Throughout a college football season, winning a rivalry game, a conference championship and a bowl game are crucial for coaches, players and fans.
After the season, coaches face a day that's often more crucial than game days.
This year the crucial date is Feb. 2 -- the first day high school players can sign a National Letter of Intent, which amounts to a one-year contract between a student and a school and guarantees the student a scholarship.
When I began coaching, I fully became aware that recruiting was as crucial as having an ideal coaching staff to create a winning team. I also learned to be a good recruiter, I had to be as talented as successful sales people in order to sign players who could perfectly execute the staff's offensive and defensive plays.
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Legendary Clemson coach Frank Howard passed on his recruiting philosophy as I began Tiger recruiting in 1968. He told me, "Boy, don't recruit characters, recruit boys with character."
Over the years, I realized Coach Howard's philosophy was critical to every coach in order to build a good team with players that have quality character, which prevents most of the nasty problems -- on and off the field -- that often negatively affect a team.
This thought makes me wonder how the 12 University of Georgia players who were arrested in 2010 impacted the team and perhaps prevented the Bulldogs from having a chance to win the Southeastern Conference championship.
Another very important aspect of recruiting is to sign all the top-rated players in your state. Their dedication and loyalty is emotional muscle that strengthens a team by helping make out-of-state players feel at home. The most interesting recruiting from my perspective is based on Clemson and South Carolina challenging each other for the Palmetto State's top high school players. I believe the Gamecocks will win the recruiting game this year, because they defeated the Tigers last season.
Thinking about recruiting, I opened an NCAA Division I manual to review recruiting rules. The manual has 454 pages of what the NCAA titles the Constitution, Operating Bylaws and Administrative Bylaws. Reading the book would be like reading the IRS guidelines. It contains 39 pages of recruiting bylaws and rules. The rules cover how and when coaches can contact recruits at home, when recruits can visit the campus and how they can be entertained at the university.
Texas Tech is under investigation for over-contacting players with phone calls and text messaging. Several years ago, Colorado was punished for using some forms of sexual entertainment for recruits. Entertainment rules for recruits are heavily outlined in the book to prevent recruiting chaos.
The competitiveness and importance of recruiting leads to NCAA violations, and it's not always the coaches who initiate them.
I had a recruiting situation like Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, the Auburn quarterback whose father is accused of asking Mississippi State for a great deal of money to sign his son. I had a New Jersey father ask me for money for his son to travel to Minnesota and back home for holidays and spring breaks. Dad couldn't afford the travel. A good player wasn't signed.
Another crucial factor in recruiting is a high school player's academics.
In order to meet NCAA Division I academic requirements, recruits must pass 16 core courses, including four years of English, three years of math, two years of natural or physical science and two years of social sciences. The recruit has to meet certain requirements with his GPA and SAT or ACT score. This is determined on a sliding scale. For instance, a kid with a 2.5 GPA needs an 820 SAT score and a kid with a 3.5 GPA only needs a 400 score. That always tickled me.
If a recruit can successfully navigate the process, a big payoff awaits.
I was fortunate over the years to recruit several good players. But a very important recruitment took place without me being the recruiter. That's when my sons were recruited by Penn State and Murray State. Signing the scholarships was like Mom and Dad winning $100,000 or more in an education lottery.
Just like my sons, I know Beaufort County players are working hard on and off the field to be recruited, hoping to get a scholarship for a college education and provide Mom and Dad with a great gift.