In a typical year, the best high school football players in the country go through a recruiting cycle that includes face-to-face meetings with coaches and visits to campus.
Those visits give recruits the opportunity to see the campus, facilities and city, along with meeting coaches, staff members and current players.
There’s been nothing typical about this year, though.
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted just about everybody and it has put college sports on hold. The winter and spring seasons were shut down on March 13 and there’s uncertainty about when – or if – the fall season will begin.
Recruiting, however, hasn’t stopped. But it has changed.
This past week, three players verbally committed to Colorado’s 2021 football recruiting class. (CU also got a pledge from a four-star men’s basketball recruit.)
“It’s kind of been crazy,” said Tyrin Taylor, a cornerback from Cornelius, N.C., who committed to CU on Thursday. “(The coronavirus shutdown) came fast.”
The foundation of the recruiting process is building relationships and that’s an expensive process for college athletic programs.
CU athletics spent $1.34 million on recruiting during the 2019 fiscal year, with $775,312 of that spent by the football program. Expenses include coaches going on the road to visit schools and players, as well as the school bringing in recruits for official visits, providing lodging, meals and transportation during those visits.
Without those in-person meetings, the schools have saved some money, but coaches and recruits have had to adjust.
“It’s hard times,” said Tyas Martin, a defensive lineman from Jacksonville, Ark., who gave his verbal commitment to CU on Friday. “It’s tough not getting to see things you want to see, meet the coaches in person and you want to see the school.”
The recruiting activity of the past week at CU, however, shows that players and coaches are making the best of the situation.
Martin and Taylor weren’t recruited by CU until after head coach Karl Dorrell and his staff were hired this spring. Both had been through the recruiting process with other schools, but had to rely on technology with CU.
Like many schools, CU is providing virtual tours and visits for recruits. The virtual tours allow the recruits to see video footage of the facilities, campus and surroundings. The face-to-face meetings have been replaced by audio or video calls.
“It was good; it was everything I needed,” Taylor said of the virtual visit. “They went through everything, basically. Also all of the coaches that were on there and the interest they showed me (was big).”
Martin, who was originally committed to Virginia Tech, said he had a great virtual visit with the Buffs.
“I got to see everything: the campus and the football history and stuff like that,” he said. “I talked to the coaches and got on there with coach Dorrell and had a long conversation with him. The virtual visit was just great.
“They showed me everything about the school. It was just like an official, but just not in person. I got to see everything. It was a good visit.”
In a normal year, the official visits are just as important for the families of recruits, who want to feel good about where their loved ones are going to school. While not the same, the virtual visit made an impact on Martin’s family.
“On the visit we had, they loved everything about it, so they’re very excited,” Martin said.
A virtual visit can’t fully take the place of seeing the campus on person, but the recruiting process during this time can match one important aspect: communication.
Taylor said it was CU’s communication with him that set the Buffs apart from other schools. He felt appreciated and wanted by the Buffs’ coaches.
“It’s a big deal,” he said. “Since the virus is around and we can’t get on campus, communication is a big deal.
“I never thought I’d go to Colorado. I was like, ‘Oh no, that’s too far.’ We kept building a relationship, I did a virtual visit and then built a relationship with coach Dorrell, as well.”
That communication also helped Trustin Oliver, who committed to CU on Monday. Oliver, a safety from Iowa Western Community College, was a part of CU’s 2019 recruiting class before having to go to junior college. Unlike Martin and Taylor, he’s been on campus and seen the facilities and even met face-to-face with defensive coordinator Tyson Summers. But, he had never met Dorrell or safeties coach Brett Maxie.
“Being able to have a lot of virtual meetings, a lot of phone calls, a lot of FaceTime with me and my family means a lot,” Oliver said of CU’s efforts to recruit him this time around.
Certainly, recruiting is not operating under normal conditions, but it is rolling along, as coaches and players have kept their eyes on building for the future.
“You just have to work with what you have and make the best of it,” Martin said.