MUNCIE – When new BallState football coach Mike Neu hired Chevis Jackson as a full-time assistant coach a year ago, he knew that the former NFL player had football knowledge, but what he couldn't have possibly known was how Jackson would serve as a recruiter, because he had never done so.
Fast-forward to today and Neu has zero reason to worry and he says he thought that is exactly how this story would turn out from the beginning.
“Chevis does a great job in building relationships,” Neu told The News-Sentinel recently, “and recruiting is all about relationships.”
Neu hired Jackson after a couple of graduate assistant stops at both South Alabama and his alma mater, LSU, where Jackson could speak with recruits on campus, but not off of it. So his first foray on the road to sell BallState football was his first venture in selling any program to any one any where.
“It's about getting the kids to open up to you, to trust you, and buy into you,” Neu said. “He does a great job because he puts his heart and soul into it.”
And it isn't just during the player recruitment that Jackson's “heart and soul” shows. Following a Cardinal practice, more often than not, the final group to leave the Schuemann Stadium turf is the defensive backs, which is Jackson's position group. After Neu has his say with the team, Jackson will pull his guys over for a post-practice talk and often the guys end up smiling and laughing together as they walk off into the Fisher Football Training Complex.
“It's knowing what kids want to talk about and just talking to them,” Jackson said of his quick adjustment as a position coach and recruiter.
But as much as Jackson talks to the Cardinal players and recruits, he also listens, which may be even more important.
“Let them talk,” Jackson said, “and then figure out what they want and then just talk to them.”
Jackson is a former draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons and still has a residence in the city, and that is also the area in which Neu assigned Jackson to go find players. He responded to the task by helping BallState land 10 players from the state of Georgia in its 27-player class. For his efforts, he was named by 247Sports as the Mid-American Conference Recruiter of the Year.
“Chevis really works the (recruiting) process,” Neu said, “as much as you can work the process. When he was at South Alabama and LSU, he'd been exposed to a lot of recruiting, so I'm not surprised by the success that he's had.”
Jackson gave credit to the rest of the Cardinal coaches for the “team recruiting” approach that helped secure the 2017 class and said that landing 10 Georgia players was never the plan going into the year, but it was simply how it turned out.
“It was never a plan,” Jackson said. “When coach brought me (to BallState), that was the area that he gave me and I just went out there and tried to do my best. Everything just fell into place.”
Jackson brings youth and exuberance to the recruiting process, and of course, having played in the NFL four years doesn't hurt. However, he also brings a positive attitude to the chore.
In selling BallState to southern kids, he is all smiles and positivity.
“What's not to be positive about,” Jackson asked. “We have great facilities and a great coaching staff. We are a good, up and coming team.”
But isn't the cold weather a negative for a kid that has grown up in a warmer climate, coach?
“We've got clothes,” Jackson quickly responded. “We've got plenty of clothes. There is plenty of gear and we're a Nike school. The cold shouldn't be a deterrent for playing football.”
At the end of the day, Jackson said that he isn't trying to sell anything to the young student-athletes. He just tells the players the truth and lets the “family atmosphere” that is palpable around the Cardinal program sell itself.
“They know the difference,” Jackson said of the program's authenticity. “You aren't hard to read. When they come up here and check us out and they talk to us, they know what is real and what is fake.”
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