College football recruiting has become a season of its own and one that never sleeps, a 24/7-365 job for college coaches looking to bring in the top talent from coast-to-coast.
These days, you’re not only recruiting the current class of seniors but coaches are recruiting two and sometimes even three years down the road.
This means coaches must get creative in recruiting prospects as the NCAA doesn’t allow a college coach to make phone calls to prospects until April 15th of their junior year. To combat that, college coaches can send out mail and letters to prospect starting September 1st of their junior year.
The process of sending out mail is something that has been going on for decades with most colleges sending out a stock letter to hundreds of prospects at time. For instance, this mountain of mail sent to Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker when the Wildcats were still trying to land a commitment from the in-state quarterback, or this on-day haul from Ole Miss:
Ole Miss sent 32 hand written letters to my house today… Hahaha crazy. pic.twitter.com/vSDElqgo
— Adam Breneman (@AdamBreneman81) August 17, 2012
The practice has even been made fun of by national media, like when ESPN’s Colin Cowherd joked about Kentucky’s mail practices. Wildcats coach Mark Stoops had a funny response to the radio host:
— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) July 26, 2013
Now you’re starting to see college coaches and staff members mix things up in an attempt to stand out by sending out creative mail with photos in them and also handwritten, personalized mail.
With hundreds of schools around the country sending out mail, the notion around college football is that prospects don’t even read their mail but Gator Country polled 137 high school athletes around the country who — for the most part — say otherwise.
11 percent of the prospects we polled said they don’t read any of the mail that is sent to their houses while the other 89 percent of the prospects say they read everything but they do prefer one piece of mail over others.
Of the 89 percent of the prospects that said they read all of their mail, most say they prefer to see a handwritten note from a coach because it’s personal in a way that a stock letter is not.
“Handwritten letters and notes make me interested in a school more than other mail,” Luke Heirs (Lake Wales HS, Lake Wales, FL), a 2015 Center said. “Handwritten stuff means they took their time to make it personal.”
The general consensus is that prospects just want to know a school or coach is thinking about them and one athlete says it shows through handwritten mail more than anything else.
“If it’s personalized it means they took time to write for you personally,” Garrett Williams (First Academy, Orlando, FL), a 2015 tight end said. “That would never be a reason why I like a school but it makes me appreciate them more.”
Florida and several other top schools have taken it to another level with personalization as colleges are now creating creative photos to send out to catch prospects attention. Such as this poster that the Florida coaching staff sent to running back prospect Dexter Williams (West Orange HS, Orlando, FL):
— YRN Flex! (@DexterW_22) April 4, 2014
As well as this fictional addition to the outside of Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium, featuring defensive lineman CeCe Jefferson (Glen St Mary, FL Baker County):
— Raymundo (@cecejeferson7) March 10, 2014
Personalized and photoshopped pictures come in all different types including players appearing on ESPN the magazine and in the stadium of a particular school:
— Rasheem Green5⃣2⃣ (@ras_green) April 1, 2014
Lately, the new trend is for schools to photoshop players onto the cover of popular video games, a tactic to reach kids through things they’re familiar with like these sent to Jefferson from in-state rivals:
— Raymundo (@cecejeferson7) March 15, 2014
— Raymundo (@cecejeferson7) March 12, 2014
Sometimes coaches try to reach athletes with their own language. For example, this simple letter was sent to current Michigan linebacker Michael Ferns last year from Mississippi St. while they were trying to recruit him.
This letter was also sent from the Bulldogs to Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Marlon Humphrey while the Bulldogs were pursuing him back in 2013:
Guess ill be going to Mississippi State soon….SWAG pic.twitter.com/ZgvI9HagUb
— Fruit PUNCH (@marlon_humphrey) April 4, 2013
While polling prospects, we asked them their opinion of this new technique and the results seem to be in favor of the photos and sometimes it even helps a school gain interest from that particular prospect.
As New Jersey cornerback Kareem Ali (Timber Creek HS, Sicklerville, NJ) says, it helps put an image in your head:
“Those kind of photos grab a lot of my attention and puts an image in my mind of me playing in the Swamp.”
Offensive lineman Marquel Harrell (Creekside HS, Fairburn, GA) says that he sees the creative photos as an image of the coach’s personality “When coaches get creative with the mail it shows that they have a personal side to them.”
Defensive lineman Albert Huggins (Orangeburg Wilkinson HS, Orangeburg, SC) says the creative photos help put an image in your head of what you would like at that particular school.
“It makes me laugh with the photos but it also helps me see myself in that school’s color or uniforms,” he said.
One of the main things Gator Country learned was that prospects hardly ever throw away creative photos. Instead, most of the recruits hang them on a wall or in their lockers.
“I love hanging those photos on the wall to show off to people and to my friends,” Defensive lineman Anthony Rush (Cary HS, Cary, NC) said.
“Every time a school sends me a photo it goes straight to my wall in my room,” Tight end Daniel Imatorbhebh (North Gwinnett, Suwannee, GA) said. “I do it to show appreciation to that school and shows my hard work is paying off. Not many schools do that though.”
One prospect, Cornerback Jalen Julius (West Orange HS, Orlando, FL) said a photo of him in The Swamp is saved as the screensaver on his cell phone.
The biggest thing this former coach learned out of this poll was it’s the little things in recruiting that catches a prospect’s attention more than anything and sometimes an extra minute to write his name could land you a visit which could end up landing you a commitment.