Boise State coaches recruit under pressure

Football team finalizes 21-player recruiting class in just 31 days.

ccripe@idahostatesman.comFebruary 6, 2014 

Harsin's press conference to discuss the Boise State football team's recruiting class.


New coach Bryan Harsin promised to operate the Boise State program like it’s perpetually fourth-and-1.

His staff recruited for the past month as if the coaches were in a 2-minute drill.

That combination of frantic energy — just look at their breathless tweets from the recruiting trail — and a sense of purpose culminated Wednesday in the unveiling of a 21-man recruiting class that exceeded expectations and returned a sense of forward momentum to a program that was reeling in December from a disappointing season, bowl blowout and departing coaching staff.

The class includes one top-100 recruit, two other players listed as four-star prospects by at least one recruiting service, an intriguing collection of defensive linemen (six), a bruising bunch of offensive linemen (four) and a pair of quarterbacks the coaches say were underappreciated.

“The coaches did an amazing job making our 2014 class No. 1 in the Mountain West,” said defensive end Jabril Frazier, who turned down multiple Pac-12 offers.

Harsin and Co. did it in just 31 days as a full staff. Many of the assistants arrived in Boise on Jan. 6, the day after they helped Arkansas State win a bowl game. There wasn’t a second to waste — and the coaches knew it.

A lengthy dead period, when coaches weren’t allowed to have in-person contact with recruits, ended Jan. 16. Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford and tight ends coach Eliah Drinkwitz took that date quite literally.

Each showed up at a prospect’s door at 12:01 a.m.

Drinkwitz visited Coeur d’Alene High tight end Chase Blakley, a longtime Washington commit considered one of the best tight ends in the country.

Blakley didn’t tell him then, but he said Wednesday on Boise State’s Signing Day radio show that Drinkwitz won him over with that appearance.

“To be different, coach Sanford and I decided we would go show up at some people’s houses at 12:01,” Drinkwitz said on the radio. “That resonated with the family.”

For the ensuing 20 days, coaches raced around the country to find, evaluate and recruit players — a process that usually spans a year or more.

Harsin was unable to do home visits with at least nine of the 21 signees, including all of the guys who are from the eastern half of the country and both quarterbacks — yet those players and their families hopped onboard.

Coaches hit the road each week with a plan, Harsin said, and the support staff in Boise redirected them as necessary to make sure they saw every recruit they could and avoided unintentional overlaps. Along the way, coaches watched video on their phones to cross-check each other’s discoveries.

“We were in a lot of places,” Harsin said. “It was ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles,’ that’s how it was for most of the time. It was fun. … I wouldn’t say we had the best flight prices and things like that because of what we had to do.”

The coaches eschewed the usual recruiting-territory assignments for a more simplistic attack.

“It was just, ‘Go,’ ” Harsin said.

They approached the class with clear goals in terms of the positions where they needed players. Harsin identified three key areas: quarterback (the Broncos were down to two on scholarship), defensive line (only one starter returns) and offensive line (three starters graduated).

Sanford set out on the quarterback odyssey. Quarterbacks often commit in the summer before their senior years — if not the spring.

Sanford chased at least two elite recruits — K.J. Carta-Samuels, who decommitted from Vanderbilt and signed with Washington, and Brad Kaaya, who visited Boise State but held firm with Miami.

Then he flew to Florida to watch Alex Ogle throw. The Jensen Beach (Fla.) High quarterback is 6-foot-3, 205 pounds — Harsin and Sanford wanted tall and stout — with a strong arm. His stats are underwhelming, playing at a school that fired its coach early this season, but Ogle impressed Sanford — first with his ability, during a workout with his receivers, and then with his personality, during a meal at Steak ‘n Shake.

Ogle received, and accepted, a scholarship offer on the spot. He did not have a clear backup option.

“I was just blown away by his arm talent,” Sanford said on the radio. “He makes all the throws. He’s one of those guys if the location was just a bit off, it wasn’t acceptable to him. He was competing for a scholarship essentially and didn’t back down from the challenge. He was cool — cool, calm and collected.”

Back in California, where 12 of the recruits played high school or junior college football, the coaches often arrived in tandem to visit recruits.

And it wasn’t always planned.

Several coaches showed up to watch offensive lineman Andres Preciado of Imperial Beach, Calif., play basketball. That made an impression on the 6-foot-6 honor student and class president.

Only offensive line coach Scott Huff was scheduled to attend.

“We’ve got time. We can go to the hotel and try to relax or go get something done,” Harsin said. “For that, it probably made a huge difference. We had quite a few of us there and it was important. For me personally, it was great to have a chance to see him.”

That on-the-road grind filled with recruiting victories and disappointments led to shouts of glee from the coaches when the first letter of intent — Ogle’s — crossed the fax machine Wednesday morning. The school announced him at 5:19 a.m.

It also led to a little pre-press conference humor. As the staff prepared the team meeting room for Harsin’s arrival, they placed four different energy drinks next to the microphone.

“It was a fun experience getting to this point,” Harsin said.

And, he hopes, an unusual one.

It’s his second straight ambush-style recruiting class because he was a new coach at Arkansas State in 2013.

“After two years of this,” Harsin said, “I’m done with that. I want to get in there and have a chance to get established.”

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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