Wednesday February 13th, 2008

John Outlaw peeked outside his office a few weeks ago and saw a star-studded group.

"We had Bob Stoops, Mack Brown, Charlie Weis, and I don't remember the other one," the Lufkin (Texas) High coach said. "That's four hours of my day gone."

Make no mistake, Outlaw appreciates the interest in defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland. He also appreciates the fact that college coaches have given scholarships to 138 of his players in 13 years at the school. Unfortunately, there aren't enough hours in the day for Outlaw to entertain every visiting coach, track down an answer to every college assistant's question or answer every reporter's phone call. He does, after all, have a program (and a school athletic department) to run. Fortunately for Outlaw and the college-bound football players at Lufkin, they have recruiting coordinator Brooke Stafford.

Stafford, who also serves as Lufkin's defensive line coach, has dealt with the crush of college coaches and recruiting service reporters since 2001. He has helped high-profile recruits sift through dozens of scholarship offers. He has helped barely recruited players earn a free education and a chance to keep playing. Stafford is not alone. He is one of a growing number of high school assistants who have added -- usually at little or no additional pay -- the title of recruiting coordinator.

"An offensive coordinator and a defensive coordinator are important to a program on Friday night," said David San Juan, the recruiting coordinator/defensive line coach at Ponta Vedra (Fla.) Nease High. "A recruiting coordinator is important year-round."

San Juan added a second title after the Nease staff visited Odessa (Texas) Permian -- the program chronicled in H.G. Bissinger's Friday Night Lights -- in 2003. Besides a few new plays and drills, the Nease coaches brought back a plan to organize their system for handling recruiting.

At the time, Nease had several young players in the program that would draw interest from schools throughout the nation. Quarterback Tim Tebow (Florida), linebacker Charlie Kirschman (Alabama), offensive lineman James Wilson (Florida), cornerback Mario Butler (Georgia Tech) and offensive lineman Clyde Yandell (Georgia Tech) were among more than two dozen Nease players in the classes of 2006 and 2007 who went on to earn scholarships. San Juan, an entrepreneur who designed a series of educational videos that he sold to schools and churches, was the perfect assistant to help market those players to colleges.

Several years on the job have convinced San Juan that every program needs to assign an assistant to handle recruiting. At coaching clinics, San Juan delivers a Power Point presentation telling coaches how to create a recruiting coordinator position. The presentation includes advice about when to send game film, how to educate players about the NCAA Clearinghouse and how to convince parents and high school booster-club members that they need to help foot the bill for Web sites and film mailings.

Recruiting coordinators have two jobs. They must manage the sometimes overwhelming recruitments of the Tebows and the McFarlands, whose abilities sell themselves. The coordinators also must help match less recruited players with schools, which requires more work but also provides immense satisfaction.

San Juan proudly recalls sending out films and calling coaches on behalf of offensive lineman Buster Garrett, who didn't develop into a Division I-A prospect until his senior season. Garrett wound up signing with Toledo in 2009. "He's a kid that could have fallen through the cracks," San Juan said. At Lufkin, Stafford makes it his mission to find scholarships or aid packages for any player he can.

"If you don't go to college or continue your education, you're going to be in trouble, or you're going to be in the woods cutting timber," said Stafford, who hopes to find scholarships for four more players before the school year ends. "There aren't a whole lot of options."

The first part of the job provides more notoriety, and sometimes, more headaches. The swarm of college coaches and interested reporters around a high-profile recruit can overwhelm a player and coach. Even a simple thing such as the information sheets produced by Stafford and San Juan for each recruit can save hours for a coach. For example, a coach recruiting Lufkin's McFarland can scan the information sheet and find McFarland's mother's name, the name of her employer and her work and home phone numbers. If they want to check McFarland's grades -- which are excellent, according to the info sheet -- his guidance counselor's number is at the coach's fingertips. If not for the sheets, Stafford said, "We would have to tell 115 schools that information two or three times each."

"College coaches can be needy sometimes," Gadsden (Ala.) City High head coach Joe Billingsley joked last month. And while Billingsley would do anything to help one of his players get a scholarship, he has assigned defensive coordinator Ali Smith to handle the day-to-day aspects of his players' recruitment.

Smith, who grew up in Gadsden and played at Alabama State, said he learned plenty during the past year while working with defensive end Jerrell Harris, who eventually signed with Alabama. Smith said he learned the difficulty of coordinating home visits so coaching staffs -- some of whom dislike each other -- don't "bump heads." Smith said such collisions are sometimes unavoidable, because it's more important to give each program enough time for the player and his family to collect important information and so each school gets a chance to make its pitch.

"You want to give them equal time," Smith said. "You want to treat them fairly."

Smith's experience with Harris taught him much, and Smith intends to use what he learned this year as cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and receiver Kendall Kelly try to choose from among some of the nation's best schools. For example, Smith intends to limit the media availability of the two players.

"It's going to be more of a come through me for interviews," Smith said. "[Reporters] were browbeating [Harris] on his personal phone. Everyone had just worn him plum out. We're going to try to hold Dre and Kendall closer to the vest."

Sometimes, the recruiting coordinator can land in the middle of a controversy. Roger Sonsini, the offensive line coach/recruiting coordinator at Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure, saw his name splashed on the pages of several newspapers last week after St. Bonaventure tailback Darrell Scott chose Colorado over Texas. Sonsini had been quoted in The Dallas Morning News as saying Colorado coaches "said and did something and offered something that Darrell and his mom couldn't pass up." That quote, Sonsini said this week, got sandwiched with a rumor -- reported by The New York Times -- that Scott's mother had been offered a bank job in Colorado. Scott's mother, Alexis, told the Times the rumor was ridiculous and untrue. Sonsini, a retired Oxnard, Calif., police officer who learned about recruiting when his son, Montana State offensive lineman Dominic Sonsini, went through the process, said he wasn't present during Scott's in-home visit with Colorado coaches. He said his comment referred only to Scott's comfort level with the Colorado staff, not a tangible offer.

"I don't care where my kids go, as long as they know there are options out there," Sonsini said. "The final decision comes down to them and their families."

Sonsini said his job -- for better or worse -- is to assist his players and limit the headaches for Seraphs head coach Todd Therrien, who teaches history on top of running a program that produces several Division I players each year. "You can't expect the head coach to do everything," Sonsini said.

That's why Sonsini and his fellow recruiting coordinators are still at work a week after Signing Day, trying to help the blue-chippers of the Class of 2009 narrow their choices and trying to find scholarships for the less recruited members of the Class of 2008.

"Those are the challenges," Sonsini said. "Those are the ones that make me feel good."

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.