WEST LAFAYETTE -- In the end, Darrell Hazell's Purdue football coaching fate rests with his recruiting.
Yes, Xs and Os are important. So is mental and physical development, strategy and all the other aspects that separate Alabama from, say, Alabama State.
But being a big-time program means getting big-time players. They all don't have to be five-star guys (although that would make life a lot easier), but they do have to fit Hazell's system and philosophy. They must be tough, smart, determined and resilient.
Since being hired last December after a strong two-year run at Kent State, Hazell has put a huge emphasis on recruiting in-state players (Purdue has offered Lake Central defensive end Gelen Robinson, Gary receiver/defensive back Lonnie Johnson, East Chicago Central athlete Martayveus Carter, and Indianapolis Cathedral receiver Terry McLaurin, among others), but he's not limiting the recruiting to just Indiana or the Midwest.
The Boilers' first commitment for the Class of 2014 is Texas receiver Trae Hart. They've recently offered a scholarship to Texas quarterback David Blough, a Class of 2014 prospect who is good enough to have gotten a Tweet endorsement from New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the former Purdue standout and also a Texas native. They've offered Tennessee receiver Josh Malone, Florida defensive end/linebacker Trent Harris, and plenty of others.
For the 23-player class of 2013, many of whom were recruited by former coach Danny Hope and his staff, Hazell got three players from the state of Indiana, four from Florida and five from Georgia.
A big part of recruiting involves relationships and selling the program. Hazell has been at that nonstop. On Thursday morning he visited with more than 600 elementary school students in nearby Delphi. His message -- have a positive and winning attitude every day.
So what is Hazell's approach to recruiting? The coach met with The News-Sentinel to discuss that during a wide-ranging interview. This is the second of a series.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR IN-STATE RECRUITING EMPHASIS AND HOW YOU APPROACH IT?.
I told our staff before we went out this spring, we have (three) guys from the state of Indiana (in the Class of 2013). There were 36 to 38 players who signed Division I scholarships in this state last year. The ratio has not been fantastic. It's very important for us to establish relationships in the state of Indiana with all these coaches. I told our staff I wanted them to get to as many schools as possible. Sit down with the coach and see what's going on. They might not have a player for us for two or three years, but I want them to get to know our staff and our staff to get to know them.
HOW IMPORTANT WILL THE FORT WAYNE AREA BE IN YOUR RECRUITING? SUCH STANDOUTS AS ROD WOODSON (SNIDER), ANTHONY SPENCER (BISHOP LUERS) AND BENARD POLLARD (SOUTHSIDE) HAVE THRIVED AT PURDUE AND THEN THE NFL.
I don't know much about it yet. I've got to study it more. What I've heard is you've got Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and (northwestern Indiana) where we'd get the bulk of our players. I'm sure it's going to be big for us.
WHAT ATTRIBUTES DO YOU LOOK FOR IN RECRUITS?
You look at their skill set -- how well they move, how well they run, how well they transition, how well they drop their hips. You also watch a lot of their body language -- are they competitive? Are they a little bit timid? Will they jump to the front of the line? All those little things you can really identify what kind of character, personality, football traits a guy has by studying those things.
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE 40-YARD DASH TIME TO RECRUITING AND PLAYING? IS THAT INDICATIVE OF TRUE FOOTBALL SPEED?
I'm not sure it is. They've used that test forever. Obviously you have to be able to run to play the game, but when you turn on the film, there is some clear definition of football speed that you can identify that sometimes you can't see on a watch. You can see if a guy plays fast next to guys. How well they play next to guys in terms of catching the ball or blocking or getting off a block. Field speed, game speed, there is nothing like it. Only way you identify that is by watching film or seeing them in person.
BASKETBALL COACHES HAVE GENERATED ATTENTION BY SOMETIMES OFFERING SCHOLARSHIPS TO EIGHTH-GRADERS. HOW EARLY DO YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE OFFERING A PLAYER A SCHOLARSHIP?
You start logging guys pretty early, ninth grade, once they get on campus. In our profession, I don't know if you can offer them really early. You have to make your decisions off of football film, and then on camp. You can see the work habits of guys in camp. You can see the competitiveness of guys in camp. Those are things that leave an indelible mark in how they perform.
THERE HAS BEEN TALK OF MOVING UP THE FOOTBALL SIGNING PERIOD FROM FEBRUARY OF A PLAYER'S SENIOR YEAR TO DECEMBER OR EVEN AUGUST. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT?
We as coaches have talked about that quite extensively. You could move it to that third weekend in December, but then you'd have to adjust some other things on the calendar. Would you adjust when people can come on official visits? Would you make that happen in June? Or July? I don't want them in July. That's for family time.
WOULD YOU PREFER TO HAVE OFFICIAL VISITS DURING THE SEASON SO RECRUITS HAVE VISIT ON GAME WEEKENDS?
I don't like official visits during games because your mind is so wrapped on the game that it's hard to give the kid the kind of attention he needs to have for an official visit. So I try to deter that with our staff. Just try to win the game. Sometimes you can't avoid those things and have officials visits on a game weekend.
Talk is still out there to have that December signing period. You'd also still have that February signing period, so you'd have two. That's one of those things I'd like to research more before I'd say that's the best way to do it, that's not the best way to do it.
WHAT ABOUT AN AUGUST SIGNING PERIOD?
We're so busy in August with (preseason) camp. It's probably the worst time to have it. It's a clock that never stops. From Aug. 2 all the way through camp and the first game you have so much on your plate. I think December is probably the best time. You're out of the regular season. You're getting ready to ramp up the recruiting season. Maybe there's a small window you can sign some guys.