Getting your players noticed by recruiters isn’t always easy. So we asked a Washington high school coach for tips.
William Garrow knows that his first job is to win football games. Any coach accepts that a string of underwhelming seasons is going to end with a pink slip. Victories are critical in keeping the leadership mantle.
But Garrow, about to begin his first season as the head man at North Thurston High School in Lacey, Wash., has also come to understand the importance of marketing his players and helping them reach the next level. That vision culminated in one of the most surprising recruiting stories of the last decade.
As an assistant coach at nearby Steilacoom High, Garrow helped linebacker Fotu Leiato build the now-legendary highlight video that vaulted him from little-known prospect to sought-after star. Before his senior campaign, Leiato was struggling to gain interest from local FCS schools. A few months later he was fielding offers from some of the nation’s top programs, ultimately deciding on Oregon.
Though easily the most high-profile, Leiato isn’t Garrow’s only success story. We caught up with the coach to find out his formula for getting players recruited.
Keep the Athletes Accountable
Garrow has his players take an active role in the highlight-creation process. His athletes are required to update their videos every two or three weeks – with the help of reminder texts throughout the season.
But it’s not fair to put the entire process in the athletes’ hands. Garrow’s experiences with college coaches have given him a better feel for what recruiters are looking for, so he and his staff make it a point to watch the videos and add a few edits themselves.
“We’ll say, ‘You shouldn’t have put this clip first,’ and move things around here and there,” Garrow said. “It’s a whole lot less burden if the kids do it. The kids watch their tape anyway. They star their plays. As long as they’re doing that, it doesn’t take long for the kids to put it together."
Educate the Players on What's Good and What's Not
On the surface, long touchdown runs or scoring passes are ideal highlight material, but cracks in a player’s ability can be found even in game-altering plays. Garrow uses the example from a few years ago of a running back who had great lateral quickness and good vision but lacked breakaway speed.
“He would put his 70-yard touchdown run on there. It’s a great high school run, but in the video clip we could see the free safety closing on him,” Garrow said. “If I’m a college guy and I see a college guy running and there are defenders closing on him, I see that he’ll get caught. Maybe that kind of run is not what we should put at the front of the clip. Maybe we should put the 12-yard run, but you made two linebackers and a defensive tackle miss."
Cy-Fair High School (Texas) tight end Brock Wright does a nice job of this in his video, showing an acrobatic catch in traffic, a short play-action touchdown reception and a devastating pancake among his first plays.
The better you know your players’ strengths, the better you can help them market themselves. Garrow uses this knowledge to customize videos that will truly entice recruiters.
“We also try to find the eye-catchers, the plays that make a coach say, ‘Rewind that, I need to see that again,” Garrow said. “We always want those to be at the beginning. Those are the first two or three clips. That’s what we did with Fotu. We found two or three plays where he just exploded on people. We’re trying to grab their attention early on in highlights."
Be Realistic with Expectations
While it’s important to encourage players to set high goals, those objectives must also be kept within reason. If a marginally-talented player thinks he’s on his way to stardom at Alabama or Clemson, it’s the coach’s responsibility to bring him back to reality.
“Your coach might say, ‘You’re not talented enough to play at Stanford, but you are talented enough to go to this Division III high academic school,’” Garrow said. “They have to come and talk and they have to be realistic."
The key is being honest. An athlete might not always want to hear his coach’s genuine opinion at the time, but as the recruiting process commences, honesty proves to be the best policy.
The world of recruiting is seldom a simple one, and talented prospects can get lost in a sea of profiles and highlight videos. But by encouraging athletes to take ownership of their highlights and helping them target the correct areas, you can greatly help your players’ odds of getting noticed.
“Hudl makes it so damn easy. If you do your highlight tape, go to your high school coach and be realistic about who you can be. That’s all it takes.”
Here are a few final quick tips offered by Garrow:
Get started early
There is no sense in waiting half a season for a player to start making a highlight video if he has good clips right off the bat. Some players have the highlights to make a strong video after just a few games. Videos can always be adjusted and adapted as the season progresses.
Include title slides
Garrow isn’t certain if this is a necessary step, but he likes to include a few slides at the beginning of a video that list a player’s measurables, honors, stats and, maybe most importantly, grades and test scores (for eligibility purposes).
Any coach watching this video by Colby Parkinson immediately knows the tight end’s size, grades and contact information, as well as that of his coach.
Have an email distribution list
Garrow claims to have a list of every school west of the Mississippi River. When a player submits his highlight video, Garrow identifies what level of college the athlete should aspire for and sends it to those members of the list.
“It takes me five minutes to send out a highlight tape to every school west of the Mississippi River at a certain level,” Garrow said. “We’re trying to say to kids, ‘You’re capable of playing at this level. I’m being honest with you. This is where you fit and I will send your tape to coaches at that level and I will make sure that they have seen it.’"
Every coach has different strategies on how to get their players noticed. Feel free to share any success stories in the comments below.