COVID-19 forces college recruiters to be creative

Recruiting players and talent at the collegiate level is an ever-evolving business.

Changes occur in the way talent is evaluated, and the way scouts and coaches determine the potential of a player is more scientific with each passing year.

The utilization of sophisticated statistical metrics, game film, looking at the level of the players competing in high school, the region they are from, and whether they are fit for the type of system the coach runs in conjunction with choosing the right fit for the player makes scouting anything but exact.

There are too many variables involved to know whether a player at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (smaller colleges), junior college or NCAA major-college levels will excel in the given space.

The pattern of scouting has become increasingly more difficult over the years.

Beginning around 2000, players started to take advantage of the internet and began emailing coaches with inquires while trying to find the right fit.

The advancement of video technology allowed players to produce higher-quality highlight packages, gaining extended visibility to sell themselves to prospective colleges.

The internet created more opportunities. The advent of social media further advanced the business of scouting, with applications like Hudl.com that allowed even more chances for players to be seen, and scouting departments to find the players that fit well into their systems and colleges.

The byproduct of having more opportunities is it creates more competition.

The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the business of scouting again.

Willamette University football coach Isaac Parker, who is originally from Wahiawa, O‘ahu, graduated from the Kamehameha Schools in Kapalama and has family on Kaua‘i, is having to come up with creative ways to recruit players.

Being familiar with the level of talent from all of the islands including Kaua‘i, Parker has made a strong effort to find talent on all of the islands.

He currently has three players with Hawai‘i ties, including Kapa‘a High alumni Daniel Higa, who plays on the offensive line. The other two players from last season’s roster include quarterback Seth Beach (Hawai‘i Preparatory Academy) and FB Jalvin Sato (Panuhou).

During a typical recruiting season, Parker and his staff are extremely busy trying to find recruits to build up his program.

Now they have to recreate a campus visit, and Parker, one of only a handful of Hawaiian-born head football coaches at the college level, is presented with a challenge trying to build his college program to national prominence.

Parker even mentioned the use of virtual reality to try to simulate the look and the feel of the campus, but admits there is no adequate substitute to seeing the site in person.

“The positive thing out of this is that we do things that we normally wouldn’t,” Parker said. “Our coaching staff has more time to think and focus on the little things that we think are good ideas, and that we normally don’t know if we would accomplish because it didn’t seem like a high priority in previously normal life that now is a priority.”

Parker made a connection to some of the heightened security measures taken at airports in our post-9/11 life, when flying restrictions became more advanced.

“There is no substitute to being here in Salem, Oregon, seeing the campus and smelling it for the first time,” Parker said. “There should be an interesting long-term impact on it. The technology is available, and VR (virtual reality) may be used more than it already is.”

Currently, Parker has five kids he is looking at from Hawai‘i as prospective recruits.

Their visit is complicated because of new travel restrictions.

“We have five kids who planned on visiting the campus before this all went down,” Parker said. “Sometimes this is their first time to the mainland or Oregon, and for some, it is their first trip to the Pacific Northwest. You can’t get that experience through a computer screen or a phone. Visiting the campus and getting that experience to see what makes the space unique” requires an in-person visit.

Where there is a will, there is a way, and college coaches are certainly some of the most innovative people on the planet. This crisis may have accelerated not only the use of our technology to do things differently than before, but also accelerated us into a new world.

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Jason Blasco, sports reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or jblasco@thegardenisland.com.

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