Here at MWCConnection, we have gotten the opportunity to interview some prominent figures in the world of Mountain West and college sports. Most recently, we went straight to the head of the conference herself, new MWC commissioner Gloria Nevarez. This offseason, we are making a concentrated effort to bring you new interviews to deepen perspectives on different topics in the world of sports. Today’s interview features national recruiting editor Brandon Huffman, widely considered one of the best recruiting evaluators in all the land. He shares some thoughts on his own work calendar, the evaluation process, and most notably, specifics into Mountain West recruiting.
MWCConnection: You’ve been doing this a long time. Can you give a brief rundown of what your calendar year looks like (things like figuring out rankings, going to see players in person, and so on)? When are your busiest times, and what months do you get a bit of a break?
Huffman: A typical calendar starts with a busy January- you have the Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando spilling into the New Year, then the All-American Bowl in San Antonio the first week. After a week to catch up, it's off to the Polynesian Bowl in Honolulu for a week, then two weeks until the traditional National Signing Day on the first Wednesday in February. Then you have camps, showcases, combines and 7v7 tournaments basically every weekend from late January until the end of May.
June is the busiest month of the year with college camps and mega camps throughout the country- I’ll see mega camps in 4-5 different states. You also have the Elite 11 Finals in Southern California and the Future 50 at IMG in Florida that same month. Plus, you have players on official visits you’re tracking and a huge month for announcements.
July, you have more camps and national showcases, though the NCAA is in a dead period- save one week on the last week of the month, where the final college camps are held.
August, you catch your breath with the college season starting and the high school season starting in mid-August to late September, plus camps are done.
But then, from September until the third Wednesday in December, you’re at games every weekend, tracking who is visiting and where, and keeping an eye on the portal in December and gearing up for the early signing period.
Coffee is for closers.
MWCConnection: Can you walk us through the process of how a player is ranked/evaluated/sees their stock rise or fall over the course of their time as a recruit?
Huffman: For many players, the evaluation process begins when they’re freshmen, especially if they have varsity film that year. Film is a huge part of the process, but so are in-person evaluations, camps where they get verified measurements, and verified testing marks. The earliest a player will ever get rated on 247Sports is in August going into their sophomore season when the initial Top 100 is released. It usually expands to the Top247 in the late spring of their sophomore year, and then there are multiple evaluations in their junior and senior years. Film, physical development, etc., are all factors that go into it. But it's largely projection based. It's not so much what you’ve done on a Friday but how you’re projected on Saturdays. It’s a size, speed, strength, skill game. And projecting that 4-5 years down the line can be a crapshoot, but the hits outweigh the misses.
MWCConnection: Recruits often talk about forming strong relationships with coaches. What are some examples of how those coaches form those relationships with players that you have seen or heard of?
Huffman: This is where unofficial visits really help lay the groundwork. And the contact period and evaluation period, both of those help with that one on one time. It’s also not unusual with the turnover in college coaching, for players to not consider a school if the coach recruiting them has left. More often than not, the coach was recruiting them, not the school, so those relationships are key.
MWCConnection: With the rise of the transfer portal, what elements of high school recruiting have you seen change and stay the same, in your opinion?
Huffman: Coaches are pushing more and more for earlier commitments from players so they know what they have in July and August rather than in December or February. The shelf life of an offer has decreased dramatically. A player who had offers early but then waits for more may find more aren’t coming, and the previous ones are no longer committable, and coaches can fill that spot with the portal.
MWCConnection: From your perspective, how would you describe the Mountain West recruiting efforts as a conference? Is there anything that they do that is different than other conferences?
Huffman: I think it has been strong, with Boise State obviously doing the heavy lifting historically while San Diego State, San Jose State, Fresno State and more recently, Colorado State ramping up their efforts. But they could do more. Many wait till the last minute to pull the trigger, and then you run into the fact some schools in the conference aren’t necessarily in fertile states while other G5’s are, and their classes may lag.
MWCConnection: Is there something teams could do to improve their recruiting that other non-MWC teams might do?
Huffman: Be more aggressive early in the process. Sure, you may open the way for P5 schools to get on guys you offered, but you have to shoot your shot. Especially if kids wait, the MWC could be the last man standing in those recruitments. But why do Georgia State and Arkansas State offer more kids out West at times than Wyoming? That can’t be the case.
MWCConnection: For teams like Boise State and San Diego State that consistently recruit well, why do you think they are so successful (in addition to winning)?
Huffman: For Boise State, it's their history over the last 25 years, the NFL success so many have had and coaches who acted like they were at a Power 5 school instead of a Group of Five and recruited like they were. San Diego State has had significant player development too. Plus, outside of Hawaii, the Aztecs may have the most desirable location to live in and go to school compared to anyone in the Mountain West. Can they get the Flutie Effect thanks to their hoops team? Brady Hoke wouldn’t mind it.
MWCConnection: What team or teams do you think recruit better than public perception gives them credit for?
Huffman: Air Force, for sure, especially when you consider they have tougher academic requirements than any school in the Mountain West, yet Troy Calhoun always does a great job. San Jose State has done the best they’ve ever done in the last decade thanks to Brent Brennan and his staff and their heavy focus on Northern California and less reliance on the JC or the Portal.
MWCConnection: How have recruiting approaches changed with coaching hires over the past few years (Harsin to Avalos, DeBoer to Tedford, Graham to Chang)?
Huffman: Andy Avalos has been at Boise State for so long for parts of the last twenty years, but the taste of the Pac-12 and the success he had at Oregon trickled down to his return to his alma mater. He’s connected in Southern California, he’s developed elite players, and it feels like Boise State has an even better shot at players that are P5 recruits than they did under Bryan Harsin or even Chris Petersen. Fresno State has Jeff Tedford’s success at Cal and who he could recruit and develop in their favor. They can recruit quarterbacks better than just about any G5 school in the country because when you have Aaron Rodgers on your resume, that sells. And with Timmy Chang? His love for the school, the city of Honolulu and his love for the Islands is evident. He’s a proud UH alum- he’s a local kid who flourished there and wants his alma mater to wash the taste out of their mouth of the disastrous hire of Todd Graham. It also helps that Chang isn’t despised by just about everyone in football like his predecessor was, and kids want to play for him, and coaches want to send their kids there.
Thanks again to Brandon Huffman for taking the time to talk with us!