Recruiting Column: South Dakota State football coach John Stiegelmeier talks recruiting

Photo: South Dakota State Athletics

Recruiting Column: South Dakota State football coach John Stiegelmeier talks recruiting

Recruiting Column

Recruiting Column: South Dakota State football coach John Stiegelmeier talks recruiting


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 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.

John Stiegelmeier has been the head football coach at South Dakota State University for the last 21 seasons. In his time at SDSU, Coach Stiegelmeier’s led his Jackrabbits football program to an overall record of 150-97, making him the winningest coach in team history. During his time in Brookings, SDSU has been to the FCS playoffs seven times. Keep in mind, SDSU has only been playing at the FCS level since their 2004 transition from the NCAA Division II ranks.

In 2016, Coach Stiegelmeier was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference Coach of the year. His Jackrabbits have finished out the season as a top 25 program in 9 of the last 12 seasons. And, off to a 2-0 start to the 2018 season, it appears the beat goes on for on for one of the best football programs in all the FCS.

This week, I had the awesome privilege of sitting down with South Dakota State’s head football coach. From making the right college commitment, to the importance of camps, here is Coach Stiegelmeier’s insight into the college recruiting process.

Q: How can a recruit be sure he/she is making the right decision on a school?

A: As a coach or recruiter, my job is to help a young man make the right decision. It’s not to talk him into something or paint a picture that’s less than the entire truth about our program. In the end, we want a young man at our school that truly believes South Dakota State is the perfect fit and he can trust the coach that recruited him.

One of the things that we really push our recruits to do is to figure out what’s important to them. To do that, they’ve got to be able to take football out of the equation. They need to figure out what matters to them, as if they were only making this decision as a student. What kind of community do you want to be a part of? What major will you be working towards? Do you want to be close to home? For whatever reason, student-athletes lose focus on that. They forget about what’s going to make them happy and instead of deciding for themselves, they allow recruiters to tell them what they need. And unfortunately, that opinion is usually just based on football.

At SDSU, we want to make sure we’re meeting the wants and needs of our athletes. If we genuinely feel like we can meet your needs, we will do whatever it takes to make you a part of our family! But, if that’s not the case, we owe it to you to help you get this decision right. Even if that means you end up somewhere else.

Q: How would a recruit go about landing on your radar?

A: It’s through their high school coach. It really is that simple for us. High school coaches are the lifeblood to college football. We honor and take the relationships we have them very seriously. If a high school coach wants us to look at one of their guys, we’re going to put sometime into evaluating that young man. We will definitely communicate our assessment and feelings about the player and make sure that high school coach is getting what he needs from us. Without a doubt, if you want to land on our radar, have your high school coach reach out to us.

Q: How important are camps in your evaluation process of a recruit?

A: It’s a make or break type of deal. Here’s why: getting a thorough evaluation on a young man is the most important part of the recruiting process, for any program. The only way you can accurately evaluate a player is by seeing them in your environment, and vice versa. We get to know a player that comes to our camp infinitely better than from just watching his film. You get to see his personality. You get to see if the kid has grit. Listen, I don’t want any player coming here if he isn’t going to fit in with what we’re doing. The greatest loss that can be experienced in the recruiting process is when one, or both sides involved, don’t do a thorough enough job of evaluation. It’s not a fun situation when you get something different than what you were expecting. So, camps are crucial in all of that. Many, many decisions are made during a camp setting. That’s true for most schools, not just SDSU.

Q: Physical talent aside, what are you looking for in a recruit?

A: We have 18 questions that we ask any young man we recruit. They’re tough questions and they go way beyond game film or GPA. And, most of those questions are centered around accountability. Be a leader. We want guys that will take responsibility, whether the outcome is good or bad. Every year, we will only sign 15 or 16 guys, of the roughly 1,200 guys we start out with. The margin of error in making those decisions is very small, so we want to get it right. When you make an investment on a young man, or offer him a scholarship, you’ve got to consider so much more than just football. Ultimately, you’re investing in that young man’s ability to be a good student, a good teammate and his ability to contribute to the community around him.

Photo: South Dakota State Athletics

Q: What advice do you have for parents of recruits?

A: Be an active part of your son or daughter’s recruiting process. Don’t make the decision for them but engage the process. Push your son or daughter to really figure out what’s important for them, specifically. Don’t make them feel like this is a decision they need to make on their own. As a parent, you should go the extra mile to get them to the schools that they’re interested in. Help them to become informed. You know your child better than anyone else, so help them come to realistic conclusions. I suppose I could sum all of that up by saying this: just love your child and do what it takes!


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