Talent is usually the determining factor in whether a high school player is highly sought after, but at West Point, aka Army ... it's a lot more than that when it comes to recruiting for the Black Knights' football program.
And although many college football players from across the country may embrace the comments of Ohio State's backup quarterback, Cardale Jones who shared his feeling surrounding the purpose for attending college on his Twitter account ... "Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play football, we ain't come to play school, classes are pointless."
However at Army, the X-factors are academics, character and beyond.
And finding players who have all of the aforementioned is a never-ending quest on the recruiting trail for the Black Knights' coaching staff.
Hence, for Army Recruiting Coordinator and running backs coach, Tucker Waugh, being at West Point makes it more challenging compared to those perennial Top 25 teams, who don't always have to concern themselves with finding, recruiting and selecting those well-rounded prospects who produce on the gridiron, classroom and the community.
So with that comes the challenge that Army faces, which is trying to find the right formula for winning, developing leaders and of course graduation of its players, where the latter two are the norm for the Army football program.
GoBlackKnights.com caught up with Coach Waugh for a period of one-on-one to discuss where the Black Knights' coaching staff is relative to the recruiting trail, the staff's recruiting philosophy, attracting bigger linemen, particularly at defensive tackle and of course, how does the staff overcome the disappointing 2012 season while attempting to attract quality talent.
When asked what is presently unfolding with recruiting, Waugh had this to offer. "Right now we are in the middle of an evaluation period," he declared. "Which means that we can do what I'm doing right now ... several of the staff members can go out and travel, usually on Thursdays or Fridays at the end of the week. However, what the staff can not do is visit with the any recruit face to face. They can conduct academic and/or athletic evaluations via watching a game or practice."
With NCAA limitations surrounding this current phase of recruiting, Waugh and his fellow coaches continue to work diligently to find the right type of "student-athlete" for the Black Knights' program. "Hence, all of our conversations at this point the process has been on the telephone and doing research through the players' guidance counselors and coach."
Waugh does admit that once such a player is identified, and with the specific requirements attached to admission to West Point, along connecting with a prospect with the hopes of him embracing not only the football program, but the institution as a whole ... isn't easy work.
"I wouldn't say that it's a challenge, but I would say that West Point is a great place to sell," says Waugh. "I've been doing this a long time a West Point and almost right away I can tell who's the right kind of guy and who's not the right kind of guy.
And what is that right kind of guy for the Black Knights? "Obviously we are looking for a Division I football player," adds the recruiting coordinator. "Those that are capable of beating the best people on our schedule. And obviously they have to be academically qualified either for a direct admission to West Point or to the prep school (USMAPS). Additionally, the thing that makes us so unique is that they have to have some kind of desire to explore that service aspect of West Point. In my mind they don't need to know what that is, but they need to think that it's a pretty cool thing to in some capacity relish the idea of being an Army officer after graduation and serve your nation. And if that makes sense to a guy, then West Point is a wonderful place. There's a lot of reasons to come to West Point. There's big time college football, there's the academics ... it's the number one public school in the country; there's the facilities that have been ranked No. 1 in the United States."
"But none of that makes any sense unless he is interested in becoming an Army officer and if he is ... there's no better place."
This season, perhaps more than many in years past, exposed some the Black Knights' handicaps. One in particular was the quickness and speed factor, that suggest that Army is still 1 or 2 steps behind their opponents at the various skilled positions, although Waugh embraces the method in which the program identifies and recruits such players.
"We strongly believe in our evaluation process to identify athleticism and that happens in a lot of different ways," says Waugh, who also addressed the physicality of prospects recruited into the program. "We feel like over the last few years, we've improved our athleticism, quiet honestly at all positions. As far as the toughness aspect or hard-nose football player aspect ... I've been a football coach for twenty-years and a lot guys on our staff for longer than that and we're looking for all of those things that make a West Point cadet, but if he's not a hard-nose buy that absolutely loves to play football and regardless of what position he plays ... if he doesn't enjoy knocking somebody down between the whistles, then we are just going to move on to the next guy."
"That (being physical) is absolutely part of the equation. It's not the entire equation like it may be at some other schools, but it's absolutely part of it. So, we're looking for that guy that absolutely loves to play the game, just as much as anybody else in the country."
National recruiting versus Northeast recruiting
There is little question that Army's recruiting is on the national level. But Waugh was quick to speak on the subject of some of the surrounding regions, such as New Jersey that are deep in talent, but not always reflected proportionally on the Black Knights' roster.
"My experience at West Point is that you recruit the whole country, but an Army football player can come from anywhere," adds Waugh. "There's no one place that we favor more than any other. We'll go anywhere to find a player and have found them in the least likely of places at times."
"I agree with you that New Jersey is a place that good football players, but that is not the absolute equation for a West Point football player," continues Waugh. "But we feel that we have great relationships with the high school coaches in the state of New Jersey. We have worked it hard, we have produce some results in that state and we'll continue to work it hard. And we will continue to enhance those relationships and look for the right players. It's a very important state for us to recruit."
Getting Bigger Up Front
If you ask any Army fan what they believe to be the team's Achilles Heel, especially defensively ... the majority would point to the Black Knights' lack of size on the defensive line, especially at nose guard or tackle.
So, when asked what was the challenge of recruiting bigger linemen for the Army staff, Waugh provided his insight on the subject.
"I think that's a challenge for anyone in college football ... to find a guy with that size and the degree of athleticism that we're looking for," declares Waugh. "That's the hardest thing for anybody to find, including us. But we're out here looking hard for that kind of guy, certainly."
Currently, the staff is in Evaluation Period, which concludes the first Sunday after Thanksgiving. Then they move to a contact period, where they will begin to take in home visits with the prospects.
Then for the months of December and January, along with the early part of February the cycle transitions into official visit period. This of course is where the staff will invite the prospects and their families to come to West Point and spend the weekend..
With all of the aforementioned recruiting "challenges" that the staff is faced with, none may be more glaring than the underachieving 2012 season.
Tough Season vs. Recruiting = Change of Strategy?
So with that, has the staff had to change the method of recruiting under the circumstances of this year's football campaign?
"No, not at all," says the very forthright Waugh. "People come to West Point for a lot of reasons. I walk in to every week and every recruit like we are going to win the next game. That's the attitude you gotta have. I absolutely believe in what we're doing programmatically and I think the recruits do as well."
"We have a lot of interest right now and I believe that will continue."
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