Hundreds of letters. Thousands of text messages. Phone calls every day and after every game. Strangers constantly casting in their two cents. Pressure from family, friends and coaches. For high school athletes and college coaches, the recruiting process is a strange mix of exciting and overwhelming.
“The recruiting process was long,” BYU junior linebacker Kyle Van Noy said. “You have to accept it as a blessing because a lot of kids don’t have the opportunity.”
According to the NCAA, at least 440,000 student athletes compete for nearly 18,000 teams in sports from football to field hockey at Division I, II and III schools across the country. For coaches, the trick to recruiting is making their schools stand out from the pack.
“Besides being on the field and trying to win games, it’s the next most important thing that we do as coaches,” BYU head women’s soccer coach Jennifer Rockwood said. “You’ve got to have the right players to win games, so recruiting is a huge part of what we do.”
Rival coaches bicker about team success, state-of-the-art facilities, and educational excellence when trying to persuade a high school athlete to attend their schools. In addition to those factors, BYU’s association with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints creates a unique recruiting environment.
“A lot of schools go out and look for just great soccer players, but because we’re at BYU, we’re looking for someone who wants to be at BYU not just because of the soccer but because it’s BYU, because of the environment, because of the education, because of the social factors here and the church, and then soccer is kind of a bonus.” Rockwood said.
Coaches spend the majority of their time finding what they consider to be the most talented young athletes. Rockwood said she spent the entire summer traveling to see girls play. BYU men’s basketball assistant coach Tim LaComb said the coaching staff spends all of May and June gathering information about potential recruits before traveling throughout July to watch tournaments across the country. The distinctive BYU experience gives the school an exclusive advantage when it comes to finding top athletes.
“Most of the recruiting we do is pretty unique here,” LaComb said. “With the Church, we tend to get a lot of information about players that are playing all over the country that are members of the Church and want to go to BYU.”
Networking also helps the soccer team target players.
“Our goal is to recruit the top LDS kids in the country,” Rockwood said. “Because we’re looking for an LDS kid, we do have to rely on our contacts as far as coaches and other people who know of these great athletes contacting us and making sure we’re aware of them. And then once we are aware of them then certainly we track them and we follow them and we travel out and evaluate and watch them play quite a bit.”
While BYU is especially attractive to LDS students, the religious environment is not always the first thing that a coach tells a recruit.
“We try to really emphasize the basketball program first,” LaComb said. “We feel like players know a lot about the situation here anyway, so we try to recruit to the basketball program and the success we have had with that.”
Aleisha Rose, now an assistant coach for the women’s soccer team, was the most highly sought after player in the country when she came out of high school in 1999. According to Rockwood, Rose is “the top recruit, male or female, that BYU has ever had.” Rose’s decision to play for BYU came as a shock to many coaches because she could have played for any school in the nation. According to Rose, the decision was simple.
“BYU wants you to be your best,” Rose said. “I mean on the soccer field yes, but just in life in general. I think that balance is what I was looking for.”
After a successful BYU career, Rose went on to start for the United States National Team. The Colorado native returned to BYU as an assistant coach in 2004 and is heavily involved in the recruiting process.
“When we’re talking with them, I just try to be honest and tell them the experience that I had and what made me want to come here,” Rose said.
From a player’s perspective, Cougar legends like Rose make the recruiting process exciting. Teams start reaching out to players as early as their freshman year. Players try to make a name for themselves at camps and send out highlight films of themselves in order to get noticed. A tangled network of coaches can also help put a player on a school’s radar. When schools target a prospective athlete, the recruiting circus begins.
“You get letters from all over,” senior quarterback Riley Nelson said. “I got letters from probably 70 different schools.”
Van Noy, who was recruited since his freshman year by virtually every school in the West, as well as schools from the Big 10, Big 12, and Southeastern Conferences, said that he would receive texts and phone calls every day from several coaches trying to woo him to their schools.
“I had a lot of different schools to choose from,” Van Noy said. “You know, it came down to my parents, what they wanted, what I wanted, where I was going to play the fastest, and all of those things.”
Parents play a major role in determining to which school their child eventually commits. When coaches visit players in their homes, they have to convince the parents just as much as the player.
“My mom loved this place and my dad loved this place, so we chose BYU,” sophomore wide receiver Ross Apo said.
BYU’s religious environment is an important draw for parents as well as players. Several starters for the 2012 football team including Nelson, running back Michael Alisa, and tackle Braden Hansen served missions.
“I wanted to come to a church school,” Alisa said. “I just thought it would be a great atmosphere.”
Players also rely on spiritual guidance when choosing a school.
“I fasted and prayed and felt like it’s where the Lord wanted me to go,” Nelson said.
The process of recruiting to BYU is unlike any other. The storied athletic tradition and prestigious academic profile combine with the Provo culture and the Honor Code to make BYU truly unique. While this unparalleled environment creates its fair share of recruiting disadvantages, it also offers something that other schools can’t match.
“There’s advantages and disadvantages,” Rockwood said. “Our pool of players is much smaller than a lot of our opponents’, but the benefit is that if those players are really good, they’re in our small pool and we have a better chance of getting them.”