The Recruiting Crap Shoot

Tania Ganguli

Nobody wanted him, but not many people knew about him.

He spent his junior year of high school watching from the stands as Notre Dame courted one of his teammates and best friends at St. Patrick’s High School in Chicago. There wasn’t anything he could do about his broken foot, so Tim McGarigle waited.

He burst into view his senior year, but by then it was almost too late.

Most high school football players who get Division I scholarships already have offers or know of interested schools going into their senior years, but McGarigle didn’t have a junior year to advertise himself. Still, Northwestern had noticed McGarigle and kept an eye on him during his senior year, as did Illinois and Northern Illinois.

Then Chris Pool, a Midwest recruiting analyst for Scout.com, went to watch a game between St. Patrick’s and Joliet Catholic to see McGarigle’s teammate, Dan Santucci, the defensive lineman whom Notre Dame heavily recruited.

But Pool left that game thinking McGarigle was the best player on the field.

NU linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator Pat Fitzgerald said NU liked McGarigle’s passion and intensity on the sidelines. They decided to take a chance and offer him a scholarship. They were the only ones.

Now McGarigle leads the nation in tackles as NU’s starting middle linebacker and Santucci is Notre Dame’s second string left guard.

Despite all the recruiting experts and services that evaluate high school talent, some players are over-hyped and others are overlooked. For schools like NU, rigid academic standards and the inexact nature of recruiting force them to search more carefully and work a little bit harder.

“It’s tough for them because they don’t have a name like Notre Dame but their academic standards are tough,” ESPN recruiting expert Tom Lemming said. “They’re going to have to dig up some diamonds in the rough and they’re doing that. … No one works harder than Randy Walker at recruiting. They’re bulldogs.

“They’ve got to be more diligent. They’ve got to make fewer mistakes.”

Scouting it out

Pool spends his nights on the phone with high school football players, and spends his days talking to their coaches and to college coaches who may one day become their coaches.

He scours the Midwest for Scout.com, trying to find and publicize talent.

“I grew up in Illinois, so I know what schools produce Division I athletes,” Pool said. “I know that Joliet Catholic has Division I athletes; I know that Naperville North does. I call the other schools and ask them if they have Division I athletes, and usually they say no.”

Pool is part of a growing number of college scouts who aren’t associated with any school.

Lemming is the most respected of these. He evaluates high school athletes around the nation. He travels for four months of the year, going to high schools and looking at tapes. He then meets with players, coaches and others who know the players at high schools.

NCAA regulations limit how well schools can get to know a player during the recruiting process, so coaches rely on outside sources.

Illinois coach Ron Turner said the impersonality of recruiting now makes it hard to find the intangibles coaches like to understand about a recruit. The Illini subscribe to several recruiting services for a little extra help. Pool said coaches sometimes ask him for help finding players.

Each NU coach has a local recruiting area and a national area. Fitzgerald’s local area, for instance, is Chicago’s South Side, while his primary national areas are Houston, East Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, North Dakota, South Dakota and Canada. After searching their areas, the coaches gather the tapes they have and give them to the correct position coaches. Head coach Randy Walker gets the final say.

Coaches rank prospects using a numerical system based on athletic ability, character, players’ Division I potential and how much knowledge NU has about them. Once they narrow the list to the players they really want, the phone calls to those players get more frequent. NU running back Noah Herron called it annoying.

“They’re calling at 7 a.m. and 11 at night, and they’re