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Recruiting During The COVID-19 Pandemic

SI All-American takes a look at how COVID-19 has impacted several components of college football recruiting

The 2021 recruiting cycle has certainly been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought society, economies and countries nearly to a halt. Within the college football recruiting realm, which is already tough to navigate through, several other components have subsequently been affected by current circumstances.

For starters, the NCAA has extended the Dead Period through the rest of this year. Thus, a plethora of recruits will indeed sign with schools without an official visit and home visit from coaches. 

This is has made the art of pure evaluation and tape study ever so much more important. College coaches and evaluators love seeing a prospect up close, be it upon them visiting campus or seeing a recruit at a game or camp. When I was a college player personnel director, I always stressed to our coaches to emphasize a prospect's play on tape and not so much on camp or 7-on-7 performances. Yet, using those platforms to validate what we saw on tape was a key piece to the evaluation puzzle, and that will be missing from this recruiting cycle. 

Subsequently, the capability of properly evaluating a prospect's traits and both scheme and program fit via tape/film has become even more important for college coaches and support staff than ever before. What makes this even more challenging is the notion that junior tape is usually evaluated from a sense of getting a feel for a prospect's movement skills, athleticism and size, with senior tape evaluation usually being more predicated on football specific skills, traits and instincts. With the circumstances faced in the spring, college coaches were forced to evaluate junior tape on prospects with the intent on recognizing both on film.

Communication, relationship building and selling also have all been affected by the pandemic erasing official, unofficial and home visits. Communication is beyond vital for college coaches and their recruiting efforts. An important element is building relationships with recruits and their families, which has certainly needed to be done more creatively this year. Selling the school, surrounding community, program and head coach's vision is also a significant part of recruiting, which is most effectively executed in person. This year, Zoom and Skype have needed to be alternative platforms for direct communication.

I always felt as a support staff member, the top priority after evaluating was information gathering. Information. Information. Information. There was never too much to have on a prospect. Furthermore, I felt our coaches should have been required to speak to three non-football personnel when visiting a high school to collect information about a prospect, something that I know at least two SEC schools make mandatory for their coaches. This ensures diversified information collection. 

However, not being able to do this in person makes it tough for college coaches to see a person's body language and facial expressions, and hear the inflection in one's voice with their answers during conversations about a prospect. Zoom and Skype can only provide so much.

Looking past this 2021 cycle, another interesting aspect to track will be 2022 quarterback recruiting. Oftentimes, QB offers are extended earlier than other positions, with some even coming before the conclusion of a young passer's junior season. Recruiting classes are usually built around quarterbacks. Yet, some top 2022 QB prospects will not have a junior season, while others will not be able play until the spring. Recruiting never stops, so this will certainly be a challenging conundrum for college coaches. Will we see some QB offers, subsequent commitments, not made until late in the spring and summer? Also, what about Junior Days?

Speaking of spring seasons, how will the 2022 college camp circuit be affected? Can you imagine the spring evaluation period if some states' spring high school football playoffs run into the evaluation period with college coaches at HS games in May in some states? 

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Will those coaches still ask recruits to come to camp at their schools in the summer to validate what they see on tape?

As I mentioned before, recruiting never stops and being able to evaluate has become more important than perhaps it ever has been.

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