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 Playced.com. This week’s article is written by Ross Hawley, the president of the company. Playced.com 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.
Dan Stratford has been coaching at The University of Charleston (W. Va.) for the last four years. In his first year, as an assistant in 2014, the Golden Eagles reached the NCAA Division II National Finals; finished runner-up. Year two, again as an assistant coach, UC reached the Final Four; no National Championship. In Coach Stratford’s final year as an assistant in 2016, UC again reached the NCAA National Finals. And once again, the Golden Eagles came up a bit short.
Well it’s 2017, and Dan Stratford is no longer an assistant coach for the University of Charleston’s men’s soccer team. Now, he’s the head coach. And, after his first season at the helm, UC is no longer a runner-up. The Golden Eagles are finally National Champions.
This week, I was able to sit down and talk recruiting with Coach Stratford, fresh off UC’s 2017 National Championship run. From when he starts identifying players, to what he wants to see out of a highlight video, here is what Coach Stratford had to say.
Q: When should high school athletes start thinking about the college recruiting process?
A: The answer to that question is different for each sport, and it’s different from the men’s game, to the women’s. I think it’s also very different, depending on the talent-level of the athlete and the level of the program. At UC, we prefer to start paying serious attention to players during their senior year of high school. What it boils down to for us, is prioritizing recruits in chronological order, based on graduation date.
Our inbox is swamped with emails, from all ages of recruits, on a regular basis. And considering all the other requirements of this job, there simply isn’t enough time in the day to open every email, and consider every player. We must prioritize who we give our attention to. So, for athletes considering UC, a good time to make an impression on us would be the second semester of your junior year. That gives you enough time to put in the legwork required to build a relationship with us and get to an ID camp.
Q: What’s the best way for a recruit to let you know he’s interested in your program?
A: The first communication, from kids we end up recruiting, is almost always over email. The most important thing for a recruit to understand, in that regard, is that time is always a factor for us. So, you need to get to the point, quite efficiently. And then, the quality of footage and the quality of your highlight video becomes the next most important thing. You need to grab our attention in the first 90 seconds, if not before that. The footage is such a critical piece when you’re wanting to make that great, initial impression.
Understanding how important that footage can be, is something many recruits miss on. We see a lot of mistakes on those videos, that I think neither the player, or the people helping them put the video together really consider. They don’t consider what that footage looks like through the eyes of a coach. They end up putting highlights on there, that aren’t really highlights.
For example, players often think that it’s an absolute necessity to add any goal they’ve scored. They don’t consider the quality of the goal or what the circumstances behind the goal may have been. Who was the goal against? What were the other players in the video doing? Was it a goal resulting from poor defense? Subtle things like that are what we’re seeing, not just the perceived highlight.
Q: Let’s say you like what you see in a player’s highlight video. What’s the next step for you?
Typically, I’ll share the video with the rest of the staff. Then, it will be a conversation between myself and the other assistants about what we’ve seen. Based on the quality of the player, it’ll then be a discussion about whether we want to get him on campus for a showcase, an unofficial visit or an official visit. In an ideal world, certainly at the Division II level, having a player come in and train with the rest of our team, is a great indication of how they’ll do.
Circumstantial to the time of year and our schedule, there’s always the potential for us to go and watch a player. But to be completely honest, we’ve supposedly already seen the best of them in the highlight video. The video is supposed to be the best representation of who they are, and what level they’re currently playing at. It’s called a highlight video for a reason! So, it’s much more preferable to have them come in and train with the team, which is permissible at the Division II level. That’s a huge advantage for us, when we’re recruiting players.
Q: How much stock do you put into the opinion of a recruit’s club/high school coach?
A: It depends on the existing relationship we have with the coach, or if I have enough understanding of what their background in soccer, or coaching soccer, has been. If it’s someone I know and trust, through experience, then I would definitely pay great attention. If it’s a coach I’ve never heard of, or never heard from before, then I would mostly want to talk to with them about the character of the player. That would carry more weight with me, than the opinion he has on the recruit’s playing ability, simply because I don’t know how aligned our standards might be. Regardless of outside opinions, I’m certainly going to trust my instincts and the instincts of my staff, when we’re making a final decision on any player.