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Visit Season

For fall sports, we are in the middle of visit season.  Recruits are visiting college campuses for both official and unofficial visits.  Most of the time these visits fall on game days.  Recruits get to see behind the curtains at what goes into the preparation for a real college contest.  These visits are a critical recruiting tool for coaching staffs hoping to make a big impression on the athletes high on their recruiting boards. chronicled how the University of Notre Dame and the University of Florida handle these visits.

Big-game weekends provide an opportunity for colleges to showcase their programs, and they give recruits a game-day experience at a school they are considering. Whether it’s the best time for a prospect to use his official visit to that school is certainly up for debate, but there is no question that hosting prospects on a big weekend is a powerful way to sell a program and all that goes into a football Saturday.

So it’s significant when Notre Dame hosts Southern California on Saturday for the third time during the Charlie Weis era, there again will be a slew of talented prospects in South Bend for the game, many of whom will be taking unofficial visits.

“Obviously, it’s a big game for us and a big game for college football,” said Fighting Irish recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello, who has been with the program since Weis was hired in late 2004. “Kids like to see big games, so naturally kids want to be at this one. It’s an event. People are coming in for the event and hopefully they see Notre Dame at its finest.”

The Irish have had great success signing prospects who visit for the game with the Trojans. In the Class of 2006, seven players from six different states who visited for the 2005 USC game ended up inking with Notre Dame. In the Class of 2008, three from three different states signed with the Irish, including standout receiver Michael Floyd.

Ianello added that Notre Dame always signs a high percentage of players it brings in for official visits. Schools are allowed 56 official visits per NCAA rules, and the Fighting Irish rarely bring in that many.

“We are usually in the 38-40 range,” Ianello said.

Florida recruiting coordinator and receivers coach Billy Gonzales, the person largely responsible for bringing Percy Harvin to Florida, remembers the electric receiver’s experience in The Swamp and the lasting impression it made.

Harvin made his official visit to Florida on the weekend of Sept. 16-18, 2005. On Saturday night, the Gators hosted SEC East rival Tennessee in a prime-time, nationally televised game and won 16-7. The crowd at The Swamp was loud from start to finish, and head coach Urban Meyer earned his first signature victory as the Gators’ head coach.

Harvin’s signing with Florida “was big,” Gonzales said. “I remember him vividly saying, ‘I am sitting next to my mom and screaming to the top of my lungs and she could not hear what I was saying.’ That obviously had a tremendous impact on him coming here. Of course, he took other official visits during that recruiting cycle and we signed Tim Tebow, so that helped too.”

Big-game weekends are prime opportunities for coaching staffs to bring in and impress top talent.

“It’s something we sit down and take a look at as a staff at the end of each recruiting cycle,” Gonzales said. “We go over who visited and when and if it worked or not.”

“There are a lot of pluses,” Gonzales said. “The game atmosphere certainly is one of them. The negative is that you only get to spend a limited amount of time with a recruit and their family when they come in during the season because you are preparing your team. You are going through the walk-through and getting ready to play. If you play an 8 p.m. game, by the time you get through, it’s 11 p.m. or so and there just isn’t a lot of time to spend with the recruits and their families.

“If you come in here after the season is over, then the time works out better in terms of spending time with recruits and their families.”

So it’s not like having recruits attend a big game is the only way to land them. In the Class of 2009, Gonzales signed Under Armour All-American Andre DeBose (Sanford, Fla./Seminole). DeBose did not visit until Jan. 23 and committed to the Gators two weeks earlier at the Under Armour All-American game. This recruiting cycle, the highest-ranked prospect in the ESPNU150 to set an official visit to Florida, linebacker Jordan Hicks (West Chester, Ohio/Lakota West)), will visit the Gators the second weekend in January.

Gonzales says it works best when prospects visit unofficially during the summer and then get to return to Gainesville for their official visits and are already familiar with the program, the campus and having spent the quality time with the coaching staff. Harvin had come in for an unofficial during the summer.

I’d like to make three extremely important points about the article.  One, just because this article focuses on Division I, doesn’t mean that visits don’t occur at every level.  In fact, visiting a smaller school shows a coach how much you are interested in a program, not just a ticket to a big-time match up.

Two, that the Unofficial Visit often sets up the Official Visits.  As Rob Ianello pointed out, schools save their Official visits for their very best recruits that they have offered or are very close to offering scholarships.  Therefore, its critical that recruits start the recruiting process early.

Finally, recruits should take not of how much value coaching staffs place on these visits.  If they take so much time to prepare, shouldn’t recruits do the same?  You bet!  That is how NCSA  pushes our student-athletes over the top.  NCSA gets the recruits name out early and then leads the recruit through our curriculum so they know exactly how to conduct themselves on visits.

If you are a student-athlete hoping to get recruited, take my advice;  Don’t settle for watching recruits on the sidelines on your TV.  Join them at the right school for you!

About the author
Aaron Sorenson