Few decisions in life are more impactful than choosing a college.
That is especially true for the thousands of high school student-athletes hoping to play football at the next level, and it is a decision that has been made even more difficult by the restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The same can be said for the people whose job it is to help lure those kids to their respective programs, people like Iowa State director of player personnel, Derek Hoodjer.
“The biggest thing so far has just been not being able to have recruits on campus,” Hoodjer, who has been with the Iowa State football program since 2012, told Cyclone Fanatic in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “We haven’t been able to go out on the road yet, obviously. We wouldn’t have been able to go out until April 15 anyway so that hasn’t necessarily changed anything, but it is certainly going to and we’re not going to get out on the road. So just from a standpoint of not being able to get kids onto campus and not being able to get out and evaluate kids at spring practices or at their school track meets or things like that. So we’re trying to accomplish those things as far as showing them what Iowa State is while further doing further evaluation in different ways than we ever have before.”
The April 15 date Hoodjer mentioned would have marked the beginning of the spring evaluation period, a crucial time for college programs searching for their next batch of hopeful stars. It will also be impactful for the kids who are still trying to earn scholarship offers or opportunities at the next level with, as it stands right now, fewer chances to prove themselves in a face-to-face setting.
Restrictions on travel and other things during this unprecedented social climate put into question the all-important camp season, which also plays a crucial role in college football evaluations, especially for younger athletes looking to get in front of college coaches.
That lack of evaluation time has Hoodjer and the Iowa State recruiting staff searching for different ways to accomplish the same goals as during a traditional recruiting cycle.
“If we don’t have camp, we’ll work around it. If we do have camp, we’ll be ready to do that as well,” Hoodjer said. “Ultimately, you’ve got to find a way to evaluate the kids who are going to be seniors as well as the younger guys, and the good thing is we do have a lot of videotape on them. Then we’ll just continue to use whatever resources we have and adjust accordingly depending on how this all shakes out.”
Utilizing those resources has primarily come in the form of spending more time on the phone than during a standard recruiting period in order to continue building the relationships that are the central piece of recruiting. Hoodjer has played a primary role in Iowa State’s efforts scheduling calls between coaches and recruits to keep that relationship-building moving forward.
“It’s just constant communication whether it’s calls, texts or FaceTime,” Hoodjer said. “We’re just trying to continue to build relationships with kids and families and answer any questions that they have via that route. Then, whether it be graphics or videos, trying to get stuff into their hands to let them know a little bit more about us.”
At the end of the day, college football recruiting is certainly not one of the things in the center of most people’s focus considering the million other things happening on a daily basis in a new reality most of us are still trying to navigate.
But, it is a critical thing for the future of young men across the country hoping to showcase their talents on the gridiron at the next level. Getting there just requires working through an already difficult process during an even more difficult time.
“I think it’s different for everyone. Some kids have already taken a bunch of visits. Some kids haven’t. Some kids have been in the process and being recruited for a long time. Some it is just getting started. So it’s a little bit dependent on where they’re at,” Hoodjer said. “Pretty much everyone is handling it well and spending a lot more time on the phone probably and spending a lot more time virtually trying to learn about places rather than actually going and experiencing it, but everybody is handling it pretty well.”