Two eternal truths about college football recruiting:
1. Talent is talent. No matter what system you play in, and coaches will always recruit the best.
2. At the end of the day, you’ll play where the coaches say you’ll play.
Ever wonder what goes on in the mind of a recruiting coordinator? We’ve cracked the buckeye with Bill Conley, formerly assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for Ohio State and currently national recruiting analyst for ESPN’s Scouts, Inc.
STACK: Best player available vs. best fit for the system?
Bill Conley: You always recruit the great players, no matter the position, and coaches will find the best spot [for him] to fit. It happens all the time, when an athlete has all the skill, speed and quickness—and he’s a tough guy. Those guys play more than one position in high school and will transition into one position in college. That said, many big-time programs recruit to their needs—more so now than ever—especially with teams that run the spread offense.
STACK: How do you evaluate a high school QB who plays predominantly in a run-first offense?
BC: It’s very difficult. The best way to get a really good evaluation is at camps and combines. We saw some QBs this past summer who were in a Wing-T—a system that really doesn’t throw the ball very much—but they were very impressive at camp.
That’s the great thing about camps; they give everybody an opportunity. Coaches almost have to [see] guys in camp to learn more about their leadership ability, decision-making, football instincts and reaction in competitive situations.
STACK: The Buckeyes have had their fair share of two-way players. How did you determine where these athletes best fit?
BC: I recruited Chris Gamble out of Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale. We knew he was a good receiver and a good DB in high school. He came to Ohio State and played wide receiver his first year, and [he] started his second year with an impressive showing in some drills on defense. He ended up being a two-way starter in the National Championship game and played more than 120 plays when we beat Miami. Ted Ginn was recruited more as an athlete. He was a three-way threat coming out of high school: a good receiver, a very good defensive back and a great return specialist. We saw a couple of things that he did well on both sides of the ball, and he could fit in either one.
STACK: How difficult is the transition to the defensive side of the ball?
BC: The toughest position when you get to the collegiate level is defensive back, because you run so many different coverages. In high school, you might run three to four zone coverages and one or two man-to-man. Now you’re going to run up to 12 to 14 coverages, and you’ve got all your blitzes you run off those. You have to know when to check out and when to keep on certain formations and sets.
The linebacker position is also tough, because those are the guys making front-end adjustments and calls. It’s probably a little easier up front when you can be more aggressive, especially on the edges as a rush end, where you can take advantage of your natural ability.
STACK: How do you determine which side of the ball the big guys up front will end up on?
BC: I always thought you should recruit more defensive linemen than offensive linemen. Maybe a couple of guys aren’t quite as quick or as reactive on the defensive side of the ball, but their footwork is better than most. As time goes on, you can move those guys over to offense. Teams need guys who know how to play a couple of positions, because the best players have to be on the field. The more flexible you are as a player, the more advantages for your team because of the injury factor.
Heisman Winners Had It Their Way
Former Buckeyes Troy Smith and Eddie George—both of whom were recruited by Conley—had it their way when it came to the position they wanted to play. Both faced a potential position change upon arriving in Columbus, but it was hard work on their part that lent to an easy decision by the coaching staff.
Troy Smith, QB, 2006 Heisman Trophy winner
The Buckeyes pursued Smith despite the fact they had a solid stable of QBs, and made no promises that he would be taking the snaps in the Scarlet and Gray. “We recruited him with the opportunity to play quarterback,” Conley says, “and if it didn’t work out, he could play another spot.
“He actually had some offers to go straight to other Division I schools and play quarterback immediately.”
Smith didn’t run that route. Rather, he put in the extra work and “became a real student of the game and separated himself from the rest of the pack,” Conley says.
Eddie George, RB, 1995 Heisman Trophy winner
“We weren’t sure where Eddie was going to play,” Conley says. “He looked more like a defensive end/linebacker than a tailback.”
On the verge of a position change following his freshman year, George took matters into his own hands. Says Conley: “The off-season workouts were four days a week. He would work out four days a week, twice a day. He got better at catching the ball, became a more elusive runner and increased his breakaway speed. “He was a self-made guy.”