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The Recruiting Rules: Rule 3 - Recruit Locally, then Nationally

College football is fiercely regional, and recruiting should be as well.

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On the go90 series Foul Play: Paid in Mississippi, SB Nation National Recruiting Analyst Bud Elliott said the following: “Typically, if you’re going to be a good recruiting school, you’ve got to own your own backyard, then cherry pick from other areas.”

While programs across the country aspire to be seen and compete on a national scale, the real heart of college football is its fiercely local/regional nature. Balancing those two things can be tricky, and takes work, but as Bud alluded to, the next Recruiting Rule directly addresses this dual nature of the sport:

Recruit Locally first, then Nationally

As I said above, there’s a fiercely local component to college football that doesn’t exist in other sports. With the exception of Notre Dame, a truly National program, the vast majority of fans of a given team are local to that area. Taking it a step further, the roster of most CFB teams is also comprised of players from that area/region.

There are exceptions, but they are few. Notre Dame is a national program. So too are the service academies (Army, Navy, Air Force). But, outside of those 4 programs (and maybe a couple others that I’m probably forgetting), college football rosters are largely comprised of local talent.

Andrew Ivins from 247sports’ Miami site InsideTheU gave his thoughts on this Recruiting Rule:

I think it just depends on where you are at. Miami has made recruiting South Florida the priority and that’s smart. Recruiting locally might not work at other schools though.

Ivins brings up a good point: Miami is situated on the most fertile recruiting grounds in America. So, it stands to reason that the Canes would recruit locally harder than some other schools. This thought is backed up by Bud Elliot of SBNation’s annual look at the top States for Blue Chip recruits, and SBNation’s 2017 piece on where college football recruits come from. Here’s but one of the 10 maps provided in this piece, which shows what I mean:

Where recruits come from
SBNation graphic

As you can see, one of the “hot spots” for recruiting is South Florida. So, it stands to reason that for Miami, which is in South Florida, recruiting locally should be a major component of their strategy.

Joe Garcia Jr., a former recruiting writer here at State of the U, offered his thoughts on recruiting locally:

Win locally: Not just because those are the more realistic options and because there’s a particularly high talent base in Florida. But because that’s the easiest way to build a culture. Kids from the same area tend to have grown up in similar environments, they have similar backgrounds, interests, and some of not most even know each other. So from a culture standpoint it’s easier to get them to buy in with the team mentality. And that makes it easier when you do bring in someone from OOS (out of State) because the mentality is already there from the local kids so there’s a clear since of community and purpose. When you hear things like “Miami is like a family” This is what they mean.

Miami Hurricanes Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz even addressed this very topic in a recent radio interview. “Some people want to dominate the recruiting rankings … We want to dominate South Florida,” Diaz said while appearing on the Joe Rose Show in Miami. “And if we dominate South Florida, what history shows is when Miami dominates South Florida then Miami dominates the world in the fall. That’s the only rankings we care about – where we get ranked the first week in January. We know the path to it because we’ve seen it done before. If we continue on that path good things are going to happen.”

Of course, I’m looking at things through Miami-colored glasses when referencing recruiting locally, but even in locations that aren’t as rife with top-tier talent as South Florida, recruiting locally is or should be the foundation of the recruiting strategy for each team.

Now, I’m not saying “locally” has to be in the same zip code as the University that’s recruiting. But, for the most part, in-state and maybe a neighboring state (or part of a neighboring state) fits the model of recruiting locally.

If you think back to rule 2: communication is key, teams are able to communicate with AND SEE local players more often simply due to proximity. There is no major school as close to powerhouse HS programs like Miami Central, Miami Northwestern, Miami Southridge, or Ft. Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas as is Miami. The only place where there’s a similar kind of proximity to elite programs is Los Angeles, where both UCLA and USC are close to Gardena Junipero Serra, Santa Ana Mater Dei, Long Beach Poly, Bellflower St. John Bosco, and more. So, it stands to reason that those teams can and do have the strongest relationships with the blue chip caliber athletes at those respective schools (and others in the areas I mentioned).

Another added bonus specific to Miami — but applicable to teams near major recruiting hotbeds such as Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, New Orleans, South Georgia, Los Angeles, or Washington, D.C., to name a few — in recruiting local players is the quality of those players, regardless of “star ranking”. There are plenty of 3-star recruits from South Florida who have elite athleticism and skill, but might be 20lbs too light or 3 inches too short. But, in spite of that, they can play football at a high level. And, not only that, they can be star players at the P5 level.

I refer again to Miami Hurricanes Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz, who touched on this in the previously-linked interview:

...Some schools down here, they’re so talented, they may have 4 starters in the secondary who all go D1. So they may they may have a guy who didn’t even start his junior year, as crazy as that sounds, who may be an amazing player! And that’s why South Florida players have always been underrated. They have, just in terms of the [national scene]. That’s never changed since the 80s... If you can play on these fields down here in Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach county, you can play. And it doesn’t matter how many stars [ie ranking] you have next to your name, or what a magazine or the internet says about you. If you can prove yourself on the field down here on Friday Night, then you can play. And those are the guys that we want to be Hurricanes.

Again, that statement was about Miami because that coach works at Miami, but if it were Clay Helton talking about SoCal kids or Kirby Smart talking about Atlanta-area kids or Ed Orgeron talking about Louisiana kids (if you can understand him, that is), the sentiment would largely be the same.

So, Miami being able to grab a local 3-star player, think DE Gregory Rousseau or S Amari Carter or STRIKER Derrick Smith, is actually a big win when comparing those players with 3-star caliber players from other locations. For the most part, even the guys who aren’t superstars, but are solid P5 recruits, in SoFLA are ballers.

So, after a couple hundred words, an embed or two, and some quotes, you should have a good idea that the recruiting for any CFB program should start locally.

Which leads me to addressing the question you probably have on your mind: when do you recruit nationally?

I spoke to a well-known P5 assistant coach at a name-brand school several years ago, and he had strong statements on why and for who teams go out of state to recruit. I’ve heard and seen similar statements relayed by other recruiting analysts who have done the same, but with other coaches (and maybe a time or two with the coach I spoke to). What the coach told me about recruiting nationally was this: “I only go (this far out of State) for All-Americans or 1st round [NFL Draft] picks.”

A team can and should look to recruit an out of State player if they’re of the caliber of a D.J. Williams (the #1 recruit in the country in 2000) or Calais Campbell or Kellen Winslow II or Greg Olsen or Patrick Peterson or Ahmmon Richards or Jabrill Peppers or Robert Nkemdiche or Lamar Jackson or Deshaun Watson or Nick Chubb or Bryce Love or....you get it by now. If a team has a need, and a reasonable connection to an elite player from far away, then they should absolutely shoot their shot. You can never have too many superstar type players on your team, and sometimes teams have to look outside of their local area for that star power.

In the same conversation with the Power 5 assistant I already mentioned, I asked him why the high standard for pursuing out of State players? His response was simple: “if I can find that kid where (my school) is, then I don’t need to leave my area to go get him”.

What that last statement boils down to, in my mind, is this: if everything is equal, or reasonably close to equal, take the local kid. And, to me, the reasoning behind that should be easy to see.

A CFB program’s best and most essential relationships should be with the local HSFB programs. You have those players living near your school, many root for your team, and they, their friends, and teammates, and families, are part of your community. So, if there’s a local player and an out of State/National player who have roughly the same build, athleticism, and skillset, the EASY choice for the program is to take the local guy, and foster the aforementioned relationships that are essential for success.

So, I say all that to say: recruit locally first, then nationally. And, if teams do that well, they’re well on their way to building a great roster, and following The Recruiting Rules.