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.
I always wondered how Louisville does it. It seems like every year, they’re one of the truly elite programs in all of college baseball. Consider this, in the last 12 seasons, the Louisville Cardinals have a winning percentage of .713. They’ve made 11 NCAA Regional appearances; 7 NCAA Super Regional appearances and they’ve been to Omaha 4 times. And, as if all that team success wasn’t impressive enough, 76 Cardinals have been selected in the MLB Draft. Seriously, how in the world does Louisville do it?
Well, here’s your answer: Dan McDonnell. Listen, I am 100% sure that Coach McDonnell would never take credit for the success the Louisville baseball program has had over the last decade, since he’s been the head coach. He would quickly defer to his players and his coaching staff. But, I’m here to tell you otherwise. This guy is different. The energy and passion he displays for the game of baseball, his program and his school is something you have to see to believe. Heck, I’d run through a brick wall for him after the short 30-minute conversation we had!
This week, I sat down to talk about the recruiting process with the Louisville skipper. From landing on his radar, to how much a scholarship predicts playing time, here is what Coach McDonnell had to say.
Q: How does a recruit land on the Louisville radar?
A: Aside from us seeing you play with your travel or high school team, attending a Louisville camp is a really specific way to have us notice you. When you attend one of our camps, you’re going to get a great evaluation of your potential here. And, that’s the goal with any school you’re interested in. There isn’t a better way to get to know a school, if you think about it. By attending a camp, you’re sending a pretty clear message to the coaching staff that you’re interested in that school. That’s obviously a huge plus. Additionally, you’re able to equally evaluate that program and that school, as much as they’re able to evaluate you.
Q: Does the scholarship amount you offer a young man predict his playing time?
A: Not at all. This is not a situation where mom or dad is running the booster club, therefore their son has to play type thing! This is the best players are going to be on the field type thing. Scholarship or no scholarship, playing time will never be determined by anything other than who the best nine players are, on any given day. As a staff, we are extremely transparent with our guys during the recruiting process. We don’t make promises and we make sure we’re very clear that if you get on the field at Louisville, it’s because you’ve earned it. For us to recruit you and make you an offer simply means we like you and we feel you have a great opportunity here. But, understand that you’ve got to perform. You’ve got to produce between the lines. We want to win championships and get you ready for pro ball. If we played you based on your scholarship amount, we’d be doing you a tremendous disservice. That’s just not how baseball works at the college level and beyond.
Q: What advice do you have for a high school player not getting much attention from college coaches?
A: The great thing about college baseball is that there are so many levels and opportunities out there. If you love this game and you’re a pretty good player, you’re going to have a chance to play at the next level. Take the junior college level as an example of what’s great about our game. Maybe as a senior in high school, a young man isn’t quite ready for a big-time 4-year school. Well, he can go to a junior college, where he can get on the field and play immediately, which is crucial for the development of any baseball player. A young man can change so much from the age of 18, to 20. You can literally go from no offers, to a power five school in a matter of 2 years. My advice to a guy not getting much attention is to trust the process of your development and go somewhere you can get on the field. If you can commit to getting better and you can accept the right opportunity for your circumstances, you can find a place to play.
Q: When do you guys start recruiting or identifying players at Louisville? What age?
A: There isn’t an exact answer for that because we’re constantly evaluating players. It’s a part of this job that literally happens 365 days a year! I always tell this story when people ask this question or about the general timing of the recruiting process. One summer, I had a freshman infielder walk into my office and tell me he was homesick. He was from Georgia and he told me he planned on leaving and going back to school somewhere closer to home. I supported his decision and wished him the best of luck. Once he walked out of my office, I immediately called my staff and let them know we just lost a middle infielder. I’m thinking what in the world do we do now? We were six weeks away from school starting and just lost a key piece to our program.
Well, one of my coaches let me know about this Adam Duvall kid from Chipola Junior College down in Florida who hasn’t signed yet. Come to find out, Adam was from the Louisville area and went to Chipola before I got here on campus. So, less than two months before school starts, we get him on campus. Adam ends up signing with us and goes on to start every game for two years. He ends up in the big leagues and he’s an all-star hitting in the home run derby. And, he was the last kid we signed in his class. I always tell kids to be great to the game of baseball, be great to the school you’re at and eventually the right opportunities will arise for you. Somebody is always watching.
Q: How can a recruit know he/she is making the right college decision?
A: Be who you are in the recruiting process. Because, we know who we are when we’re recruiting you. We want guys here that are goal-oriented. They’ve got academic goals, they’ve got athletic goals and they’ve got personal goals. We want guys that have a clear vision of what they’re looking to accomplish on the baseball field, and off the baseball field. Listen, we’re not for everybody. Our goal is not to be all-inclusive. But, for those who want what we offer, man, this is a great place!
Now, that said, there’s an element to the recruiting process that you can’t explain. It’s a gut feeling. I always go back to the story of how I met my wife. We’re in college. I’m a junior, she’s a sophomore and we get set up to go out. One Saturday night, I’m going on a blind date and the next day, I’m watching NFL football with my buddies saying, “I think I just met my wife.” My point is this: you can be organized, you can have a checklist and you can narrow it down to the five schools you want to visit. That’s smart and I absolutely recommend doing that. You can have it all mapped out and have it played out perfectly, but ultimately, you’re going to know it in your gut when you find the right school. I truly believe a kid can feel it in their heart when they visit the place they should be.