The recruiting of big-time college football prospects is usually a tedious and debilitating business, one that reduces many head coaches to clipboard-toting Willy Lomans. Proof that it need not be that way is provided in Say 'Cheese,' Mom and Pop by D. Keith Mano, which begins on page 40.
Mano, a self-described "camp follower" of Columbia University football, became a big-time recruiter by association when he shadowed Penn State Coach Joe Paterno. "There's really no comparison between the kind of kids Paterno recruits and the ones who wind up at Columbia," says Mano. "However, I took very careful notes on a couple of 6'8" linemen he visited, and if Penn State doesn't want them, I know Columbia does."
Mano's dedication to Columbia football—he even occasionally attends practices—puts him in a very select group, since the Lions (2-7) drew an average of only 4,835 fans per game last season. In an attempt to buoy Columbia's football fortunes, Mano has spent countless hours scouring high school fields near his home in Blooming Grove, N.Y. for good players interested in attending his alma mater.
Since the Ivy League awards scholarships only on the basis of need, recruiter Mano faces a dilemma involving players of middle-class backgrounds never encountered by recruiter Paterno. "To play football for Columbia, a kid either has to be very rich and very intelligent, which is rare, or very intelligent and very poor, which is also rare," says Mano. But he continues the quest. As an undergraduate Mano never set foot in Baker Field. His involvement with the Lions' football program evolved from an incident in the spring of 1968, when he returned to Columbia to protest the takeover of the school's administration building by radical students. "One day I found myself watching the demonstrators throw pickle jars at a building," he says. "They were trying to put them through the windows, but because most liberals lack the necessary motor skills to throw straight, the jars kept shattering against the walls."
March 15, 1976
Suddenly a squad of New York police arrived, mistook Mano for a demonstrator and hustled him off to jail. "I had borrowed a jacket from a friend right before the cops came, and in the confusion I lost track of him," says Mano. "Later we arranged to meet at a Harvard-Columbia game so I could return the jacket. I have been a Columbia football groupie ever since."
When Mano is not on assignment for SI, working on a novel—he is on his seventh—or helping run the family cement business, he is often composing reports for Columbia Coach Bill Campbell. "Sometimes I'll spend as much as a week writing a 20-page assessment of kids in my area, but most of the stuff is so complicated I doubt the coaches understand it," Mano says.
"Keith doesn't live in a great area for football talent," says Campbell. "Still he embellishes every scouting report with incredible detail. He's been a real help to us, but to be quite honest, I don't exactly know where he came from. He just appeared one day."
For a football program in need of all the help it can get, even convoluted scouting reports might be considered Mano from heaven.