Official Visits Often Sell Navy Recruits

Official Visits Often Sell Navy Recruits

Today we finish up our discussion with recruiting coordinator Dale Pehrson, who not only fills me in on what goes on during a recruit's official visit to the Academy, but gives me the scoop on how many ‘verbal' commitments the team has this year, and how many it expects following its big recruiting weekend later this month.

Note: "AN" is GoMids writer Adam Nettina, while "DP" is coach Dale Pehrson.

AN: Next week the Academy will be hosting a number of recruits from across the country. What exactly goes on during these "Official Visits"? How much of the time is spent introducing the recruits to the military and academic aspects of the Academy?

DP: Basically I'll just give you a rundown of the weekend. Coming in on a Friday we'll try to get them to class depending on their flight. A kid who's coming from the West Coast it's pretty hard to get him to class, but anybody that's in the east – Florida, Texas even – we can get him here early enough so they can get to a class and get a feel for that. Later they'll watch the workouts going on and we'll take them to dinner. They'll go out with our guys and go bowling. A lot of our guys will go out and meet them at that time.

Saturday morning we'll have a brief where they find out all about the military and all about the academics. There's really very little football talked about at that meeting. It's all a ‘what else is here' kind of a meeting. Then they'll meet with coach Brass our strength coach and meet with our trainer. They'll go in our equipment room and meet with our equipment guy. He'll go over some of the safety features and obviously the cool stuff we have. Then they'll meet with their position coach before we take them to lunch. At lunch we have all the professors eat lunch with them, and that's where they'll get the real nuts and bolts of the academic stuff here. Then we'll give them tour of the engineering building and two or three other buildings before we let them back for a nap (laughs). We bring them to the stadium for dinner before we let them go out with the hosts again. They do different things with them Saturday – they may go to Dave and Buster's or they may go to a movie. (The hosts) find something to do with them that's wholesome. Then they'll come back in and on Sunday they'll meet with coach Niumat and kind of tell him what they're thinking.

AN: Most recruits seem to commit to schools before or on "National Letter of Intent Day," but there's always been this idea that some guys never get that 11th hour scholarship they bank on and get left "in the cold," so to speak. Do you find you bring in many players during this kind of scenario? Guys who need more time to look around and decide on Navy?

DP: Not as many as we used to. Guys are usually making that decision earlier and earlier. Now we'll have a visit after signing – but most of those kids are kids who committed early, and because of that, we still feel like they should have a visit. So we'll bring them in after signing day on an unofficial visit. A lot of those guys are those kinds of guys. To be honest with you the last four or five years we've been as full as we want to be and pretty much have each position covered. We feel good about who we have, and we've got a team at the prep school and our direct guys are settled in. So there's not been a lot of finding guys way after the signing date. There may be a few coming in after the signing date who suddenly decided this might be for them, but it's not that many.

AN: We've seen in the past that world events – particularly with the economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – can influence service academy recruiting. Are you finding any of these events affecting recruiting this year? Particularly with the slow economic recovery and perhaps the pulling out of U.S. troops from Iraq?

DP: I think it does -- but with the whole Iraq thing you were talking about -- most of the guys we're recruiting, you know fairly early on if that's going to affect them. They'll tell you right away if they don't want any part of that. I think the economy has kind of helped us with the fact of the stocks going down or maybe their college fund has decreased. The key here is that if you can get them to pay attention – and you can get their parents to pay attention – it's a pretty good deal. It gives them a chance to serve and gives them a chance to get some experience before they have to go out and find work. It's a pretty easy sell to be honest with you if you can get the kid to listen. And if the kid is not going to listen? Usually that happens fairly early on.

Every kid, no matter how exciting he is when you're talking to him, will have concerns. And every parent will have concerns – ‘I don't want my son to do this' or ‘what if he has to do this?' So you have to talk them through those kinds of things, and in the briefs we have (during the visit) we give them basically a list of all the jobs that are out there. So a kid who comes on a visit knowing he doesn't want to be a marine, but he didn't realize all these other things he can do. So we try to cover that and try to answer all of their concerns. Making sure they feel comfortable about it – that's the biggest thing here. A kid has to feel comfortable about his decision and it can't be the parents' decision because they're not going to go through what they have to go through here. The kid has to. A lot of it is answering those kinds of things – you find out the recruit's concerns, and you hopefully have answers for him.

AN: How about the influence of playing early? I look at guys like Jabaree Tuani four years ago or Chris Ferguson this year and I'm reminded that there are opportunities to play as plebes at Navy, even if the old way of thinking says most impact players are juniors or seniors. Do you find that possibility of playing early (based on merit) something that attracts recruits?

DP: I think so. I think if you're honest with them sometimes they'll hear you and sometimes they don't. Tuani is probably the greatest draw I've had on the D-line. A lot of kids will see them even though I tell them it's hard to start as a D-lineman. Guys are three years older than you, they've been coached longer and played against better people, but (recruits) end up seeing that Tuani did it and everybody assumes that they can. We're very, very honest with them. Some freshmen or plebes will play and some won't play. But we don't say, ‘hey, you're coming in to be the starter.' We tell them they're coming into compete for a position, and if they are the best guy they'll play, and if their not, they'll be the second guy or the third guy or however it shakes out. I think our coaches as a whole, and coach Niumatalolo as a whole, are very fair. I think that comes through when they're visiting with the kids, because that's a question I'm sure (the recruits) are going to ask the players.

I think we're a very fair staff and I think our guys have the right answers for recruits who have those concerns. And basically all you can do – like you said – is on merit. The best guys play, and I think that comes across with our players. Our players are the best sellers of our program by far.

AN: Final question. There's no naming names, but can you give us an estimate on about how many prep players your staff has commitments from for the 2012 class as of this point?

DP: I'm going to say there are probably about 10 to 15. I think there are a lot of other guys who are going to wait to do that on their visit. We're usually about 80% on our visit, so if we bring in 10 kids we're going to usually get 7 or 8 of them. We feel pretty good by the time we get to that point.

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