by Sean Begin
Four of Central Connecticut’s fall sports are starting to, or have already, wrapped up their season. Football has one game remaining: a home contest against Bryant University on Saturday. The volleyball team has finished the regular season and will compete in the NEC Championships this weekend. And both the men’s and women’s soccer teams’ season finished with semifinal losses in the NEC Tournament.
For the coaches of these teams, however, the end of the playing season means the beginning of an equally important time: recruiting season.
Unlike professional sports, which fill their teams through the draft, free agency or trades, college sports replenish the ranks by recruiting players from high school, junior colleges or even other universities to come play for their team. And while each team has it’s own recruiting nuances, the general rules are the same.
The recruiting process can be complex and is broken up into four “periods” by the NCAA. Each period – named contact, evaluation, quiet and dead – has its own specific set of rules that determine how and when a prospective student-athlete can be contacted by a coach or the coach’s representatives. Violation of these rules can result in penalties and punishment against the school.
For Central’s athletic programs, recruiting is technically a year round process. “I don’t think it ever ends,” said Linda Sagnelli, head coach of the volleyball team. Coaches are always in contact with players whether by phone or email, within the boundaries laid down by the NCAA.
But when the season ends, the time comes for coaches to begin traveling to watch the players they’ve been evaluating takes place.
“For us,” said Sagnelli, “our heavy recruiting time is January through nationals [in July] with March being a quiet period for us. The month of March we can’t go off-campus to recruit.”
March is what the NCAA terms a “quiet period” for the volleyball team, where Sagnelli and her assistant coach Greg Shell, are not allowed to make visits off-campus to recruits, but are allowed to meet with recruits on campus.
For Sagnelli and Shell, recruiting players for volleyball involves long-term vision. According to Sagnelli, the team has already signed a player 2014, and within the next couple of months will finish with the class of 2015 recruiting.
“When we go recruiting in January and February we’re looking at sophomores,” said Sagnelli. “They’ll come on an unofficial visit. We try to look for, on a timeline, a commitment their junior year.”
Women’s soccer coach Mick D’Arcy describes a similar scenario for his team.
“Our process starts earlier than most people,” said D’Arcy. “Women’s soccer identifies recruits their sophomore year in high school, and then starts the communication with them their junior year. And then usually by Christmas of their junior year, we’re getting commitments.”
The process of finding players to recruit also varies between sports. While all teams and coaches make trips to scout and recruit players, the path to those trips vary from team to team.
For the soccer teams, D’Arcy and men’s head coach Shaun Green, both of whom hail from the United Kingdom, a large network of contacts within the soccer world helps keep them informed of talent outside the United States.
“For the most part it’s our own network that we use,” said D’Arcy. “We have a network of connections around the world. When we’re looking for players we’ll call our connections and see if they have any recommendations for us.”
“We have our own network established of former alumni and high school coaches and club team coaches that we’ve known throughout the years. Word of mouth is really good for your program,” said Green.
Head football coach Jeff McInerney fields Central’s largest roster, with around 80 players, and echoes Green’s sentiment.
“Word of mouth is key, I don’t care who you are. Word of mouth and people having a good experience,” McInerney said of how people hear about Central athletics.
Word of mouth is how junior running back Rob Hollomon arrived at CCSU, after a relative of his, who played football at Central under McInerney, told Hollomon about the program.
“Chris Williams [Hollomon’s cousin] had a great experience here. He [Hollomon] was a 1-A transfer which you get,” said McInerney. “When you have a student-athlete that had a positive experience and they so ‘Oh, that’s cool,’ that’s how you get those [transfers].”
While McInerney and his assistants make recruiting trips to Florida and California, they generally try and produce a roster that features mostly kids from Connecticut, something McInerney attributes to meeting “the fiscal needs of the area.”
“Usually we stay in New England. Connecticut we go inside-out first. Fiscally, it’s more reasonable to meet the [team’s] needs in-state,” said McInerney, adding that “It’s way easier to recruit somebody whose support system is right here.”
The football team will get to see a large amount of local Connecticut players through the football camp they host every year, and through that camp McInerney will find prospective athletes, like current junior wide receiver Tyrell Holmes, to recruit.
Holmes, who went to high school at Bristol Eastern in Bristol, Connecticut, attended Central’s football camp all four of his high school years and was recruited by McInerney because of the relationship the two formed during that time.
Similarly, Green and D’Arcy field teams that are comprised mostly of Connecticut players, with a few regional kids and strong international contingents rounding out their squads. The international players are found through the coaches’ contacts overseas, while the local players are found by visiting regional high schools or by receiving interest from a player directly.
“It [used to be] hand written letters delivered daily to us and the old school VHS tapes. Now it’s different,” said Green of player’s contacting coaches. “You have one mass email you can send out to 300 Division I teams in the country and stick [the tape] on YouTube one time. It’s become much more efficient.”
Green and D’Arcy will take recruiting trips only to places where they have interest in the player, with Green citing budgetary and fiscal concerns limiting the trips they can take, similar to McInerney and football.
Volleyball faces a similar budgetary concern when planning recruiting trips. “The only thing that would limit recruiting is funds, depending on how much of your budget you can allocate towards being on the road,” said Sagnelli.
She is, however, almost required to travel in order to find players to recruit. According to Sagnelli, the Northeast is one of the weaker regions in the country in terms of competitive club and high school volleyball play. Therefore, recruiting trips to what Sagnelli calls “volleyball hot beds” are required.
These trips usually center around qualifying tournaments for nationals for USA Volleyball’s club circuit. They allow Sagnelli and Shell the chance to view hundreds and thousands of players on one trip. An app provided by USA Volleyball helps streamline the process and provide information on every player at any given tournament.
Despite the differences in the style of recruiting, one thing remains consistent between the three sports: the recruit. Or, more specifically, the type of recruit the team is looking for.
All the coaches value academics just as much as athletics, and seek student-athletes that can fit with Central beyond the field and into the classroom and the community.
“When you bring somebody in to a program they have to fit how you coach, how you teach,” said McInerney. “School comes first. It’s what I say all the time. They’ll all tell you that.”
“Are they a good person, someone’s who’s going to come in and be a good citizen on campus. And then, obviously, academically. Will they be a good fit for our profile here?” said D’Arcy.
Combined with NCAA rules and other concerns, such as budget, that limit recruiting, it becomes a difficult process to find someone who can fit both the athlete and the student role successfully.
“I liken it to crab hunting,” said Green. “You lift a rock up and there’s nothing, maybe a little tiny crab. And you lift another rock up, there’s nothing. Another rock and there’s nothing. Until eventually you lift one rock up and there’s a big crab under there, the prize. And that’s what it’s like recruiting.”
Despite the difficulty in recruiting, Green and the other coaches have all managed to learn the process well enough to field successful teams, more or less, year after year by finding the best players that fit Central athletically and academically.