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Editor's Note: As the 2016-2017 school year approaches, many young athletes are preparing to step foot on the field, court or golf course. Many of those athletes have dreams of playing in college, but how does an athlete get to the next level?
That’s the question that we look to answer in this series, X’s and O’s of the recruiting process. For the next four weeks, we will talk with people who have seen the recruiting process unfold from different angles during their careers. We will talk with a former recruiting department employee, coaches and players that have earned scholarships or walked on to a university team.
While the focus will be primarily on football recruiting, the advice is still applicable to volleyball, basketball and track athletes as well. The process is nearly the same across all sports. While there may be slight variances in the way it is carried out, the idea is still the same. The biggest thing an athlete needs to do is get exposure. There are various ways to get that exposure to colleges and we will discuss that over the duration of the series.
This week, we talk with HuskerOnline’s Nate Clouse. Clouse worked for nearly a decade in the recruiting department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln under Frank Solich, Bill Callahan and Bo Pelini.
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While many high school athletes have hopes of continuing their careers in college, most don’t know how to get the attention of coaches.
Nate Clouse, currently a recruiting analyst and staff writer for HuskerOnline.com, worked in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s football recruiting department from 2002 to 2009. He began working under Frank Solich, mostly helping with the game day experience for visiting recruits. He stayed with the program under Bill Callahan and the early portion of Bo Pelini’s tenure, eventually working his way into the day to day recruiting operations.
After his time at the university, Clouse began working for HuskerOnline.com as a recruiting analyst. Through his time at the university and with the national recruiting site, he had the opportunity to learn what it takes for a prospect to become a top recruit.
When trying to determine if a prospect is a top-level recruit, Clouse said the first thing coaches look for is a player’s overall athleticism. Coaches and recruiting staffs spend much of their time trying to determine if a player can make their team better and fit their needs.
Once the coaches determine an athlete fits their idea of a recruit, they then start researching a recruit off the field - in particular their academics and character.
“They start trying to figure out ‘Is this kid not only going to help our football team, but are they the type of kid that’s going to fit our culture here and fit in to the university, will they represent the program the way we want it to be represented,’” Clouse explained.
With so many athletes hoping to earn a Division 1 scholarship, poor academics or character concerns can immediately turn coaches away from a recruit.
“I don’t care how good a football player you are,” Clouse said. “If you have poor transcripts and don’t have the grades, coaches aren’t going to waste their time recruiting you.
One issue he saw that held many great athletes back is that they didn’t put in the effort in the classroom during their early high school years. Those students then spent their junior and seniors years trying to catch up. With teams finding recruits earlier than ever, many prospects in that position get passed by and have to go to a junior college or lower level school to continue their careers.
One reason that teams are finding their recruits earlier than ever is due to the rise of recruiting services such as Rivals, Scout, 247 and even Hudl.
“When I was in the recruiting office, we were on those sites almost every day,” Clouse recalled.
Those services have become so popular among coaching staffs because of the ability it gives them to stay informed. Throughout the year, their are certain periods where coaches are restricted in how much they can contact a recruit. Oftentimes, a known recruit will be interviewed by the writers on the recruiting sites and when that article comes out, it gives the coaches an idea of what a recruit has been up to.
Hudl, a Nebraska-based video hosting service, has made the recruiting process easier for both athletes and coaches. Clouse noted that when he first began in the recruiting department, they would receive VHS tapes on a regular basis with a prospects highlight reel.
That process was expensive for players, as they had to pay for the tapes and to ship them to multiple colleges across the country. Hudl has made that process easier, as recruits can upload their highlight reel directly to the site and coaches can immediately watch a player’s film on their computer.
However, sending a coach film is just one way for a recruit to get noticed, according to Clouse. Coaches also look for prospects on various lists, such as all-conference and all-state selections. College coaches also spend time speaking with high school coaches about their top players. Attending a school’s football camp is also a great way to gain exposure.
“That’s another way that schools find out about recruits,” he said.
Clouse said it’s important for athletes, especially from smaller schools, to attend as many camps as possible to gain as much exposure as they can. Prospects should attend camps at schools from different levels of play, from NAIA school to Division 1. Once a prospect catches the attention of a coach, even from a lower-level school, other coaches quickly tend to take notice.
“One thing that I’ve always noticed in recruiting is that gaining that first offer and getting some of those first looks is usually the hardest part of the recruiting process,” Clouse said.
For small school athletes, getting to these camps is even more important. Due in part to the large amount of athletes that compete in the lower divisions of Nebraska high school sports, it is easy for a Class C or D athlete to get passed over.
“They maybe have to be a bit more proactive in the way they go about gaining exposure,” Clouse said.
Regardless of where an athlete comes from, Clouse stressed that it is important to keep a clean online presence as well.
“Social media nowadays is another thing that coaches look at immediately,” he explained.
I never met Sam Foltz personally.
We had some mutual friends. We went to rival high schools about an hour apart from each other and may have met in passing, but he was also a few years younger than me.
So when I heard of his passing early Sunday morning, I couldn't figure out why it bothered me so much. I'm a big Husker fan, yes, but I don't let Husker happenings control my life (outside of game day, according to my wife). As the day went along, I finally figured out why it bothered me.
It's the same reason that Brook Berringer's death still hurts so much for a generation of fans. He lived out my, and many more young Nebraskans, dream.
A small-town kid, Foltz grew up in Greeley, about an hour away from our office in Neligh. His mom was a nurse for Grand Island Public Schools, so he made the journey there to attend school while his dad worked on the family farm in Greeley. He used to go out in the fields and practice punting and chasing the ball. He grew up playing a variety of sports just like many other young Nebraskans, albeit with a little more talent than most of us.
The first time I watched Foltz play football was actually his senior year of high school. I was a student at the University of Nebraska-Kearney at the time, where Kearney High plays its football games. Grand Island was in town for the annual rivalry games, and I had heard good things about Grand Island's quarterback, Ryker Fyfe. I figured it'd be a fun game to go to. Once the game got going however, Foltz really stole the show.
I couldn't tell you off the top of my head what his exact stats were. I do remember him making a few big plays at receiver, playing great defense from his safety position and booming a few jaw-dropping punts to pin Kearney High deep in their territory. When I heard a few months later that he had decided to walk-on to Nebraska as a wide receiver, I wasn't too surprised.
All reports from his redshirt season mentioned how athletic he was. He likely would have made an impact as a receiver for the Huskers, too. However, when the graduation of Brett Maher left a void at the punting position, Foltz made the switch to the less glamorous position to get on the field sooner and help the team. His freshman year was full of promising moments and shaky moments, but he eventually worked to shape himself into one of the best punters in the nation and in school history.
He did what countless young Husker fans dreamed of doing. He grew up and joined the home-state program. Despite not getting the scholarship offer he wanted, he worked hard and eventually earned one as a sophomore. He made his way from an almost unknown walk-on to a star on his favorite team. He did it all with a drive that could be an inspiration to many. His drive was exemplified in a tweet he sent out just a few days ago.
"I'm a walk on who wasn't recruited," the tweet read. "I'm not entitled to anything, all I do is put my head down and work."
He did work. He worked hard. He never lost his sense of himself though. He was active in the community, so much so that he was named to the 2016 Brook Berringer and Tom Osborne Citizenship Teams. According to his biography, he spent time doing hospital visits, helping with School is Cool week, the Lincoln Marathon and Nebraska's Sportsmanship Rally. All of that in between classes, studying and working to keep his earned spot on the Huskers' roster.
He made it a point to maintain a good image of himself and be a mentor for young kids. He was so influential to young children that Kevin Sjuts, sports director for 10/11 News in Lincoln, could barely keep his emotions together when telling a story of his son and Foltz. His son looked up to Foltz so much that when his first grade class had "Superhero Week," he invited Sam Foltz of all people to join them at school. Foltz had done so much for this kid and was so influential to him that the younger Sjuts considered him to be larger than life.
Foltz knew kids looked up to him. He didn't let it get to his head. Instead, he used it as a platform to improve the world around him. Four days before his death, he sent out a Tweet with a photo attached of Foltz and other Huskers jogging with kids at the Uplifting Athletes Road Race outside of Memorial Stadium. One kid in particular was jogging with Foltz and is looking up at him with a look of pure fascination.
"You never know who's watching," the Tweet said. "What impact do you wanna leave on the next generation to aspire too?! #dreambig"
Like Brook Berringer before him, Sam Foltz lived out a Nebraska boy's dream. He did it through hard work, humility and leadership. He aimed to inspire others.
He did inspire others. He connected with Nebraskans in ways he never intended. Thank you for that Sam. Rest easy now.