Outside the Lines: The Grayshirt Market
The high-stakes world of high-school football recruiting has always been a tense battleground for college football's elite coaching staff. Having to negotiate the dangerous game of recruiting doublespeak, depth chart engineering, and public relations while tiptoeing the ever-delicate line between success and NCAA violation is a daunting task. In the past, coaches relegated much of these risks by adhering to an unspoken code of recruiting conduct. Today, with football and personal fortunes reaching dizzying heights, that code is facing its strongest test yet. It's called poaching, once almost unheard of within the coaching fraternity, and is the ethically questionable practice is fast becoming de rigeur among top programs. With another special report for FireMarkMay, Outside the Lines joins one such coach as he hunts for prospects.
Coming off a national championship, recruiting should come easy for Florida University coach Urban Meyer. Unable to rest on his laurels, driven by a burning desire to succeed, he relentlessly searches the open plains of the college football landscape, stalking his next prospect. Outside the Lines was offered an exclusive look at this process, and I, for one, was shocked with what we saw.
The morning started early. Waking up at 3:30 am to catch a flight out of Gainesville, FL, we catch a flight to central Africa, specifically the Winabi region of the Serengeti. Tipped off that a local recruit is wavering on his verbal agreement to the Crimson Tide of Alabama, Coach Meyer quickly arranged for a home visit, hoping to sway the recruit to join his already highly-ranked recruiting class. To the victor goes the spoils, as the saying goes, and he is looking to make the most of his recruiting advantage. Over the course of 12-hour trip, we discuss various plans of attack and it is decided that Urban will focus mainly on the level of talent being amassed at Florida as well as the openness of the depth chart to allow starting time at almost any position. After checking in with his assistant coaches via BlackBerry and his trusty laptop, Meyer's talk quickly turns to which caliber sidearm he will travel with, as well as final tranquilizing preparations.
At first, I was confused. Then, after a short trip with our local guide, Urudu, I finally realized why such precautions were being taken. We met up with the recruit, 5-star athlete, Albert "Stampy" Stampson, at his family's watering hole, just north of Harambi on the western grasslands. We approached quietly as not to startle him, and Coach Meyer made his case quickly with a 12-gauge dart gun and a following volley of blowdarts from Urudu. Stampy was immediately convinced and was lashed to our Land Rover's elephant hitch for easy transport, another commit for Florida in the bag.
On the flight home, I questioned this ethically gray practice while Urban removed Stampson's resplendent ivory tusks. I still had my issues with the practice, but I will say that I found the experience hauntingly beautiful.
Bob Ley is FireMarkMay's journalistic street cred. He plagiarizes no man.
Photo courtesy of Blue Gray Sky.