Thursday, October 6, 2011

CLIP: Finding the best players

NOTE: This story appeared in the 2007 Ultimate College Football Annual.

      By Tom Gillispie
Yogi Berra used to say that baseball is 90 percent mental, and the other half is physical.
Jerry Petercuskie, an assistant football coach at N.C. State, laughs at the old joke, but he says you can't put a percentage on the importance of recruiting in college football.
"All of the factors go into the making of a team, although getting the right players is important," he said.
Each team has its own formula or system for building a team, he says.
"We go for good character and talented players, most of all," said Petercuskie, who was the recruiting coordinator at Boston College before following head coach Tom O'Brien to N.C. State this year.
"Some say that talent supercedes everything," he said. "Is it coaching, recruiting or the schedule? If you ask an athletic director, he'll say that schedule is most important. A coach will say that coaching is the most important thing, and a recruiting coordinator might say that recruiting is the main thing."
Petercuskie's been on a lot of staffs, and he knows about recruiting. After playing center at BC in 1971 through '74, he was a part-time offensive-line coach at Trenton State College (1975). He enrolled in the master's program at Penn State in '76 and was a graduate assistant for the Nittany Lions in '76 and '77. His first full-time coaching job was receivers/linebackers coach at Brown University from 1978 to '82. Then he was linebackers coach at Rutgers in '83, Rutgers' defensive-line coach in 1984 through '88, Liberty University's defensive coordinator and linebackers coach from 1989 to '94, Virginia's defensive tackles coach from 1995 to '96, and BC's assistant head coach, recruiting coordinator and special-teams coach from '97 to '06.
Now, Petercuskie, 53, is State's special-teams coach and recruiting coordinator.
Petercuskie, who has coached on teams that went to 12 bowls (two at Penn State, two at Virginia and eight at BC), says that recruiting coordinators coach players, too.
"I don't think anybody's into just recruiting," Petercuskie said. "I've been a defensive coordinator, for instance. Recruiting has been a group effort in any staff I've been on."
Petercuskie says that the number of hours he spends on recruiting depends on the time of year and the various phases of coaching. During camp before the season starts, he worries very little about recruiting. During the season, he sets up a schedule for coaching meetings on recruiting, and the coaches do active recruiting.
"From Sept. 1 to December, there are a total of six days allotted when a player can be physically evaluated," Petercuskie said. "I'll leave Thursday night or Friday morning and evaluate them. After Dec. 1, there is actual contact, and there are six times when you can visit with a player or his parents."
The recruiting coordinator, well, coordinates how they go about tackling a pile of players. Petercuskie says that his staff will start with 3,500 players, with each coach looking at 50 to 60 players. They'll whittle that down and eventually have nine coaches handling five players each, a total of 45 that they'll recruit. The goal, he says, is a signing class of 20 quality players.
The head coach is obviously involved strongly in the process, but he comes into prime-time play as the minutes tick down to signing time. Often, he'll fly into a player's town at the last minute to make sure his team gets the uncut gem.
Jim Leavitt, the only head coach the University of South Florida has known, says his staff was going crazy recruiting in late May. They had a few coaches out on vacation, and Leavitt was working hard in the trenches.
Leavitt says he does plan to leave Tampa in July for a five-day vacation -- his first in 10 years at USF. Then he'll come back, get ready for the season and more recruiting wars.
"It's all based on the time of year," Petercuskie says. "All of my energies are spent on special teams when we go to preseason camp, and it revolves back to recruiting in December. There's always recruiting, 12 months a year; we just put more emphasis on it at certain times."
Petercuskie says the new N.C. State coaching staff has an advantage. First, six members of O'Brien's staff at BC, including Petercuskie, followed O'Brien to Raleigh, N.C. The coaches don't need to get to learn each other. They're learning the university and the current players, and they can hit the ground running with recruiting.
Two other factors favor the new staff in recruiting. A winning program makes it easier to recruit, and N.C. State has had success in the recent past. It's not like the last three national-championship programs -- Southern California, Texas and Florida -- but winning helps.
Second, the coaches had to expand their recruiting field far from Boston, since New England isn't a hot bed for football players. Petercuskie says the BC coaches strayed as far west as Chicago in recruiting. The state of North Carolina is no Texas, Florida or Ohio, but it's still a great place to find players. So are adjacent Virginia and South Carolina.
"We can start in central North Carolina and work our way out," Petercuskie said.
Leavitt says USF uses every advantage it can to recruit players, including the instructional camps coaches hold in the summer. Naturally, the Bulls' coaches use the program's ascension to Division I-A to help recruit, too.
"Tampa's nice, and we use that as a recruiting tool," Leavitt says. "And 102 out of our 105 players come from Florida. We don't have to go out of state to recruit. Being in the Big East Conference has helped us in recruiting, and we have one of the nicest stadiums (the $168.5 million Raymond James Stadium) in the country; that's a big recruiting tool.
"There's nothing that we don't look at in recruiting."
And Leavitt says coaches can recruit whether they're in Tampa or Manhattan, Kan. (where Leavitt was linebackers coach and later defensive coordinator at Kansas State).
"You sell it (the program) any way you want," Leavitt said. "We recruited at Kansas State. And you have don't have to win to recruit well, although you have to win eventually."
Often, the biggest offseason news at a big-time university involves recruiting successes in February, spring practice, coaching clinics and former players making NFL rosters. Naturally, players making it in professional football interests prospects, too.
Signing day is huge. Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis had these opening remarks for the media on Feb. 7, 2007: "I think this is almost like draft day in the NFL, where you sit around and wait for faxes to come across the line after all your due diligence. From when the season ends right till now, that's the most critical time."
On signing day, head coaches often publicly thank people who aren't coaches. This February, Florida coach Urban Meyer thanked director of operations Bob LaCivita as well as two women, Emily Heater and Alecia Pynn.
"Those are the three people who really handle all of the on-campus things that we need to make things work," Meyer said then.
Southern Cal coach Pete Carroll made recruiting sound like a game within a game when he talked this Feb. 7.
"This is an extremely exciting class featuring some of the top players in the country," asserted Carroll, whose Trojans have won two of the last four national championships. "Our coaching staff competed at the highest level for the fifth straight year and refused to take a step backwards by putting together one of the best classes in college football once again."
Petercuskie says that more football and non-football people than ever are interested in recruiting, particularly since the recruiting explosion 10 or 12 years ago with the advent of the Internet. The coaches wade through tons of information on the 'Net, and they make calls to ascertain which nuggets of information are gold or coal.
Often, even the losing team can benefit from a bowl appearance. Leavitt and Petercuskie likely have never crossed paths, but their programs have; N.C. State beat South Florida 14-0 in the 2005 Meineke Car Care Bowl, USF's first bowl game. And that game probably helped recruiting for both programs.
Leavitt says he loves recruiting. Petercuskie says the same about himself, and he adds that most coaches, not just recruiting coordinators, enjoy recruiting. If not, they're in the wrong business.
Leavitt, whose Bulls have Auburn, North Carolina and Big East foes West Virginia and Louisville on a tough '07 schedule, was asked if the Bulls will continue to recruit better and better players.
"I hope so," he said, "or we're going to be in trouble."

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