Footballs on Nebraska High School Football Field
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Building Trust and Lasting Relationships Key for High School Coaches in Evaluation Period

May 29, 2022

From April 15 to May 31, college football assistant coaches can hit the road to see high school prospects. Schools are allowed two evaluations during the spring: one athletic and one academic. We often think about this from the perspective of college coaches. They are finding new talent or deepening relationships with high schools.

What does this all look like from the high school coaches’ point of view?

High school hallways can see a lot of college assistants for schools that have a lot of prospects to check out. Arlington Bowie High School coach Joseph Sam coached former Nebraska wide receiver Latrell Neville. He explained the value of college coaches coming into the high schools.

“As a high school coach, it validates some of the things that you got going on in your program, number one,” Sam said. “Number two, it allows your kids to actually see that schools are actually taking an interest in you. The good thing about my situation is that the assistants from the area I already kind of personally know, even though they’ve changed logos. Coach Applewhite, I remember him when he was at Colorado State a couple stops prior to Nebraska. When those guys continue to come back and trust your evaluations on the high school kids that means a lot.”

One of the hidden benefits to college coaches roaming the hallways and looking for players is the extra motivation factor for the high school athletes. If they have the goal of playing college football they know there is a chance to be seen. This doesn’t just apply to Power Five schools. Sam makes sure to treat coaches from all levels who come to his school well and lets his players know to do the same. Free education is the goal whether that comes from Power Five, NAIA, JUCO or Division III. Having kids remember there are other paths besides Power Five can be a challenge.

“I think it all depends on your approach when it comes to recruiting,” Sam said. “I think the more proactive you are, the more realistic the kid actually is in his recruiting, I think when you aren’t proactive in your recruiting, I think that’s where the kids and parents may be unrealistic, or they feel like you’re not really doing anything for them.”

Being proactive in the recruiting process with kids is great. So is honesty. That honesty and trust goes a long way during the recruiting process for prospects and college coaches. Bellevue West coach Mike Huffman said that’s very important to keep college coaches coming back to your school.

“Well, that’s why they come back because I never lie,” Huffman said. “My parents know that and my kids know that. They have come to respect that. Especially the guys around here, Iowa State, Kansas State, Minnesota, Kansas. I don’t lie because they have asked me about all these kids. If I’ve played them, I will give them my honest opinion. After we played Westside in the semifinal, I called Nebraska. I called Minnesota and I called Iowa about Caleb Benning. That is the best tackling 10th grader I’ve ever seen. What I tell them is if I lie to you, I have more years left. I have years’ worth of kids left and I owe it to him to give them the best possible experience I can. Part of that is getting college as cheap as you can.”

Both Huffman and Sam stressed that a college coaches’ job is tied to their ability to bring in good players. If you aren’t honest in your assessment of players, it will come back to haunt you no matter how badly you want your players to get scholarship offers. It’s not about trying to hurt the kid with an honest assessment but it can also be a learning moment for them. Helping colleges make an informed decision by giving colleges the most information possible is key.

It can be tough to deliver that fair assessment to the prospects. Those tough conversations are necessary to push the process forward for kids. Both coaches have good things going at their schools. Sam had over 90 colleges from all levels stop by and Huffman had over 40. That’s a lot of opportunity for kids to showcase their abilities and get their names mentioned for possible scholarships.

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