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Recruiting integral to athletic success

February 17, 2011

Athletic recruiting at UW-River Falls is a process that takes different approaches depending on the sport according to coaches in the university’s athletic department.

Whether recruiting a lineman for the football team or a goaltender for the hockey team, specific steps are taken, many of which occur before the athlete is made an offer.

Men’s ice hockey coach Steve Freeman said that the recruiting process is something that starts long before a potential player is near the collegiate ranks.

“We try to keep track of kids, but we mostly look at the junior players,” Freeman said. “We can keep track of a kid throughout his couple years of junior hockey and then really start to recruit him.”

Freeman said that once the coaching staff expresses interest in a player, they will keep a close watch over him over the course of a season.

“We try to watch those guys play between seven and eight times over the course of the year,” Freeman said. “Once we see that, we can decide where he fits into our program.”

Freeman said that various tools are used to draw an athlete to campus during the recruiting process, most notably the pride and tradition of the Falcons.

“The best sell for hockey here is the tradition,” Freeman said. “Everybody across the nation pretty much knows River Falls hockey.”

Freeman noted that past success of the team as well as specific players who attended UWRF in the recent past add to the reputation of the program.

Freeman, in his fifteenth season as the head coach of the Falcons, said that recruiting has changed a lot over the years.

“We were almost strictly Minnesota kids when I started here,” Freeman said. “Now we are just looking for the best hockey players.”

The current Falcons roster includes players from 15 different states, including Oklahoma and Texas.

So how does recruiting differ from one sport to the next? Is there really that much of a difference?

Men’s Football coach Matt Walker said that the difference in athletic recruiting between sports is surprisingly different.

“The thing that is unique about football is the recommendation from the high school coaches,” Walker said. “The high school coaches are where the majority of our names come from.”

Walker said that with the advancement of athletic recruiting agencies, whether they are print or web-based, recruiting has become a different ball game.

The recruiting agencies that Walker referred to are essentially large databases of names, statistics, pros and cons of potential athletes.

Walker said that dealing with so many names and so many details can be a challenge for coaches to take on.

“There is so much of that third party action going on right now,” Walker said. “It’s a little overwhelming to actually trust all of that information.”

Similar to hockey, Walker said that tradition and a passion for hard work are essential to the recruiting pitch.
“The history and tradition of our athletic department is something that I talk a lot about,” Walker said. “Clearly with football in particular, nobody is happy with what has happened in the last few years, but I think it’s important to know
that not very long ago, we were winning.”

Unlike hockey, Walker made a point that recruiting for football is more of a local job.

“If you look at our roster, most of our kids are from 100-150 miles of here,” Walker said.

Walker added that a major selling point of the university is the college feel and experience that one feels when walking through campus.

“I like the fact that when kids walk through our campus, it looks, smells and feels like college is supposed to be,” Walker said.

Athletic Director Roger Ternes said that his role in athletic recruiting at UWRF is not what most people may think.

“The role of the athletic director in recruiting primarily, would be the oversight of compliance with NCAA regulations,” Ternes said. “It is my job to make sure that our staff knows what they can and cannot do in terms of recruiting.

Similar to Freeman and Walker, Ternes said that UWRF is a great draw for athletes for various reasons.

“I think our setting is number one,” Ternes said. “I think when they [a potential student-athlete] visit the campus, they get a very good feel about River Falls.”

Ternes made one strikingly clear point regarding recruiting; it is a gigantic part of athletics.

“Recruiting is the life-blood of athletics,” Ternes said. “You could have great facilities and coaches that you think can do a good job, but if they can’t recruit, then it’s really not going to make a difference.”