Kent State football: Inside look at recruiting game plan
By Stephanie Storm, Akron Beacon Journal
KENT: It was 12 days until National Signing Day and Darrell Hazell had an hour to go over a packed agenda during his weekly coaches meeting.
At 11 a.m. sharp on Friday, Hazell, Kent State’s football coach, walked down a short corridor from his office in the M.A.C. Center, toting a neatly written agenda in one hand. He made a right turn into a small staff meeting room that can hold little more than a large oval table surrounded by rolling chairs with black-padded arms.
On this day, 18 people with duties pertaining to the football program were crammed into the room. A few extra chairs had been pulled up to accommodate a makeshift second row by one wall, while two others sat and another stood in the doorway.
At 47, Hazell has become a staunch detailed-oriented man, a trait he picked up while coaching wide receivers and tight ends for two seasons at the U.S. Military Academy in 1997-98.
Before the group began to discuss the 20 players who have given KSU oral commitments and the final five positions still needed (a defensive lineman, two cornerbacks, a running back and a “wild card”) to complete the 2012 class, Hazell briefed his listeners on what to wear while hosting a group of recruits and their families that weekend.
Hazell then wrapped up a few loose ends for the national signing day party/reception being planned for the evening of Feb. 1.
He plans to personally pen invitations to a select group.
With the extracurriculars out of the way, the staff got down to the real business of the meeting: touching base on where the recruiting class stands. Although the bulk of the players have already committed, the staff continues to spend as much time keeping in touch with them as it does courting new players.
“It’s changed a lot with the early commitments,” said Kent State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock, who was head coach at Youngstown State for nine seasons (2001-09). “Before, those kids weren’t committing until the end. But now, I use the rule that if you have a kid committed early, you still only have a 50 percent chance of getting him.
“In fact, that’s when you really have to work at recruiting him. That’s when other [schools] really begin to pay attention. So you’re constantly in protection of your own guys. If you think, ‘Hey, that’s a done deal,’ I think you’re foolish.”
That’s why nearly half of the meeting was spent with Heacock penciling in coaches’ names on the next week’s travel budget. NCAA rules state that a staff can have only seven coaches out on the road at one time. And with the final day that coaches are allowed to be out recruiting before Signing Day looming this Saturday, there was still a lot of work to be done.
It was a bit of a puzzle as Hazell and company figured out who needed to go where and when in the upcoming week.
“The schedule changes constantly as things come up,” Flashes defensive line coach Brian George said. “Things with us, or things change in the kids’ schedules. So we’re always making changes to it and our schedules on the fly. It’s a way of life in this business.”
Within college sports, the word compliance can often be considered a dirty word, slipping out unknowingly even when a coach is going out of his way to stay within NCAA rules. One of the biggest problems with a sport as large as football is that there are so many rules, including many that are constantly changing, it’s next to impossible to know everything.
That’s why Hazell has Randel Richmond on speed dial on his office phone. Whenever something comes up that the second-year head coach isn’t quite sure about, he checks with Richmond, a KSU grad who has spent seven years in the school’s compliance office.
The final five
The final five recruits who will be brought into the fold are of extreme importance.
That’s why Hazell had things like last weekend’s weather forecast on his mind during the meeting. A couple inches of snow were forecast for Northeast Ohio, which was sure to catch the attention of the recruits from Florida and Texas.
“The quicker you can get them in the van and in the buildings, the better,” Hazell reminded his staff, before asking the team’s equipment manager “to bring extra coats and hats for those who forgot. Some of these guys have never been in the cold, let alone snow.”
Another detail disaster was avoided when Casey Wolf, director of football operations, told Hazell he double-checked the spelling of the first name of the mother of one of the recruit, to make sure her name tag was spelled correctly.
Hazell handed out copies of the weekend’s itinerary to the staff, quickly going over each event — the times players were arriving, when each meal would begin, when they would take a campus tour and details for a social planned one evening. Wolf also arranged for some professors to meet with players who have expressed interest in certain areas of study.
Hazell was reminded of another detail that needed to be handled, one that wasn’t considered during a previous group’s visit to KSU: “Make sure the lights in the buildings you’re going into are already on,” he said. “Last weekend we walked in one building and it was like a morgue.”
With the details of the visit for the incoming recruits checked off the agenda, attention turned to questions about players who were still available as well as ones who had recently become available.
Late additions to Kent State’s recruiting game happen all the time, especially when scholarships for the players don’t materialize at other schools. Other times, the official visit doesn’t go well.
“During the last couple weeks, schools begin to shift their thoughts on different guys,” Hazell said. “Some schools fill up and hit their quota for that class because some kids wait too long.”
It’s a situation that’s not always the player’s fault.
“Sometimes a school says something to a kid way early in the process like, ‘Hey, we need to get up on an official visit’ or ‘You’re a guy we’re considering,’ ” Hazell said. “So [the player] is just holding on waiting for that to happen. Unfortunately, some of those kids lose everything.”
Some of them, however, end up at Kent State — the reason Hazell reserved a “wild card” spot in his final five list.