WINONA LAKE – Notre Dame football head coach Brian Kelly spoke on the Scott Van Pelt Show in late March as the pandemic was beginning to shut everything down. Kelly, certainly one of the most recognizable coaches at one of the premier football programs in the country, was asked about how recruiting has changed since everything was literally ground to a halt.
“Every recruit is very popular right now because coaches have plenty of time to be on the phone, to be using Face Time, all of the social platforms where you can get out,” Kelly said during the interview with Scott Van Pelt. “We’re being so creative with our graphics. You are getting a lot of traffic right now. I feel for the young men that are in the recruiting process right now. They probably are sick of us already, and we’ve only been at this for only a few weeks. We’ve got to be careful as well. We’ve got to have some semblance of normalcy here pretty soon when it comes to recruiting because right now it’s unlimited in the sense that you can be on the phone and make the one phone call, but they can get back to you every single day.”
He later went on to joke the recruiting trail was a virtual free-for-all. So many questions have been asked about how high school seniors are making that jump to the next level. Through several local signings in recent weeks via Zoom and Google Chats, etc., some of those questions are being answered. Locally, Grace College is in the same boat as Kelly and everyone else when it comes to filling in the gaps that were not already addressed B.C. (before corona). Four of Grace’s coaches offered their thoughts on their programs and how they have moved forward.
“It has been very challenging for our recruiting purposes to not have this track season, but primarily for current juniors,” said Grace cross country head coach Jake Poyner. “The junior year track season is very crucial for up and coming distance runners in their development. From a developmental and growth standpoint, many of them “come into form” during their junior years. This will be a challenge.”
Grace overall, as of Monday afternoon, has 136 high school athletes committed to its 21 athletic programs. Of those 136, 39 have signed to become a Lancer after the March 12th order to shut down the winter and spring programs. Among the 2019-20 recruits, area signees include Warsaw’s Kaylee Patton for basketball, Tippecanoe Valley’s Makenzie Woodcox and Warsaw’s Gwyn Bellamy for volleyball, Warsaw’s Blake Burns for men’s soccer and Lakeland Christian’s Tori Calizo for women’s soccer.
Grace men’s tennis coach Andy Lewis was lucky enough to not have to scurry this spring.
“To be honest, my roster for the 2020 conference season is already filled,” Lewis said. “My current players have played a big part in recruiting this year. They are excited about the great education they are receiving at Grace, and especially the performance of our team. We finished third in the conference last year, and I think it motivated the team to find exceptional young men who can be a part of the Grace culture as well as achieving the chance to be conference champions, and beyond.”
Grace men’s basketball coach Scott Moore noted he didn’t have to change his recruiting approach, but rather stayed consistent in what the program represents as well as the culture already in place
“To be honest, I don’t love the word “selling”,” noted Moore. “I am not a salesman and we aren’t interested in using smoke and mirrors. We feel that we have a really good thing going and I am really proud of the program. It means a lot to me. (Assistant) coach (Jordan) Weidner and I are trying to develop relationships. Grace has a great campus, a great facility, and it’s a great place to go to college. We just want to get a chance for these kids to learn about who we are and what we are trying to do.”
Grace softball coach Sarah Harman had her 2020 recruits mostly in place, but was working on some junior college transfers, which the program already was in the midst of developing virtual campus tours.
“In our team culture, we focus on what we can control,” Harman said. “Having our season end early and experiencing COVID-19 lockdown is something we can’t control and is something everyone is experiencing. One’s attitude and reaction in adversity shows true character. This isn’t ideal, but it’s not a nightmare. I already had majority of my incoming 2020’s signed prior to this and my identified top 2021 and 2022’s I’ve been able to connect with on a deeper level. I have felt a burden for the high school athletes, as they worked hard for their senior years as well.”