The arm-twisting, the politicking, it all puts a lot of pressure on a teenage kid. When Keanon Cooper was deciding where to play college football, he was surprised by the relentless hard sell he faced, trying to persuade him to be a Gopher.
Not by the Gophers or their coaches. By his own high school teammates.
"Da'Jon [McKnight], Troy [Stoudermire], Spencer [Reeves], they all tried to get me to commit. They committed early, and then they kept saying, 'C'mon, you've got to come with us,' " the senior linebacker said of his days at Skyline High School in Dallas. "I didn't want them to push me."
Cooper visited Texas Tech, Kansas and Kansas State before finally relenting, giving then-coach Tim Brewster a highly visible four-man haul from one of Texas' most successful high schools, the backbone of Brewster's most celebrated recruiting class. And when he arrived in the Twin Cities, Cooper says, the presence of three close friends turned the freshman dorm into Texas North, and helped eliminate the apprehension of living 850 miles from home.
"You never know what the factor is that will make up each kid's mind. They're hearing from a lot of different people," said Gophers coach Jerry Kill, who will sign his first full class of recruits to letters of intent Wednesday.
Kill's class, assuming those who have verbally committed back it up with signatures, likely will include a couple of long-distance pairs of recruits. Running back Rodrick Williams Jr. and defensive tackle Scott Ekpe, teammates at Lewisville (Texas) High just north of Dallas, have committed to Minnesota. And the Gophers were once pursuing four players from Miami Central High, according to the recruiting website Gophers Illustrated, though only linebacker Brian Nicholson and defensive end Jordan Hinojosa are still likely headed here.
In the latter case, the common thread was Gophers linebacker coach Bill Miller, well-known in the South Florida metro area from his days as an assistant at the University of Miami, and a longtime recruiter in the area.
"He recruited me out of high school, and that's important. I know from my own experience with him that my guys will be taken care of," said Miami Central coach Telly Lockette, who led the Rockets to a runner-up finish in Florida's Class 6A tournament. "He's a great guy, so I trust him. I know it will be a good situation for the kids. And having two kids there -- they get along real well -- it won't seem like a foreign country to them."
That's an important factor, one that Cooper remembers well. He tends to remain quiet around strangers, Cooper said, so he feared it would take a long time to make new friends. Instead, his old ones took care of that for him.
"Troy was my roommate that first semester, and Da'Jon and Spencer were right down the hall," Cooper said. "I didn't like eating by myself, so I was glad I had someone to go to dinner with. When I had questions about the [football] workouts, I had someone to ask. ... My freshman year would have been a lot tougher without them."
Those benefits give recruiters extra ammunition when they try to create package deals, luring multiple players from the same out-of-state high school. It can make it easier for a football program to fill multiple needs at once, and it gives recruiters one more voice in trying to persuade hesitant players.
But the fit isn't always automatic. Williams and Ekpe are friends and teammates, but Gophers recruiter Pat Poore, and then Kill himself, was careful to make a case separately, according to one of the recruits' coaches.
"They were careful to let the process play out individually. Both kids are happy with the way it worked out, but [the Gophers] didn't use one to get the other," said Sonny Dack, running backs coach at Lewisville. "It'll be good for the kids to have a familiar face, though."
Ekpe is already on campus, having graduated early so he can take part in the Gophers' winter workouts and spring drills. "Scott will have learned his way around by the time Rodrick gets there, so that'll make his transition even easier," Dack said. "Having teammates together like that, it's really a nice benefit for the kids."