The state of Utah typically produces several Football Bowl Subdivision recruits annually.
Most stay home and play for Brigham Young or Utah. Others will sign with national powers, such as Alabama, Stanford or Washington.
Colorado has never made the Beehive State a priority. Dating back to the early 1970s, when Eddie Crowder was still coaching, CU has signed just five players out of Utah. Three never saw the field. Another was dismissed from the team.
So, when first-year CU head coach Mel Tucker, during a recent interview with BuffZone.com, mentioned Utah as a priority for his staff in recruiting, it raised an eyebrow.
Tucker didn’t blink. Literally, he didn’t blink as he intensely explained why the Buffs would recruit in Utah.
“There’s some players in Utah that can help our program, so why not recruit them?” he said. “I don’t understand why we wouldn’t recruit players one state over from us or close proximity. It doesn’t make sense for me to not recruit those players to come here. What are we here for if we’re not going to go out and recruit those players?
“There’s coaches (from other schools) coming in here recruiting. I was at Georgia and we were recruiting in California and Texas; we had a quarterback from Washington. What is the limitation? What is prohibiting us from recruiting those players?”
Tucker wasn’t simply talking about the talent in Utah. His point was that under his watch, CU will look literally everywhere to find players that can help the Buffaloes win football games.
“We want to open up Georgia; we want to open up Louisiana; we want do a great job in Texas, California and also Utah and Colorado,” he said. “We’ll go overseas to recruit a guy. If we feel like a guy can upgrade our roster and help us win our conference, we’re going to recruit them.”
If there is anything preventing CU from getting those players, it’s the lack of recent success and the perception of the Buffs as a losing program.
CU made a memorable run to the Pac-12 South division title in 2016, but has finished last place in the South every other year since joining the conference in 2011. The nearly unanimous prediction for the Buffs this year by national publications: Last again.
Tucker came to CU in December after three years (2016-18) as the defensive coordinator at Georgia and one year (2015) in the same role at Alabama. In working for those two national powers, he recruited the country’s best players every year. He sees no reason to change his approach just because CU has struggled on the field.
“It’s all about your mental disposition and what your mindset is towards competing and putting yourself in position to compete for championships and win,” he said. “I don’t look at this as a second-fiddle operation, or taking a back seat to anybody. That’s not my mindset.”
It may not be Tucker’s mindset, but he knows today’s high school players are used to seeing CU as a notch – or two or three – below the likes of Alabama, Georgia or Clemson.
“Some do and it’s up to us to change their minds,” he said. “Some minds you can’t change, and they’re only going to change by winning. Some people see it as an opportunity (to play at CU) and they believe in what we’re doing. They see it. They come to our practice and see us practice. They see how genuine we are in recruiting and in communication. They see what we’re doing from a facility standpoint and facilities show commitment.”
Winning football games will open more doors for CU in recruiting, but right now, Tucker and his staff are selling recruits on their vision for the program, and they’re putting a premium on relationships.
“It’s all about the personal interaction and connection they have with us when they come in contact with us and what makes us different,” he said.
While the Buffs aren’t loading up on blue chip recruits, they’re beating other Power 5 programs for verbal commitments. Going into the weekend, the Buffs had 12 players verbally committed for the 2020 class. The list includes four-star tackle from Georgia, who has nearly 30 scholarship offers, including from Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State; and four-star quarterback Brendon Lewis from Texas, who has 10 other Power 5 offers.
Since Tucker arrived in December, CU has adopted the slogan, “Relentless.” He demands relentless effort from his players, and he demands the same type of effort on the recruiting trail. Tucker has overhauled the recruiting staff and implemented a system he believes will work – and has worked – so far at CU.
“I feel really good about our process and it’s something that’s a work in progress,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of recruiting battles out there and we just have to win more than we lose.
“Recruiting is the most important thing in college football. If you want to win, if you want to compete for championships and you want to be able to beat those top teams, you have to have as good or better players than what they have and they have to be coached up.”
Whether those top players are in Denver, across the country, or next door in Utah, Tucker will pursue them.
“Those guys are going to play somewhere, so why not here?” he said. “We may not get some of those guys, but some of those guys we are going to get because we’re going to relentlessly recruit those guys.
“I believe in my staff and I believe in this university and this program. That’s where it starts. Believing you can get those players and you should get those players.”