid is local (all those Ohio kids don't dream of going to Ohio State for the women; and if someone grew up in Louisiana, Michigan's tradition might not mean that much to them), but #1 coaching staff.  Kids go to play for coaches more than they go to play for schools.  Some value #7 with it, but it's how they feel with the people who they are in contact with the most that colors their decision the most.


March 12th, 2012 at 11:46 AM ^

A better counter argument would be "Look at Arizona State".  UCLA and Miami aren't that impressive (having been to both).  The more you move down the UC chain, the better you get. 

I think girls matter a lot more than you think, though sometimes it's just a high school girlfriend (which ties into the close to home argument).  You have to contruct a list that somehow explains crappy schools in the south like Auburn and Clemson always getting good recruits (the $$$ argument is too easy).  It probably isn't #1 (distance), but it's definitely up there.  In all seriousness, I would put it above facilities and academics.  Girls and weather also seem to go hand in hand.

Not sure how you'd measure student population "hotness", but someone should do a study how recruiting rankings correlates with 1) geography 2) tradition 3) academic 4) student "body" reputation, etc.


March 12th, 2012 at 1:26 PM ^

Are in LA and Miami, respectively.  Not sure you can say Happy Valley has a better population base for hotness, but they certainly recruit better.

And I'm not sure I'd classify either Auburn or Clemson as getting great recruiting classes matter what you think of their "talent base". Clemson has been far more Michigan State than Clemson....and at Auburn you really CAN point to their highest points and see $$$$ everywhere. I mean, without $$$, no Cam, no Cam...and you get this year's Auburn team.

And completely unscientific, but just for fun....not everyone thinks UCLA is that bad-…

(Bleacher Report has one out there too...but, Bleacher Report. This one was at least linked by SI).


March 12th, 2012 at 1:59 PM ^

Thank you for doing research on this important topic.

My theory is that hotness is a function of sun and low academic standards:

h= f(sun,dumb)

This model easily explains ASU and most of the SEC.

I also think it'll reveal that UC-Santa Barbara is much better than UCLA.

I think if I had to account for secondary (or tertiary) effects:


So is there a private southern school with low academic standards?


March 12th, 2012 at 3:22 PM ^

We've come to expect from the readers of I was happy to do my part.

There may be a cumulative effect.  The reason UC-SB doesn't field world class sports teams is that all the other items in your list are so much greater than at other schools that it offsets the girl power. 2+3+4+5+6+7 > 1. Or better said, if you're a 10 in the other categories, but a 6 in the #1, it's > being a 1 in all the other categories, but a 10 in the first.


March 12th, 2012 at 4:02 PM ^

Clemson rakes in the talent from the Mid-Atlantic, particularly Virginia and the Carolinas...They are ranked 15th in the recruiting rankings....Auburn is also a good recruiting state as of late and was in the top 10 as of last year...They may pick up bama's scraps but thats fine considering their scraps are 4 stars.


March 12th, 2012 at 10:39 PM ^

You'd have to show they've averaged 15 over 30 years or something. Or show they've gotten noticeably better looking over that time. Clemson is in the 30's in wins and win percentage. Which puts them right around Michigan State, not the all time powers. Auburn's a bit different in a football mad state with one of the best traditions of any "little brother."


March 12th, 2012 at 12:48 PM ^

I see Hoke as a teacher/father figure first.  He's looking for not only great athletes, but he's looking for high quality character kids that want to learn and are willing to work.  A great teacher like Hoke/Mattison, et. al. can turn an average ranked kid into a 5 star performer.  I believe that is a big part of his philosophy.  He obviously wouldn't turn down a 5 star kid but I don't think he feels it's a priority.

How many of these 5 star guys come in expecting to dominate like they did in high school and don' think they need all the coaching and hard work?  



March 12th, 2012 at 1:47 PM ^

How many of these 5 star guys come in expecting to dominate like they did in high school and don' think they need all the coaching and hard work? 

More than a few, I'm sure.  It'd be interesting to find out how programs like Alabama, Texas and Florida handle that.  There must be some means of maintaining control.

I think you're spot on -- Hoke and staff have an eye on attitude as much as athletic talent.

Wasn't there a story earlier about how Craig Roh -- not a 5*, but still a player who in high school was told he could do no wrong -- had to come to realize that maybe he didn't have all the answers?  And I think Will Campbell is a good example of someone with boatloads of athletic talent but, apparently, lacks some of the drive to follow coaching.