Recruiting Column: College coaches looking for more than just talent

Recruiting Column: College coaches looking for more than just talent

Recruiting Column

Recruiting Column: College coaches looking for more than just talent


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 This week’s article is written by Ross Hawley, the president of the company. 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.

What’s his 60-yard time? How high can she jump? Does he throw 90 mph? How tall is she? When it comes to recruiting, it seems the answers to those questions are all that matter to college coaches. Think about that. It’s as if an athlete’s physical talent will be the only thing determining his/her scholarship offers.

Now, fast forward three years later to the postgame interview, after a big win. Why is it the coach that recruited that athlete for his/her physical abilities, only talks about his/her amazing character? “He’s such a tremendous leader.” “She’s the best teammate.” “He/she willed us to victory.” We’ve all heard those press conferences a million times. Why isn’t the coach talking about a 60-yard time, an approach touch or any of those other measurables that were once so important during the recruiting process? Ironic, isn’t it?

Well, here’s why: how hard you throw, how high you jump or how fast you can run isn’t what wins games. And, although it may seem like coaches are just recruiting athletic talent, they most certainly are not. When asked what they were looking for in a player, physical talent aside, here is what some of the best college coaches in the country had to say.

Roy Williams, North Carolina men’s basketball

I think it’s fair to be clear on this point to the young men and women reading this article. To play at this level, talent always has to be #1. Because without the physical talent, you won’t get our attention. Now that said, the three things we recruit in a player are talent, character and academics. And in that order, too. I once had an elementary school principal question why I put character before academics. My response to her was that being a great player and a great student doesn’t mean you won’t be a pain in my rear. If you’re going to be a pain in the rear to coach, I want you to be someone else’s pain in the rear to coach!

Coach Dean Smith and my high school coach, Buddy Baldwin taught me the importance of team. I learned early on from both of these men that you can achieve your individual goals by putting the goals of the team, first. If you can sacrifice what you’re wanting for what the team is needing, you’re going to be a winner. That’s success of the ultimate kind.

Mike MacIntyre, Colorado football

When we talk to a recruit’s high school coach, we want to hear that he’s a great teammate. Obviously, the guys that can play at this level are physically gifted and they’re pretty typically the star of their high school team. It really catches our attention when we hear that we’re recruiting a kid that genuinely puts his teammates first. Even though he’s one of the best on the team and probably getting much of the attention, he doesn’t act like it. That’s such a great indicator to us that he will come to Colorado and fit in well with the expectations we put on our guys. It tells us that he has great work ethic, he’s accountable and that he’s got a great chance to grow into the best football player he can possibly be.

Suzie Fritz, Kansas State women’s volleyball

Certainly, there is an undeniable academic component that we need to get to with any recruit. In my opinion, academic success in high school usually leads to a smoother transition at the collegiate level. In many ways, students with a track record of academic success are less maintenance. As a coaching staff, we aren’t worried about “if” that student is going to class or “if” they care about school. It shows a more balanced lifestyle where volleyball is only part of the equation.

At K-State, we love hard-working people that are easy to get along with and are relatively low-maintenance. You have to fit our team culture of being focused on what matters and the willingness to put in the work to be a high achiever. The ideal recruit loves the commitment to team and the process to become great at whatever they put their mind to.

Andy Shay, Yale men’s lacrosse

We try to recruit as much toughness, as possible. More hustle and less show. There’s just no substitute for that mental and physical toughness and that’s what really catches our eye. These days, I would say it’s pretty universal that much of playing a sport is all about flare. You see guys that play with the idea that if it looks cool, then you should do it. Unfortunately, flare isn’t going to get a lot done, at this level. Functional team plays and consistent effort is what is going to win you games. What it really boils down to is this: we need to recruit the best guys in the country. We want to find guys that are good enough to come in and beat out the guys on our current roster. The longer we’ve been doing this, the harder that gets. But, that’s a great problem to have!

Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe, James Madison women’s lacrosse

Mental toughness is so important for us. How do you manage your stress? I think that’s probably the best way to explain mental toughness and it gives you the best idea of what we’re recruiting. Really, the athletic component is the easiest part for us to evaluate. It’s fairly obvious who has the physical ability to play here, and who doesn’t. It’s the other things that we’re really paying attention to when we’re evaluating a player. A lot of times, I don’t think an athlete even realizes how much information we’re taking in on them. From how they respond to their teammates’ mistakes, to how they respond to their own mistakes, to how they engage with their coaches, it’s a lot of information we’re processing. And, it’s necessary to do so because we need to make as accurate of an assessment as we can.

Heather Tarr, Washington softball

We’re very specific with the type of kids we look for. If you want to play softball here, you need to fit our model. And, our model to success is that you have to be willing to compete in every single thing you do in your life. Whether that’s in the classroom, on the field or in the community, you should be striving to be the best version of yourself in every phase of your life. Because that’s what it takes to play at a school like Washington. To be the best, you have to be intentional with your actions and behaviors, day in, and day out.  And rest assured, we’ll go to all kinds of lengths to find those kids.


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