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Building a Program #2: The “Right Recruits”

Let’s check back in on the Lobos.

NCAA Football: New Mexico at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

When New Mexico fired Bob Davie and hired Danny Gonzales, I had instant excitement.

I’m not a fan by any means, and I’ve never been to New Mexico in my life. However, I was thrilled they would most likely take recruiting more seriously, so I would be able to follow them more closely.

The next thought that occurred to me is in many ways; they are (re)building the program from scratch. Yes, the team is full of scholarship players. However, even if you haven’t been paying close attention to the team, you likely know they primarily recruited junior college players and usually didn’t start focusing on recruiting until after the season, which isn’t ideal for securing talent.

Anyway, the Lobos are rebuilding in many ways. They are committing to finding high school talent and securing talent that matches their system as well as their culture. The question then becomes, what are the important choices to make when making the first steps towards building a program from scratch?

The first installment looked at building the offense around a running back or a quarterback. This one continues the recruiting theme and goes a bit further. For a program trying to rebuild, it’s vital to find the right recruits. But who exactly are the right recruits? Part 2 of this series will aim to find the answers to that question.

Question #2 Who are the right recruits?

Fit the Culture

This is another buzz phrase that gets thrown around often by coaches, but it matters. Do you want a team of talented players who don’t care about the team or will make their teammates better?

Whatever the coaching staff prioritizes in the culture, players need to have those traits. Find the recruits who were team captains and were first in line for drills. The ones who lived in the weight and film rooms and practiced continually when the coaches weren’t around. Find the recruits who were on the honor roll and had a positive impact on the school and community.

It’s important to find those who are going to respect and trust the coaching staff, and even become an extension of the coaching staff to younger players. Once players buy it, coaches can focus more attention on other factors, as players no longer have to be told about it; it is instilled in them.

Prioritize the Trenches

They aren’t the trendy targets in recruiting from a fan’s perspective, but solid offensive and defensive linemen can overcome many deficits in other areas.

Getting a formable line on offense creates holes for the run game to function and allows extra time in the passing game. The more time a quarterback has in a clean pocket, the better the chance of a receiver getting open. On the other hand, a dominant defensive line involved plugging up gaps to run in and getting into the backfield to stop tailback or the quarterback before the play has a chance to develop.

Even in the days of spread-formations and pass-happy offenses, the adage about games being won or lost in the trenches still holds true.

High School Powerhouses

In the past, other teams seem to find success in finding recruits second or third-tier level recruits in top high school programs.

While the top tier players at schools such as St. John Bosco, Long Beach Poly, Mater Dei, Saguaro, and so on end up with the blue bloods of college football, there is still a ton of talent remaining. Many still go to power 5 schools, but the G5 has had success gleaning solid, although unspectacular talent from winning high school programs.

Similarly, the coaching staff should identify the projectable players. Note this is different from projects or diamonds in the rough. This means the stud linebacker who is 5’11 instead of 6’2. The wide receivers and cornerbacks with average forty-times but are sound technicians and route-runners. The offensive lineman with skills and athleticism, but needs a few years to put on weight before contributing.

Local Talent

While the state of New Mexico isn’t a premier recruiting destination, ten players have signed or committed to D1 schools in the 2020 and 2021 classes thus far. Schools like Clovis HS in Clovis, Cleveland HS in Rio Rancho, and Los Lunas HS in Los Lunas, to name a few, are the places to recruit, and that’s not even counting schools in backyard Alburquerque.

While in-state talent likely will never form the bulk of the Lobo recruiting classes, it should be a priority to recruit and secure local commits in each class. Creating the mindset that local players should want to play for their home-state school pays lots of dividends in the years to come.

What the Lobos are currently doing:

Looking at their 2020 class and the dozen players they have verbally committed in 2021, there is a small but telling sample size for their progress so far.

Culture: While this is the most difficult to determine as this time, it is safe to say recruits are being sold by the hype of the new era and the energy of the coaching staff.

OL/DL: New Mexico’s 2020 class took four players on each side of the line, good for about a third of their entire class. At this time in the 2021 class, six verbal pledges play either offensive or defensive line. That number is just under half of their class.

Top HS Programs: Between the two classes, players have come from powerhouses Long Beach Poly, Mater Dei, and St. John Bosco, plus other solid California programs like Narbonne and Edison. They have also found players in big Texas schools like Lancaster and Georgetown. In total, 25 of 36 players listed on the 247 recruiting page are from either California or Texas, where football talent is rampant.

Local Talent: They secured the 4th, 5th, and 6th highest-rated players in the class of 2020, and so far, 4th and 5th top-rated in-state recruits in the 2021 class. Out of those five, two are from Cleveland, one from Clovis, and one from Los Lunas. (All rankings from 247)

Based on the observations above, the Lobos are making smart decisions regarding recruiting, which should allow them to have a solid foundation in the early stage of their program rebuild.

Your turn: What would you like to see the Lobos do in recruiting? What states should they prioritize? What local schools develop consistent talent? Share your thoughts in the comments section.