BOONE — It may be said that the most important assistant coach at Appalachian State is the technology coach.
While Appalachian State’s football team is not allowed to visit the homes of potential recruits, or bring them on trips to Boone to see the App State campus, they are still allowed to contact them via phone calls or by using communication methods such as Zoom calls.
The COVID-19 virus has limited college football teams, including Appalachian State, from getting a chance to see their potential student-athletes practice or go through individual workouts. Instead, coaches must rely on game tape and electronic conversations to get an idea if they want the potential player in their program.
It also works the other way, as potential players aren’t allowed to meet with the coach at the institution before making a decision.
The one commodity App State’s coaching staff has is time. Since they are not on the field coaching or on an interstate driving to a recruit’s house, they have time to reach out to a recruit and his family.
“The biggest thing now is to contact these kids on a daily basis,” App State recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach Justin Watts said. “Most of us have probably done more recruiting than we’ve ever done before because you’re not involved in spring practice.”
There is not much else for the App State coaching staff to do than recruit. The Mountaineers held their spring practice sessions in February and got 11 workouts in before the NCAA shut down all practices for its athletic teams on March 12.
Watts said the App State coaching staff is not on campus and meet in Zoom chats two times per week. Since the recruiting class of 2020 is already signed, Watts said most of the subject matter is recruiting the 2021 class.
The coaches also are keeping track of those players who have signed to make sure they still have an interest in attending Appalachian State. Watts said he will set up a Zoom conference with himself, a specific player, his parents and with App State’s position coach for the player.
The calls last one to two hours. Watts said the disadvantage of recruiting by using Zoom is that the coaching staff can’t show the recruits and their parents the actual Appalachian State campus or the town of Boone.
“The biggest difference is that we are not able to leave our campus and we are not allowed to bring these young men to our campus,” Watts said. “It’s a lot of FaceTime calls. We’re trying to get relationships with this cross-section of parents without being able to see them in person.”
NCAA rules prohibit Watts to talk specifically about players who have committed to play at Appalachian State, but he did say that the volume of players who have committed is actually up.
Watts credited the fact that App State finished ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press poll and was on national television three times, including the Mountaineers’ 20-15 win at South Carolina, which was on ESPN2. App State also beat Louisiana 45-38 on ESPN in the Sun Belt Conference championship game.
Watts feels recruiting electronically has the advantage of being able to see the recruit and his parents that phone calls don’t allow. He still prefers the method of bringing the family to campus, which he feels helps make the final sale.
It also does not replace the availability of hosting camps or attending camps on other campuses. Not having the camps means the coaching staff must rely on game film of prep football games and doesn’t give the coaches an up-close look at a student-athlete.
Camps are usually held in June and July. App State hosted five camps and visited five camps at other campuses last season. Teams are allowed to either host or visit up to 10 camps per year. Watts does not know if App State, or any other programs, would even host camps this summer.
In previous years, coaches could also watch potential recruits participate in their spring practice sessions. Watts said those practices allow coaches to see how potential players move and showcase their athleticism first-hand.
“There’s nothing better than seeing a kid doing it live,” Watts said. “You know in your heart that the kid is good enough and now we’re just going off of a film evaluation.”
Watts said the lack of visits also makes it hard for potential players to analyze what a campus looks and feels like.
“It’s hard to say ‘Hey, I’m going to go to a college that you’ve never been,’” Watts said.
Watts said there is a frustration level with the coaching staff in that things are different.
“Everybody’s frustrated in that you’re not doing what you’ve normally done in your coaching career,” Watts said.