Tales from a real-deal recruiter.
By Luke Robinson
Photography by Beau Gustafson
In college in 1992, most people spent the 6:00 p.m. hour on Thursdays napping prior to a night out. Not this guy; I was studying.
No, not regular book-learnin’ studying. I was studying up on various football recruits via the only recruiting show my car radio could receive. In other words, I sat in my car from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. almost every Thursday while I was attending the University of Alabama—a school notorious for something like a 6:1 girl-to-guy ratio at the time. My friends called me “The Lady Killer”…and my friends were imaginary.
Anyhoo, I have always loved the recruiting game a lot more than I should have. I had to get info any way I could in those days. Thursday at that hour was my only chance to hear moderately garbled discussion about it.
Now, of course, you can’t swing some dead cat without hitting someone who works in some capacity with some recruiting service. We need a lot of recruiting experts because everyone is entranced with what five-star is going where. According to my calculations, football recruiting is a 14 trillion dollar a year industry! (By the way I did really poorly in math, too…maybe because my classes were on Thursday night.)
So, for this article, I decided to contact a real recruiting expert, not some fly-by-nighter who knows a guy who knows a guy whose cousin is being recruited.
Travis Reier of Bamaonline has been around recruiting since the early 1990s. Reier’s brother, Chris, was recruited and signed by Alabama in the middle of that decade so Reier knows firsthand about the process. Even before that, Reier had the same love for blue-chippers I did.
Reier worked his way onto a show in Jacksonville, Florida. Reier was to only have a small segment to appease (what they thought was) a fringe fan base. Almost immediately, his 10-minute segment ballooned to an hour or more. Turns out, more people were into recruiting than the show realized. His success there lead to more opportunities and Reier eventually wound up in his current gig at Bamaonline (part of the 24/7 Sports Network). Along the way, he has seen a lot of strange moments and movement in this industry.
Before I get into his thoughts on recruiting today, how about a shoutout to the lovely Mrs. Reier? It’s not easy being married to a recruiting junkie, but no story illustrates her love for her husband than when she was pregnant in 1995 and she called the golf course in a panic to get him to the phone with “an emergency situation.”
“Honey!” Reier exclaimed once he got to the clubhouse. “Is the baby coming?!”
“No,” she said excitedly. “I just wanted to tell you that Juaquin Feazell committed to Michigan!” In my opinion, that’s a woman you hold on to!
According to Reier, one of the more important changes in recruiting is the shift of power from the schools to the players. Back in the day, high schoolers didn’t always know who else was being recruited by their schools of choice. They didn’t have any way to know. But now kids can look on any one of the seemingly millions of databases and see if Alabama, LSU, or Georgia is recruiting other kids for their position. It forces coaches to be as up-front as possible from the start. Meanwhile, fans practically cyber-stalk recruits. They inundate them with tweets and posts begging those stars to come to their schools. This phenomena usually leads to the players’ developing five-star egos to match their talents. (But who can blame them?) In essence, high school players are free agents at the peak of their demand. Once they sign, they are at the mercy of the school, so they sometimes milk the process. This makes Reier’s job all the more difficult.
Recruits—or their friends and family—will toy around with social media, teasing fans into believing they are leaning one way or the other. People like Reier normally have to chase every lead to appease their paying customers. Recruit-niks want info verified faster than stockbrokers. The industry is bigger and there is a plethora of false scoop, but the science of ranking players has gotten more accurate in Reier’s opinion. There are certainly still misses (no one can predict if a player will be hurt or arrested), but just look at the last 10 years of recruiting rankings. The top schools there usually wind up as the top schools on the field.
No matter the long hours, teenage drama, and seemingly never-ending changes in technology and social media, I still envy Reier’s career path. Guys like him will always be underappreciated for their hard work but simultaneously worshiped for their end results.
Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to read up on the class of 2018 quarterback in south Alabama who will undoubtedly be the next big thing.