There is no manual for recruiting during a pandemic.
So when Missouri’s football coaches met in mid-April, nearly one month after the start of an extended in-person recruiting dead period, they developed a plan.
“When the spring evaluation period would have kicked off, all of us were on the phones with the coaches in St. Louis, and then we were on the phone with the coaches throughout the state of Missouri,” running backs coach Curtis Luper said Wednesday in a Zoom call with reporters. “So we made ourselves available and accessible, and we got to know as many people as we could. We just fostered really good relationships.”
Since April 25, Missouri has received commitments from 11 recruits in the class of 2021, a class that ranks No. 20 in the country, according to Rivals. Some commits, such as tight end Ryan Hoerstkamp, visited campus before the pandemic, while others didn’t have that opportunity and were brought in virtually.
“We had to immediately re-figure that train of thought,” tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Casey Woods said last week. “How do you present somebody an opportunity to be on campus when you can’t be on campus? I thought our entire building rose to the occasion on that.”
According to Woods, that came down to the athletic department’s IT staff ensuring a strong WiFi connection on Zoom calls. It meant the team’s equipment manager coming into the facilities to give tours multiple times a day, Woods said.
In a coaches meeting Wednesday morning, Luper said that coach Eliah Drinkwitz emphasized the importance of staying in contact with Missouri’s committed athletes because they “are the most important to us.” According to Luper, the coaching staff holds meetings almost weekly with the 2021 commits.
“We actually have better relationships now with those that have committed to us, than we would have had had there not been a pandemic because we have a lot more interaction than we would have,” Luper said.
According to a USA Today report on May 11, Missouri’s success at getting commitments from recruits is part of a larger trend in college football. At that time, more than 600 players had committed to FBS programs, double the number from 2019.
“Some of that is attributed to uncertainty on the prospect’s part because they don’t know if their spot is going to be available or not,” Woods said. “But I also think we have more of a concentrated effort to show these guys what we have without traveling and driving in a car eight hours a day and visiting eight schools and then tell them, ‘Hey, man, you’ve got to get to campus.’”
“These guys now are more educated than the previous classes.”
Despite much of Missouri’s recruiting success being attributed to the coaching staff, Luper said that players have been crucial, too.
“They’re with us every day. They live our culture. They can perpetuate our culture, and they can help us recruit better than anyone,” Luper said. “Then, the second-best recruiters are the ones that are committed to your class. Because ultimately, they want the best class that they can get.”
Drinkwitz’s recruiting philosophy has always put an emphasis on the home state. But beyond its borders, Missouri is focusing on players within a 450-mile radius and those in Dallas, Chicago and Denver because of Columbia Regional Airport’s direct flights to those cities.
“We don’t want to over-extend ourselves,” Drinkwitz said last week. “We don’t want to get in battles that we may not be able to win down, specifically, in the southeast. Mizzou has an opportunity to recruit in the Midwest with the SEC logo and be successful. At the same time, we are in the middle of the middle.
“I can get to anywhere in the country. If there’s a connection to Mizzou and the SEC and somebody’s lifelong dream is to be a Mizzou Tiger, then we will make a way for them to recruit.”