Recruiting Column: How do college coaches recruit?

USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the recruiting process. This isn’t about where just the top five-star athletes are headed but rather a guide to the process and the pitfalls for student-athletes nationwide from This week’s article is written by Ross Hawley, the president of the company. is an industry leader in college recruiting. Their technology based recruiting service identifies the right colleges for potential recruits to pursue and provides a recruiting system that is second to none for student-athletes of all talent levels and ages.

Photo: LSU Athletics

For high school athletes, much of the recruiting process is about understanding what college coaches want and expect from you. From physical and academic talent, to who you are as a person, college coaches know exactly what they’re looking for when they recruit you. As they should, that’s what they’re paid to do! More importantly though, do you know what it is they’re looking for? Do you know how college coaches recruit? Well, if you don’t, you’re not alone. But, I’ve got some news for you; if you don’t figure out what will attract the attention of a college coach, the recruiting process can be an utter letdown.

So, to eliminate any recruiting letdowns in the future, we asked the questions that you need answers to. From our September interviews, here’s what some of the best college coaches in the country want you to know about the recruiting process. 

Paul Mainieri, Louisiana State Baseball

Q: What’s something every high school athlete needs to know about the recruiting process?

A: If I’m a high school athlete going through this process, I would want to know the trustworthiness of the coach. At LSU, and every school I’ve coached before, I’ve taken a great deal of pride in the trust that the players have in me as a coach. They know that I will always tell them the truth, no matter the circumstances. For example, if I’m a 10th grader asking a college coach how he projects me in his program four years from now and he responds by telling me that I’ll be the starting shortstop as a freshman, that’s probably not very truthful. Listen, I can’t even tell you what my lineup is going to look like in 2018! How in the world can I project who’s going to be in the starting lineup three years down the road when I don’t even know what players will be on my roster?

In all my years of coaching, I’ve never guaranteed a player a starting job, while I was recruiting him. The only thing I’ve guaranteed him is the opportunity to win that job. And, he’ll become the starter if he deserved it and he earned it, in comparison to the other players we have on the roster that year. I strongly encourage every athlete going through this process to gauge the sincerity and honesty of the coaches that are recruiting them. You can do that by asking questions and listening to what they’re really telling you.

Q: What advice do you have for a recruit when making a college commitment?

A: Everybody sees the world through their own perspective. This is especially true when it comes to deciding what school will make you the happiest. I can’t accurately tell you what that is for yourself. You have to figure that out on your own. But my personal experiences tell me that the players you are going to play with, and the coaches that you’re going to play for, will have more to do with your happiness and contentment than any of the ancillary things. The reality is that once you start matriculating every day, you’ll start taking the things you thought were important for granted. The uniforms, the big stadiums, whatever it is, that stuff won’t be as big of a deal as you thought it would be. What makes the biggest impact on your happiness will be what you’re getting out of the program. Are you being treated fairly? Are you being coached in a good way? Do you enjoy being with your teammates? Those are the things you really need to take a look at. 

Roy Williams, North Carolina Basketball

Q: Physical talent aside, what qualities are you looking for in a recruit?

A: I think it’s fair to be clear on this point to the young men and women reading this article. To play at this level, talent always has to be #1. Because without the physical talent, you won’t get our attention. Now that said, the three things we recruit in a player are talent, character and academics. And in that order, too. I once had an elementary school principal question why I put character before academics. My response to her was that being a great player and a great student doesn’t mean you won’t be a pain in my rear. If you’re going to be a pain in the rear to coach, I want you to be someone else pain in the rear to coach.

Coach Dean Smith and my high school coach, Buddy Baldwin taught me the importance of team. I learned early on from both of these men that you can achieve your individual goals by putting the goals of the team, first. If you can sacrifice what you’re wanting for what the team is needing, you’re going to be a winner. That’s success of the ultimate kind.

Q: What red flags do you pay attention to when recruiting a young man?

A: It’s easy to spot the player that plays for himself. He plays selfishly, he acts selfishly. I always like to see a prospective athlete play at least twice before I decide on what I think of his ability-level. Often, we’ll watch guys numerous times before we make any decisions on them. When it comes to a player exhibiting that selfish character, all it takes is one time. Once is more than enough to turn us off a guy when it comes to something like that. For every talented kid with poor character, there’s two other kids with excellent character. It’s a decision and it’s something every good coach pays attention to.

Bill Snyder, Kansas State Football

Q: What would a successful outcome to the recruiting process be for a student-athlete?

A: When a young person can go to a university and it turns out to be exactly what they expected, I believe that’s when you can consider the recruiting process a success. The university is exactly how it was portrayed. The athletic program is the same. The people are the same and the day-to-day life is the same. Anytime a student-athlete makes a college commitment based on a certain standard and that standard is met, I would say that’s the best possible turnout.

One of the things that happens, as a byproduct of the recruiting process, is you see an athlete settle on a place only to find out it’s not what they thought it was going to be. That’s when you end up with an unhappy player. For that reason, it’s so significant for us to be who we are. As quality of a program as we feel we have, Kansas State football is not for everyone. Maybe it’s our style of coaching, the composition of our team or even certain elements of the university. Whatever the reason might be, we wouldn’t want any young person to be unhappy as a part of our program. It doesn’t serve either side well and it’s what we try to avoid with any young person we’re recruiting.

Q: How can parents support their children through the recruiting process?

A: I hear so often parents telling me that it’s their son’s choice to make when he’s deciding on which school he will attend. They tell me they aren’t going to have anything to do with his decision. To me, that’s not the right course of action for a parent to take. A parent(s) plays a major role in the development of their child up to the very point of being recruited to play college football. They’ve brought that young man up and have been the prominent element in his life for the first 17 or 18 years of existence. To suddenly divorce themselves from that doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m not encouraging parents to decide for their children, but they should certainly be involved in the process. Just based on life experiences, help them distinguish between factual, appropriate and what’s right. That’s the support they need.

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