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.