New-Age Recruiting Engulfs College Football

By Kyle Rowland on June 30, 2013 at 6:00a
Mike Mitchell knows well the pressures of recruiting.

There was a time when Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler and Bear Bryant drove cars that seemed to rival the length of football fields around the Midwest and South in search of future stars who could win Big Ten and SEC titles. Aside from in-home visits, the three venerable coaches used phones to contact recruits – rotary telephones, that is.

In the past half-century, and even going back 25 years, the game of college football has changed so much and in so many different capacities that the Big 3 coaches of yesteryear might not even recognize the sport they helped revolutionize.

Gone is any semblance of the option offense, including the vaunted wishbone. So too are 220-pound linemen, the fumblerooski and the field goal kicking tee. Replacing run-first offenses – and in some cases run-only offenses – are the pass-happy spread sets that can be found from Pullman, Wash., to Tampa, Fla. But perhaps the most noticeable change is the year-round recruiting industry.

As money in the game has skyrocketed, most notably in coaches’ salaries, the pressure to win, and win often, has become almost overwhelming. You’re just as likely to hear someone in Columbus, Ann Arbor or Tuscaloosa talk casually about college football in February and May as you are in August and October. Coaches are the No. 1 factor when it comes to laying the foundation for a winning culture, second come the players. At the heart of that is recruiting, a 12-month, never-ending saga that plays out in the public eye. 

The changes in technology since the 1970s make the decade look like an episode of the Flintstones while 2013 is straight out of the Jetsons. Texting, Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media have changed the landscape of recruiting forever. Coaching staffs send tens of thousands of texts to recruits, code words on Twitter have become in vogue and even apps are popping up – all in the name of chasing a national championship.

Observers of the process have become just an enthralled in their team performing well on the field as they do on the recruiting trail. When Ole Miss secured one of the best classes in the country in February, Mississippians celebrated as if Archie Manning was back under center.

Relating to 17- and 18-year-olds can be tough for middle-aged coaches, though Urban Meyer, Hugh Freeze and other fortysomethings give off a hip, youthful vibe. It helps when you have kids the same age. In Meyer’s case, his two daughters are college volleyball players. Still, a young web-savvy recruiting guru is an asset.

Meyer and Ohio State have one of the best in Mark Pantoni. Described as an “internet junkie” and “grinder” by Meyer, Pantoni is the brains behind the Buckeyes’ recruiting efforts. He and Meyer first became acclimated with one another when Pantoni was an intern at Florida. That position soon evolved into a full-time job. Almost immediately, Pantoni was regarded as one of the top recruiters in the country.

“He is my right-hand man in recruiting,” Meyer said.

The hours of the job approach 100 per week, but when you have a brain that doubles as a database time is only a number. Organization is one of Pantoni’s specialties. Ask him to name the top 10 freshmen in the state of Ohio and it’s as easy as 1-2-3.

When it comes to Twitter, Pantoni is an expert. He’s made “5 Star Friday” and #TheTakeOver part of the vernacular at Ohio State. Pantoni is also fluent in coded tweets, sending out messages on Friday after the commitment of offensive lineman Jamarco Jones that read, “BOOM!!!!!” “I just ran a full lap around the Woody” and “This is what I’m going to be eating tonight” with a picture of pancakes.

Coded tweets have become part of college football recruiting. Until prospective players sign their national letters of intent, staff members are not permitted by NCAA rules to mention a recruit by name. But a cleverly worded message of 140 characters or less skirts the rules.

The University of Georgia and LSU have taken social media to a new level with the creation of apps titled “The Georgia Way” and “The Les Miles Method.” Georgia’s app is essentially a rundown of the program’s history, highlighting traditions, the coaching staff and Bulldog alums in the NFL.

“It’s a great tool for our coaches to have when they go into recruits’ homes to show their parents, show the recruits. It’s kind of an icebreaker,” said Georgia video coordinator Brett Greene. “They can sit there for 20 or 30 minutes and the mom or dad who hasn’t had a chance to come over here can come here on a visit. They can sit there for 20 or 30 minutes and see everything about Georgia, see everything about Athens, our facilities, academics and all that.” 

It’s no secret that the current generation wants information instantly and in a sleek, glossy manor. It generally comes via smartphone, which makes an app a no-brainer.

“Kids these days, they want to see cool things on the phone,” Greene said. “They want to see flashy things like videos. They want to see pictures, interactive stuff. The app has all that stuff. It has interactive animation, it has videos. That’s what kids are looking at.

“Obviously they stay on Twitter and Instagram all day long, so we wanted to make sure that stuff was connected to our app so they can stay in touch with that. I think that’s what is catching high school kids’ eye now.”

But there’s also the ugly side of recruiting. Cheating has long been part of the sport, and it’s at its height during the recruiting season. Another recent development is the surge in offering middle schoolers. Eighth-graders and even some seventh-graders are being offered scholarships. It’s viewed by some as a sleazy gesture, especially when you consider 13-year-olds have life-altering events still to come in their adolescence. Lane Kiffin has been most prolific at extending offers to members of the eighth-grade subset, which comes as little surprise.

The growth of social media in recruiting has made it easier for coaches to reach out to young players, but it has also sent secondary violations soaring. The NCAA has been inundated with cases involving text messaging in particular.

Just weeks after being named Ohio State’s head coach, Meyer said “good luck” as he crossed paths with then-recruit Noah Spence.

“I went to say ‘hello’ and ‘good luck’ to his coach and as I was walking off the field Noah said ‘hello,’ and I said, ‘good luck,’ before the game,” Meyer said in May 2012, after the Plain Dealer reported Ohio State’s secondary violations. “Nothing more. Nothing to hide. All good.”

Another mishap involved athletic director Gene Smith and alumni association president and two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin. The pair appeared in a personalized video for Ezekiel Elliott when he visited Ohio State’s campus. Such productions are against NCAA rules.

“It’s nothing that troubles me,” Smith said. “They’re inadvertent mistakes.”

With endless forms of communication and no expiration date on recruiting, kids will continue receiving texts, reading coded Twitter messages about themselves and possibly being an innocent bystander in rule breaking.

It’s an era with which Hayes, Schembechler and Bryant would be unfamiliar.


Comments Show All Comments

buckguyfan1's picture

Change with the times, because time is surely going to change you...  Pantoni does a heck of a job.  Valuable in this day and age.

FROMTHE18's picture

Buckeye App will be out soon IMO

BuckeyeNationProblems's picture

Ugh! You had to mention Lane Kiffin? On a Sunday morning no less!


Edincostarica's picture

Did you notice his name and sleazy gesture was in the same paragraph.


MN Buckeye's picture

What a shame that it takes an encyclopedic memory to navigate the maze of NCAA regulations.  It just seems humane to respond to a recruit in a random moment or to help parents find their way into the stadium.  I know the rules are there for a variety of reasons, but still . . . 

TMac's picture

Recruits and their families should compare 11W with MGo or whatever school's signature sports information website too see for themselves that the Buckeyes and 11W are clearly on another level!!
Go Bucks!!

ONE Not Done!

MAJbucksfan's picture

I thought Jones was an offensive lineman?

Kyle Rowland's picture

Itchy trigger finger. It's fixed. Thanks. 

Hovenaut's picture

Social media and technology are valuable tools, but at the end of the day you don't replace looking someone in the eyes and offer a warm handshake.

Some things never go out of style.

OSUs12-OH's picture

"Social media and technology are valuable tools, but at the end of the day you don't replace looking someone in the eyes and offer a warm handshake."
Some things never go out of style.

I love this point.  As many have seen, it appears as if those one on one pic with Urban seem to go a long way (not to mention wearing his Championship rings doesn't hurt either;-)
I agree with the comments above and Mark is killing it on social media.  From what I've heard, they've been trying to get an OSU app going.  Only a matter of time...

"I want a hungry team. I want a team that can't wait to get out there. I want an angry team! You're the Ohio State Buckeyes. You're an angry football team. You're a hungry football team and I'm proud to be your coach." UFM

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Great article Kyle.  Yes, the area of recruiting in college football has changed so much over the past few years.  Make you wonder what it will be like say in another 25 years.  Very interesting to think about.  Hopefully OSU recruiting will continue to stay ahead of the curve.
Go Bucks!

DenBuck's picture

The changes are amazing. You gotta stay "cutting edge" or you get left in the dust...glad we have  Mark P., hope he stays with Urban here for the duration...

Buckeye For Life

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Kyle, in writing this article, I think you committed a secondary violation. If you self-report to the NCAA, though, you'll probably get off with a warning.

MN Buckeye's picture

A good finger-wagging Oregon-style.

tdible2132's picture

Man I wish I had Mark Pantoni's job!

buckeyedude's picture

Seems like it would be cool but stressful as hell at the same time. But, there's pressure everywhere these days to perform at a high level. Even the janitor at the WHAC must be the best. Sign of the times.



CowCat's picture

If you have a job representing one of the largest sports fanbases in the world, and the greatest rivalry in all of football, in the state that started pro football, in the cradle of coaches ..
... you had better be the best. At any job. Be proud of it too :)

"We get paid to score touchdowns, not kick field goals"
-- Urban Meyer

zbd's picture

I guess I couldn't be recruited since I still have a dumb phone.

KBonay's picture

This article is precisely the reason the Buckeyes should do an overhaul on their jerseys.  I am all for tradition, but have come to realize this is a young kids game.  And the kids want the 'youthful' 'hip' 'sleek' 'flashy' uniforms too.  I think Nike has done a fine job of giving the Buckeyes that 'hip' look while still keeping with tradition.  I am not saying go all 'Oregon', but last years Pro Combats were the right direction.

buckeyedude's picture

I agree Kbonay. I absolutely loved the OSU unis in this year's game vs. TTUN. Absolutely loved the wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide helmet stripe. It was modern. No mistaking this helmet for anything other than a Buckeye helmet. Why not use all the tools to appeal to recruits?



cinserious's picture

I think the current unis are already awesome and modern and quite frankly, the best in the country! They just got redesigned only a few years ago. With the current unis and the pro combats once a year, the recruits have plenty of style to get excited about. I mean if we try to follow every fashion trend we'd have guys like Christian Byant and RDS out there playing in skinny jeans and high tops.
You mean this isn't already badass?

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

KBonay's picture

@ Cinserious
I like our current uni's. but I think you are missing the point. It's not about me. And I certainly don't think like an 18 year old (just act like one!). But all sign point to the younger generation wanting 'change' & more 'modern' looks. 
I also think with Rutgers & Maryland in the B1G it will become even more prevalent. 

jestertcf's picture

~Because we couldn't go for three~

jestertcf's picture

This is the downside of social media, for those who use the platform and sometimes it is not taken as well as was hoped.

~Because we couldn't go for three~

Young_Turk's picture

Look at that sweet stack of upvotes "The Abusement Park" is holding! Wonder what I have to do to get one of those?


pjtobin's picture

Did woody ever drive himself? Other than to and from work? Great read. And so true. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad.