PULLMAN – It may have lacked the festive decorations, ribboned boxes and gingerbread cookies, but April 17 came with the same glee and euphoria that’s normally reserved for Dec. 25.
That’s how John Richardson remembers it.
“Put it this way, it’s like Christmas Day,” Richardson said. “We’re very excited about it all.”
Christmas for a recruiting coordinator, at least.
On April 17, following much rumor and speculation that the NCAA would soon be lifting a recruiting dead period that had been in place since March 13, 2020, college sports’ governing body affirmed the news in a social media graphic that was promptly retweeted more than 3,000 times – mostly by people in recruiting-oriented positions like Richardson’s.
“We are delighted to announce that as of June 1, all sports will return to their normal recruiting calendars,” NCAA Council chair M. Grace Calhoun said in a statement. “We want to thank all prospective student-athletes, their families, coaches and current student-athletes for their patience as we determined the best way to move forward safely with recruiting in Division I.”
The recruiting calendar that FBS programs were following before the COVID-19 pandemic prohibits in-home visits during the month of June, which coincides with an NCAA “Quiet Period.” But starting Tuesday, prospects who’ve been on recruiting quarantine for well over a year are allowed to take official visits (a visit financed by the school) or unofficial visits until June 27.
What’s the significance of this development for WSU, a program that’s been recruiting virtually for approximately 14 months, and for 14 of the 16 months of Nick Rolovich’s tenure as the Cougars’ coach?
“We’re no longer recruiting blind,” said Richardson, who doubles as WSU’s cornerbacks coach and recruiting coordinator. “It was a unique year this year. We took all these guys without seeing them, without getting to meet them face to face, which is unique. We all know the importance of in-home visits.
“We have families who need to get to know coaches, but more importantly for us, get these kids out there live and in action, see them in their element. How do they compete? Getting out to all these different places that we have plans to do, is going to be great for us to see honest (evaluations) and in person. And these kids are excited to get out and compete as well at camps and stuff.”
Campus visits have always been essential to the recruiting formula for WSU. Without them, Rolovich and his staff have tried to convey the WSU and Pullman experience through virtual tours held over Zoom or FaceTime.
Rolovich even rode his bike through Pullman with an iPhone duct-taped to his head to give a touted quarterback prospect, Lucas Coley, a unique virtual experience.
But, as most who’ve lived through the WSU experience would testify: Pictures and videos don’t match the real thing.
Eric Wilder, a three-star offensive tackle from Syracuse, Utah, who recently narrowed down a long list of offers down to four schools – WSU, Cal, UCLA and Boise State – will be one of the first prospects to make a summer pit stop in Pullman when he visits June 17-19.
Up to this point, Wilder’s recruiting experience with the Cougars has been limited to text messages and Zoom calls. Through 10 video calls that each last approximately 30 minutes, recruits have been able to see various aspects of WSU’s campus and football facility.
Wilder says he hasn’t been bothered by an exclusively virtual recruiting experience. The 6-foot-5, 280-pounder didn’t start to draw interest until the end of his junior season at Syracuse High, so in some ways he doesn’t know the difference.
Since Jan. 29, when Utah State made Wilder his first scholarship offer, 11 other schools have followed suit. He plans to make a more informed college decision after visiting each of the schools in his top four within the next month.
“I haven’t had it too bad, so I just really started getting recruiting by any school after my season,” said Wilder, who thinks he benefitted by playing a full 10-game season in Utah – an experience many in other states didn’t get. “I never really thought about any of it. So it’s nice that we’re getting it open because ’21 weren’t able to see any of it, so it’s nice that we can go see (schools).”
From WSU’s standpoint, it may be tempting to host as many recruits as possible over the next 27 days to make up for lost time, but Rolovich cautioned volume isn’t necessarily the priority. Surely, the Cougars need to host prospects that plan to make a commitment before their senior high-school season, but those committing in the fall may not be in such a hurry and could reap the rewards of visiting during a game weekend anyway.
“I don’t know if dozens is the key,” Rolovich said. “I think we’ve got to see who’s making their decision. I think the game-day environment is something our recruits will enjoy seeing. But people who said they’re going to make their decision before their season, probably got to get them on campus in June. So, looking at camp options across the country, looking at official, unofficial visits. Then we just have to abide by the county health regulations.”
Another WSU target who’ll spend his summer jamming in recruiting visits is Charles Nimrod, a 6-3 receiver from Bentonville, Arkansas, who holds offers from the Pac-12, SEC, Big Ten and Big 12. Nimrod may have pushed up his commitment if he didn’t have a suspicion the NCAA would revert to a pre-COVID-19 recruiting calendar and allow prospects to roam the country in June.
Nimrod’s visit to WSU, set for June 10-12, is one of a handful he has on the docket for this summer. The Arkansas native is taking his three other official visits – the number permitted by the NCAA – to Kansas State, Illinois and Utah State, and he’ll make unofficial visits to nearby schools Arkansas and Arkansas State.
“I probably would’ve committed sooner because it wouldn’t have really mattered because I wouldn’t have been able to visit,” Nimrod said. “So now that I’m able to visit, I told myself I wasn’t going to commit until I actually went to the schools and visited.”
Coaches and recruits alike are happy to wave goodbye – a permanent goodbye, hopefully – to the dead period that hung over college football’s ever-growing recruiting landscape for the last 446 days.
“You get to experience it. You’re there,” Nimrod said. “You’re not just looking at pictures, trying to imagine what it’s actually like there. … I was really excited to hear that news because I’ve been looking forward to visiting schools and being able to get a feel for the environment and see everything.”