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Catamount Conversation: Andy Follett, Wide Receivers Coach / Recruiting Coordinator
Winning games on Saturday’s in the fall takes preparation, perseverance, hard work and near flawless execution – and that’s even before the team hits the field. Recruiting has become the life-blood of college athletics. Although the focal point falls the first week of February, the process has become a year-round proposition.
For Western Carolina head coach Dennis Wagner and staff, 2009 represented the first full-year they had to be fully involved in the recruiting process. The result: the third-highest rated incoming class among Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) squads in the nation according to Rivals.com.
“Our coaches did a tremendous job and I want to commend our recruiting coordinator, Andy Follett, on the job they have done,” said Wagner following National Signing Day back in February. “All of our assistants did a tremendous job. I’m very satisfied with the (2009) signing class. You never really know until the guys show up and play, but on paper, this is a great recruiting class. We’re very excited about them. They are good students; they are good athletes and most of all they’re good people.”
Follett, who also coaches Western’s wide receivers, serves as the program’s recruiting coordinator. Having played under Wagner at Wayne State, Follett knows the due diligence and emphasis that Wagner places on the recruiting game.
“Coach Wagner made his name as one of the top offensive line coaches in the nation, but also as a great recruiter. And, when the head coach is a successful recruiter, he requires that his assistant coaches be as efficient as he is in recruiting,” said Follett.
Looking back at the 2008 signing class – Wagner’s first at Western Carolina – Follett stated that he and the other coaches were up against the tough challenges of having only a short time period to go out and recruit, being in a new region of the country, as well as simply being new to WCU.
“When we first got here, we had about three weeks to go out and recruit. So we went out and touched the contacts we had which were mostly out of state,” said Follett.
The result was that 17 of the 27 players signed all together were from out-of-state, including nine transfers and a combined 10 from outside the normal WCU recruiting footprint including the states of California, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland and New York.
During the off-season following the 2008 campaign, Follett oversaw the compilation of a study that has helped better focus the recruiting efforts. The staff has defined WCU’s primary area of recruitment within a four and a half hour driving radius of the epicenter in Cullowhee. Essentially, the area includes the entire state of North Carolina; the upstate of South Carolina including mostly the Interstate 77 and Interstate 20 corridors; and middle Georgia, northward including Atlanta and its suburbs.
From there, the defined primary areas are further narrowed for emphasis. For instance, there were an estimated 277 schools in Western’s “Georgia” territory, which are divided among three coaches, while five coaches, including Wagner and both graduate assistants, blanket the 213 high schools identified in North Carolina with 101 in South Carolina.
Follett’s study further examined players signed by Southern Conference schools from Western’s primary recruiting areas.
For example, in North Carolina, 20 players signed with SoCon teams on National Signing Day, 2008 – 10 of those came to WCU while in-state, arch-rival Appalachian State signed four, and both Elon and Wofford taking three. South Carolina saw 19 players sign in the conference including two to Western, while Georgia had a total of 63 student-athletes ink National Letters of Intent (NLI) with league schools including 49 within the WCU’s primary area – five came to Western.
Before the ink could dry on the final NLI’s back in February, Follett and staff members had already turned attention to the 2010 signing day. Lists all of the possible recruits, including juniors, compiled through December and January are further evaluated so that the staff can hit the ground running for three-to-four weeks in May.
Follett estimates that during that heavy recruitment period, Western’s coaches physically visited – on average – around 100 schools during that time, which grades out to around seven per day per coach.
While there, each coach obtains video on potential recruits which is brought back to Cullowhee and further evaluated by the offensive and defensive staffs for the second-round of video evaluation and ranking. The final round of evaluation in the spring is handled by the entire coaching staff as a whole.
According to Follett, each recruit is organized into four separate categories on the team’s recruitment board: “Cats” are recruits that are deemed BCS-caliber and are being offered and recruited by larger schools; “Golds” are student-athletes that WCU has offered and are then ranked on the board; “Purples” are the junior recruits that the coaches liked, but want to see more of early in the senior year; and “Whites” are the recruits that are walk-on caliber.
When looking at the staff’s recruitment board, for every one available scholarship by position, Follett stated that Wagner likes to have at least 10 recruit names on the board to fill that void.
“We do our own evaluations of every player and if they fit us,” said Follett when asked about WCU’s name appearing more-and-more along with BCS or larger schools in preliminary offer talks. “When we pass along video of a specific position to the unit coaches, we do not tell them if we know a player is being recruited by a bigger school. We are not influenced by who else is interested or looking at the recruit and do not recruit off of someone else’s board.”
During the fall, Follett said that the coaches try to go out recruiting to the schools in their primary areas, but also take advantage of things such as the bye week to visit areas outside the primary search market for WCU.
Currently, Follett stated that Western Carolina has over 75 offers on the table for the 2010 signing class from its primary recruiting area. Of those, 25 currently also have offers on the table from BCS schools.
Amidst the recruiting discussion and winning the proverbial battles for recruits, Follett also stressed the importance of having potential student-athletes on campus prior to their decision-making time. Of the 24 players WCU signed on National Signing Day in 2009, 17 were on campus prior to their official visit in December or January. That’s nearly 71-percent of those that signed had either visited during the summer time or came to campus to experience a game and the game day atmosphere in Cullowhee.
“Having student-athletes we are recruiting come to campus prior to their official visit is vital,” said Follett. “I remember with one recruit in particular last year the father stating, ‘We’re blown away with WCU – the facilities, the surroundings and the support staff.’ Their first impression is ‘Oh wow’ – if that had been in December or January, we might miss out because the player may have been recruited or wowed by other people. If we can get them here in the summer or if they are here for a game and get to see the facilities first-hand, they meet us in person or they get the game-day atmosphere, that’s when they say ‘Wow, Western – that’s a big-time place.’”
Follett added that while the student-athlete is evaluating facilities, surroundings and WCU as a whole, having the recruit on campus prior to an official visit also allows the coaching staff to survey the individual to make sure that they are the right fit for the team and school itself. He said that Western averaged nearly 30 potential recruits per home game in 2008.
Along similar lines, in helping with recruiting, Western Carolina held its first junior, one-day camp back in June that was attended by over 125 potential student-athletes. Follett stated that the WCU staff knew of most of those in attendance prior to them attending the camp. The session allowed the coaches’ exposure to the potential student-athlete, but also allowed the potential recruit make the all-important visit to Western’s campus.
Western Carolina is scheduled to report for fall camp this Friday, Aug. 7, with the first day of fall practice scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 8.
By Western Carolina University Media Relations