The touchdowns, miles and the recruiting letters keep piling up for Strafford wide receiver Dallas Hester as he tries to help his team make a playoff run and earn himself a college scholarship.
Hester’s 2014 stats are impressive: 55 receptions, 1,087 yards and 15 touchdowns, but it’s the odometer reading on the truck of his father-coach, Tim Hester, that may be the stat that leads to more scholarship offers.
However, the traveling approach is old-school in a world where the Internet plays a larger role in high school football than ever before. For Ozarks-area players hoping to play at the next level, a handful of websites are the best way to grab the attention of a college recruiter.
It comes with a major cost. For instance, Springfield-area varsity teams are paying anywhere from $800 to $3,000 on a site called Hudl (pronounced “huddle”), in which each player can upload their personal highlight videos. Expenses for Springfield Public School teams are paid by booster clubs, not the district, athletic director Mark Fisher said.
Other sites — the National Collegiate Scouting Association, MJF, Real Deal Recruits, Go Big Recruiting and BeRecruited.com — allow athletes to build profiles at no charge. However, families can pay for so-called premium services that range from as low as $4.99 per solicitation to one-time fees in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
“Too much money,” said Dallas Hester, who has a scholarship offer from Southwest Baptist University. He’s still interested in the Missouri Tigers, Missouri State Bears, Central Arkansas and others.
“It’s a lot of money,” said Tim Hester, the coach of undefeated Strafford. “It was like $300 or $400.”
“Oh, it was more than that,” Dallas said. “It was like $2,400. I’d rather just not pay that.”
Is it worth it?
For at least one area college football coach, the costs associated with recruiting services don’t add up. Ozarks players will get noticed. Word gets out.
Evangel coach Brenton Illum estimates the Evangel athletics office receives 30 messages a day from recruiting services.
“Those go in the trash,” Illum said. “Those recruiting services are very rarely accurate in their profile of a kid, and it’s just not something worth spending your time on.”
Without responding to any solicitation from recruiting services, Evangel’s seven coaches examine information on at least 4,000 football players per year.
Illum and his assistants at Evangel try to go see the players they are recruiting.
“In-person evaluation is always far superior to film evaluation. We try to look at kids in person whenever possible,” Illum said.
Of the seven Evangel coaches who recruit, five are assigned to travel Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Dallas/Fort Worth and southern California to scout players. Two of Evangel’s coaches are assigned to recruit almost exclusively by Internet and telephone.
Evangel’s coaching staff created the profile of the model player for the school, and Illum says the recruiting services don’t know about the ideal profile. Who is the prototypical Crusader?
“That is something that’s fairly secretive, to be honest with you,” Illum said.
For Strafford, which also features standouts in quarterback Chanler Collins as well as running back Dalton Taylor and receiver Brady Collier, the online recruiting services should be only one avenue in a player marketing himself.
The Strafford coach this summer trucked some of his players to college football camps, putting them directly in view of the recruiters.
“Kids can’t just sit back and say ‘OK come to me,’ because it’s not going to happen,” Coach Hester said. “You have to go to them, show them you’re interested and what skills you have.”
Founded in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 2006, Hudl is one of the fastest-growing Internet companies in the nation. The company began as a way for coaches to exchange game film on the Internet, eliminating the traditional coaches’ meetings on Saturday mornings to hand off each team’s latest video.
Of the approximately 15,000 high schools subscribed to Hudl services, 350 are in Missouri.
Hillcrest football coach John Beckham explained that the Hornets combine football and boys and girls basketball into one Hudl account at a mid-level price, an annual fee of $1,400.
But it’s worth it for the coaches and athletes, Beckham said.
“You kind of have to go with the bigger plan,” Beckham said. “It’s a lot easier to get film of your kids in front of other schools, and every college has access to it.”
Hudl allows players to build a personal profile page with individual video highlights as part of a school’s membership plan, said Hudl spokeswoman Alli Pane.
“We offer a team subscription, and that gives the entire team the opportunity to create their own logins,” Pane said.
Parkview coach Anthony Hays used to help players edit footage and burn DVDs of their highlights. Now he gives them a tutorial on Hudl.
“Every week our players have access to game film and, with the click of a button, they compile throughout the year their highlight film,” Hays said.
Coaches and players view game and practice footage almost instantly, even by cell phone.
Dallas Hester and several of his Strafford teammates have profiles on Hudl. College coaches can view an individual’s video highlights on a player’s profile. It’s part of Hudl’s plan to win an online recruiting game full of competitors, and to create a social network of athletes.
“That’s one of the biggest things we’re trying to work on right now is building a community of those prospects,” Pane said.
Coaches on Internet
Hudl markets a product for college coaches that allows them to watch a full game film or highlights on players they may want to recruit. College coaches can also search for athletes by geographic area or by position.
Pane says Hudl’s recruiting products are not accessible to third-party recruiting services, save for one — North East Sports Consultants. Recruiters must verify their employment status with a college, which allows Hudl to screen third-party users.
“We’re more about the coaches and players. If a recruiter wants to get access to players’ highlights, they have to be verified, they have to have a ‘.edu’ extention on their email address,” Pane said.
North East Sports Consultants employees are allowed to access athletes’ Hudl pages to attach assessment materials.
“What they do is evaluate these kids, these sophomores and juniors that are coming up, and we give our verified recruiter access to the evaluation,” Pane said.
Other services such as NSCA or MJF are left out of Hudl’s recruiting product.