Inside TSL 1: Calling All Recruits
by Will Stewart,
TSL Extra, Issue #15

If you're paying attention (and most of you who subscribe to this fine publication are), you've been able to tell that we're stepping up our coverage of recruiting at We're doing the things we have always done in the past, such as providing a recruiting message board and a database, but this year, we're trying to provide more information.

There are some things I'm doing behind the scenes that you can't see, such as combing the other recruiting services ( and SuperPrep, mainly) for information, emailing some contacts and talking to some others on the phone. I'm trying to keep more up-to-date on recruiting than I have done in the past, and getting in touch with those who are well-connected is always a first step.

I've been able to develop some sources this year that I didn't have before, something that's allowed me to be pretty accurate about what players are and aren't on Tech's recruiting list, when they're visiting, etc. Recruiting lists and visit lists are half the battle, because it allows site visitors to figure out whom Tech is serious about and whom they're not serious about (some recruits, for instance, keep mentioning VT in their updates long after the Tech coaches have cooled and aren't interested).

But what people really want are two things: (1) quotes from the recruits, and (2) information about how good Tech's chances are with a given recruit.

This article is about item (1), but I'll address item (2) for a moment. One thing I'm leery of, given that all my sources are Tech sources, is believing everything I hear about how well Tech is doing with a certain recruit. You've got to figure that most of the stuff I hear is run through a pro-Tech "filter."

Mike Ingalls of, for instance, has his sources too, and they pass him information through a pro-UVa filter. As you can imagine, Mike and I will talk about recruits, and I'll discover that his sources have told him contradictory information to what my sources have told me. My sources might say, "Jonathan Lewis is a lock for Tech," and Mike's sources will say, "UVa's got a great shot at him." Those two statements aren't exactly mutually exclusive, but you can tell they're slanted to Tech in one case and UVa in the other.

And no matter how good a source is, you never know whether they're right or not in any given instance. For example, one of my better sources, who is dead-on most of the time, told me several times 6-8 weeks ago that defensive end Darryl Tapp was on the verge of committing and would probably do so within 1-2 days. Well, as of January 19th, as I write this, Tapp still hasn't committed.

(I made passing mention of this in a recent TSLMail as a way to poke some fun at my source.)

So you never know, and I'm the kind who will err on the side of caution and not shoot my mouth off � or in this case, my keyboard. And there's always that line you have to walk with your sources, being careful not to give up too much of what they tell you, or they might stop telling it to you. Many times, sources will tell you things that are not intended for public consumption and are only intended to keep you well-informed. Give too much away, and you might give the source away, which is a no-no.

With recruiting, it's such a high-stakes game that you have to be careful. Saying the wrong thing here or there could drive a kid off, and that kid might wind up being a prospect years later that could have won an important game for the Hokies. Not only does it hurt Tech -- the school I cover as a writer -- it runs the risk of angering the Virginia Tech coaches, who will never forget a guy who costs them a recruit.

One situation that clearly illustrated to me the importance of when and how to release recruiting information occurred about two years ago. It was January of 2000, and I called Garden City (Kansas) Community College to talk to their coach about a couple of defensive linemen that Tech was recruiting named John Culp and Ervin Holloman, with Holloman being the more highly desired of the two.

I spoke with the coach for a few minutes about Culp and Holloman, and we arranged for me to call back the next day and interview the two players in the coach's office.

Well, the next day, when I called back, Holloman was neutral, but Culp had a surprise for me: he was committing to Tech.

Awesome. We broke the news on (as we were known back then) and considered it to be a real feather in our cap.

Well, maybe not. Word got back to us that publicly blaring out Culp's commitment was a mistake. It was giving the Hokie coaches trouble recruiting another defensive lineman that they badly wanted. A Tech coach who was paying an on-campus visit to this certain defensive lineman suddenly found himself in the position of having to explain who John Culp was and how he wasn't a threat to the kid he was talking to.

Although it was never directly explained to me, I think the defensive lineman who was concerned about Culp's "commitment" was a certain Jim Davis out of Fork Union Military Academy. You've heard of him, right? And you haven't heard of John Culp, right? Nuff said.

I believe that Culp was considered a package deal with Holloman, and the only way the Hokie coaches were willing to take Culp was if Holloman committed with him (again, this was never explicitly said to me, but that's my understanding of things based on how they unfolded). So by trumpeting the news of just Culp's commitment, without Holloman saying the same thing, I was getting ahead of myself.

The point is, had I had good sources at the time, I would have known that, and I would have kept my mouth shut about Culp and his "commitment." got caught in this trap a few weeks ago when they announced a commitment from a previously-unknown player named David Reese. They had quotes from Reese's coach and Reese himself about how he was going to Tech. But I knew the kid was not on Tech's recruiting list, so I kept my mouth shut � as did Doug Doughty, and Mike Harris.

I don't know the whole story. Don't want to. All I know is, Reese wasn't on Tech's recruiting list, so I didn't say anything. Reese is now a Temple verbal commitment, according to Rivals.

But, I digress. Let's talk about item (2); what it's like to call recruits, tying to get quotes from them.

How Do You Get the Phone Numbers?

Ah, question number one. How do those of us who call recruits get the phone numbers?

When I first started calling recruits a couple of months ago, I went about it the slow way. I called their coaches, interviewed the coaches, and then tried to get the coaches to put me in touch with the kids.

That was touch-and-go. The coaches were very good about talking to me. They love to promote their kids, and they say great things about them and often make outlandish statements (James Banks' coach, Dick Dullaghan, told me, "He changes his clothes in a phone booth." In case you're having trouble figuring that one out -- it happens -- it's a Superman reference).

But they were not good about getting the kid's phone number to me or getting the kid in their office to do a phone interview. The coaches who were attentive and successful at putting me in touch with their kids were Brandon Gore's coach, Patrick Dosh's coach, Jonathan Lewis's coach, Noland Burchette's coach, and Alan Wheeling's coach (Wheeling's coach, Joel Hicks at Pulaski County, is actually an acquaintance from years ago whom I had dealt with before, both personally and in interviewing Jeff King).

Burchette's coach, Scott Burton, actually deserves special mention. After Noland committed to Tech, Burton, whom I had never heard of before, emailed me out of the blue and offered to do an interview about Noland -- and to put me in touch with Noland. To this day, Burton remains the only coach to do that. Burchette turned out to be a hell of a story and was the cover story for TSLX #11. I wish they were all that easy!

Getting Jonathan Lewis's phone number was a feat. I interviewed his coach, Gary Chilcoat, and Chilcoat told me that in order to get Jonathan's phone number, he would have to pass my information on to Jonathan, who would then discuss with his family if it were okay. apparently passed muster with the Lewis family, because a day or two later, Coach Chilcoat gave me Jonathan's phone number.

I wailed away at this for a while, then got an idea and emailed a friend of mine who runs a site in the network of college sites -- they're similar to, and they cover recruiting as well. I sent him my list of recruits and politely asked if he could get any of the phone numbers for me. I figured he probably wouldn't, but what the heck, it was worth a try.

Two days later, I got a reply that included phone numbers for about 80% of the recruits on the list I had sent to him. I was in business.

I haven't called every recruit that I have a phone number for, but at last count, I have interviewed about a dozen recruits, and it has been interesting, to say the least.

What They're Like

So what are the recruits like? Here's the lowdown on the kids I have talked to:

Noland Burchette (VT commitment): very quiet and shy, without much to say. But he's very open about his coach, saying of Scott Burton, "He's like a father to me." If you're a new subscriber who hasn't read Burchette's profile in issue #11, go read it. His story is a great one. By the way, I hear the Tech coaches are pumped about Burchette and think he is going to be a great one.

Cary Wade (VT commitment): intelligent kid, good interview.

Patrick Dosh (VT commitment): probably my favorite interview. I have talked to Dosh at least a half a dozen times, and I have found him to be articulate, engaging, and forthcoming. He won't be 18 until April, but for such a young man, he is very mature. And he's a competitor. An in-depth interview with him appears elsewhere in this issue.

Lorne Sam (FSU commitment): another of my favorites. I talked to him almost as many times as I talked to Dosh, and Sam, while young (he is only 16, and yes, he's a senior), is very thoughtful and serious. Florida State got a quality kid from a quality family when Lorne Sam committed.

Mike Imoh: another great kid. Very articulate and open, a good interview.

Santonio Holmes: I've talked to Santonio Holmes twice, and the first time went very well. The second time, I got the impression he really didn't want to talk. Whoops, sorry, Santonio.

Laenar Nixon (Oklahoma commitment): similar to Lorne Sam and Mike Imoh, Nixon is a pleasant kid to talk to. Very open and forthcoming, he actually used the word "swell" in one interview, when describing his visit to Tech. He gets bonus points just for that. Nixon really liked Tech, but the Hokies cooled on him after his official visit to VT, feeling that he had a long way to go before he could play tight end for VT (he only weighs 205, and it's a lanky 205). When I interviewed Nixon after his Oklahoma commitment, he sounded very happy, and I found myself feeling happy for him. Good kid, and all's well that ends well.

Brandon Gore (VT commitment): it has been a long time since I interviewed Gore (TSL Extra issue #10), but I remember him as being a pretty good interview. Very laid back. Gore is a kid that takes everything in stride, including hard work.

Jonathan Lewis: One of Tech's key recruits, Lewis is a man of few words. He is nice enough, but he answers questions as succinctly as possible, without offering any extra information. To find out the things you really want to know, you have to press for details, which I'm not good at doing at this stage. My one in-depth interview with Lewis appears in Issue #13, so you be the judge.

Brian Mattes: very friendly and open. Talking to Brian Mattes is almost like talking to Patrick Dosh.

Demetrius Hodges: very quiet, another man of few words. When listening to tape of my interviews with him, I have to turn up the volume all the way to make out what he's saying.

Montavis Pitts: another quiet kid, similar to Hodges. It has been a long time since I interviewed Pitts (TSLX Issue #9), so I don't remember much about it.

LaMarr Watkins: I have only talked to Watkins once, and I could tell he really didn't want to speak to reporters. Watkins committed to Wisconsin last summer but has been talking to VT, even going so far as to visit Tech's campus. Sources tell me that until recently, the Tech coaches didn't even know that Watkins was committed to Wisconsin. They found out when someone emailed them comments Watkins had given to�s recruiting specialists. I imagine that led to an interesting conversation between Watkins and the VT coaches, and perhaps that's the reason why Watkins is leery of talking to reporters now. Given all that, he was still polite to me. He just didn't say much when answering my questions.

The Biggest Surprise

Without a doubt, the biggest surprise in interviewing recruits has been finding out how busy they are. Yeah, I know -- "Duh!" -- but let me explain what I mean.

Take the case of Demetrius Hodges. The first time I called Hodges, it was about nine o'clock at night, and a very nice lady answered. She told me, "I don't know where he is. He was supposed to be back by now from football practice. I told him not to go to that basketball game, but I think that's where he is."

Football practice? In January? Yep. Hodges is on an area all-star team, plus he plays basketball for Cardinal Newman, his high school. And on that particular day, he had all-star football practice from 4:30-6:30, and then a road basketball game that started at 7:30. So he went from football practice to the basketball game, and to make a long story short, I talked to him at eleven o'clock, just after he got home from his basketball game.

Eleven o'clock? When does this kid get his schoolwork done?

A lot of these kids play basketball. They're all great athletes, and great athletes play sports year-round in high school. Dosh plays basketball, Imoh plays basketball, Hodges plays basketball, and probably a million others I don't know about. They often have 2-3 games a week, and when they are home, recruiting writers and specialists, not to mention coaches, are ringing the phone off the hook. I don�t see how any of these kids get anything done.

A Nice Bunch of Kids

Next year, I'll get involved earlier and get to know a lot of the kids earlier in the process, so as things heat up in December through February, we'll be familiar with each other and more comfortable.

At the risk of blowing sunshine up your posterior and sounding like a total homer, I will tell you in all honesty that the kids I have talked to are a great bunch of kids. With a few exceptions, they're smart, they're articulate, and their sense of self is very well-developed for teenagers. I was a lot more clueless at the age of 16, 17, or 18 than most of the kids I talk to these days. Lorne Sam in particular is remarkably humble and thoughtful for a 16-year-old.

Sometimes, calling these kids is tough. I don�t want to intrude, I don't want to take up more of their precious time, and sometimes, I don't want to do it for personal reasons. Sometimes, I'd rather spend time with my wife or just relax and take it easy for once.

But on balance, it has been worth it. Talking to the kids adds a human element to the whole experience. I'll always root for Lorne Sam, for example, despite the fact that he'll play for a team that I don't particularly care for (FSU) and that has dealt the Hokies a couple of painful losses in the last three years.

Brian Mattes is another one. Even if Mattes attends Penn State or Notre Dame or Virginia, I'll find it a little difficult to root against him. I've talked to him a number of times, and he has been very forthcoming and has made my work easier.

And, as you can imagine, anything that makes my work easier makes the site better. And that's okay in my book.



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