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Importance of the Intangibles in the Recruiting Process

 College coaches continually look for the ideal athlete for each position on the football team. The vitally important physical elements such as height, weight, speed, quickness, leaping ability, change of direction, strength, and technical skills are among the characteristics evaluated by coaches before making that highly sought after scholarship offer.

It’s amazing, however, how often the players and the teams that seem to have an abundance of physical talent doesn’t necessarily transfer to success on the gridiron. There are other factors or elements I call the intangibles which can indeed be the difference between being mediocre and being exceptional. Intangibles are the things an athlete possesses or the behavior he exhibits that take absolutely no physical talent but are crucial to success. These intangibles are sometimes difficult to measure but any college coach will tell you they are worth their weight in gold.

Effort: It doesn’t take any physical talent to go all out every play. For example, coaches look for the running back that fights for every inch of turf or the defensive lineman that turns and runs downfield after the pass is thrown to get in pursuit of the football. The term finish also relates to giving effort. The offensive lineman that stays with his block or sprints to get a croossfield block even though he is backside of the play is an example of a finisher. Even though coaches can emphasize giving great effort, more often than not it is an intrinsic quality the athlete himself possesses and what brings it out is the personal pride and self-discipline the athlete demands of himself.

It was the early fall of 2000 when we still had one scholarship to offer to a defensive lineman. We had trouble deciding between three players for the final grant-in-aid. They all were about the same size and had similar talents; the decision was a tough one to make. I kept watching film trying to find something that would make one guy stand out above the rest. Finally it happened; with just a few seconds left in a game that was all but over, one of the guys I was evaluating broke through and blocked an extra point even though his team was well ahead. He didn’t have to do that; he could have taken the play off. We ended up offering him the scholarship even though he was from a much smaller school than the other two linemen. The players name was Tim Anderson and he ended up being a three year starter and a third round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills. A play that meant nothing ended up meaning everything. Effort in football can’t be over emphasized.

Leadership: Too many times leadership is determined by how “rah rah” a player is on the field. Sometimes the best leadership is not vocal; leadership by example can be just as meaningful and just as productive as how loud someone can yell in an attempt to motivate the team. Coaches look for players that perform on and off the gridiron in a manner other players will hopefully emulate. Of course coaches love that guy that that is both vocal and can back up what he says and what he demands of his teammates by his own actions.

Team Attitude: All mature athletes realize that team glory brings about individual recognition. It’s not easy for a player that has been heavily recruited and continually told how great he is to keep his head on straight. College recruiting coaches are impressed by the athletes who give credit to others. Team players use the word “we” a lot more than the word “I”. NFL owners spend thousands of dollars on experts who try and determine if a certain player will be an asset or a detriment to the team. In a sport where longevity is rare, coaches really do not like dealing with self-centered individuals.

Intelligence: Not every athlete can be an “A” student in the classroom but coaches expect the player to become a student of the game. The better a player understands the game, the more apt he is to make smart decisions on the field. By studying alignments, stances, splits, etc. a player can better realize what the opponent is going to do after the snap of the football. Coaches are more likely to recruit an athlete that proves he understands the game than gamble on someone who is unproven.

College coaches are under a lot of pressure to bring in good, solid recruits. Physical talents and skills are a huge part of the equation but coaches are looking for the “entire package” in the young men they bring to campus. More times than not, it’s the intangibles that determine the true success of an individual and of a team.

Bill Conley worked at Ohio State for 17 years as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.

About the author
Aaron Sorenson


  • Bill

    That’s a great story and what I see my son do all the time! It drives me crazy as a coach when a player doesn’t finish. You can only tell them so many times, right???

    By the way, my son’s team lost a game recently, and had 2 games left in the season. He text 60 guys on Sat and told them the season starts on Sunday…we have two games left…practice 10:00am…be there. He did this on his own and told no one…just him and the players!!!

    ps – I was the the one who gave that talk at your sales kick off meeting last summer. GO BUCKS!

    Skip and Kyle Miller

  • Great letter and I could not agree with you more about each aspect you mentioned. Having a senior who has now finished his 12th year of football is now looking at “giving it up” because no one at his local high school encouraged him nor is supporting him to continue his talents in college. My son was a three-year starting (and full time) varsity QB with 10th and 11th year All-State honors. Winning seasons in all three years. Only thing was, my son wasn’t a “rah rah” player so his leadership skills were not vocal mostly due to the fact that he has a speach impediment.
    Immediately after his junior year season (another year where his stats were in the top 1 or 2% in the area), his head coach states to me that his performance is down this year due to his belief that he is not acting like a leader. This, just after the team had a disappointing season of 7-3 and not making state playoffs. I argued with him about what does constitute a leader? “Leadership by example is just as meaningful…” is what you believe and this is just what I replied to him one year ago. It is sad that many coaches can’t see the true talents of individuals like my son because they “don’t fit the mold of what they feel is a true leader/player.”
    Even though my son is well-known in this area for being a three-sport standout athlete, with the attitude and intellegence you so elloquently identify, he is not even called upon to meet with college football recruiting teams at his own highschool.
    All of his dedication to offseason training, attending combines and camps and being a reliable, respectable player isn’t paying off for my son at this school, with these coaches. No wonder he just feels like giving up. So much wasted talent, wasted at this point.

  • Farris,

    It sounds to me like you haven’t been a part of the NCSA family. If you have are you new to NCSA? One of the things our family has learned through NCSA is that the responsibilty of getting recruited by colleges and Universities lies with you and your son. You cannot wait for someone else to do it for you. Our family learned the hard way.

    I used to think that the coaches at our High School and our A.D. were not doing their job also, after my Son and older daughter were ignored by college teams. Truth is I was wrong. We have a sophomore in high school right now and we are getting tremendous support through NCSA. I would encourage you to go to their website and watch the videos available. It is not for everybody but if your family thinks your son is college material it is worth it. Good Luck!!!

  • I love this story, I dont want to try to buy my way in, but Im a current student athlete at Westorange high school in orlando,fl /wintergarden. I was a Junior on the Junior varsity football team as a second string running back. I tried my best to get known cause I know I was the fastest runningback on my team. For some reason none of my coaches didnt recognize my true talent. I just need motivation, because people would always tell me that there isnt a future for me, and I love football,its my life! I hope that puttig all my effort in running every day that I have been doing for 5-6 hours will show that im willing take the next level. If any body is reading this, just tell me something so I can keep my head up. THANKYOU!

  • Jenkens there comes a time in every man’s life when he has to be his own coach/parent motivator. I hope you can step up and challenege yourself to go beyond your own abilities to do more than you have done before, to improve your endurance and drive, to be better than you were yesterday. Eat well, work hard, get rest, and record your improvements. Contact college coaches give them your schedule invite them to your games. Do good in school, it’s true that coaches are required to bring students that will success. Be that student. You can do all this and more! Good Luck!