As West Virginia State football coach John Pennington stood before everyone at the Yellow Jackets’ signing-day luncheon Wednesday, he mentioned the eye-catching graphics on the highlight videos of each signee the team posted to Twitter. He also made sure to thank his athletic director, Nate Burton.
After all, it was Burton who was up late Tuesday night designing those graphics.
“I don’t want to call marketing and communications and pull them away from what they’re doing for the university,” Burton said. “So I just do them myself.”
That WVSU’s AD would take such a hands-on role in the process shows how important he and Pennington consider that small flourish of pixels on a highlight reel. They’re absolutely right to feel that way, as so many other small colleges do these days.
The battle for the right recruits is just as fierce in Institute, West Virginia, as it is in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The difference is resources. If LSU wants to woo a blue-chipper, it can show that kid pictures of the sleep pods sitting at every locker in the football building. Those pods alone cost more than plenty of Division II football programs’ entire budgets.
There are very few spots where Division II can narrow the gulf between it and the Power 5. Any spots those smaller schools find must be handled as economically as possible. Those highlight videos are one of those available spots, mainly because the lion’s share of the cost comes in man-hours to put them together.
The difference is Power 5 schools have staffs of people who design those videos. At the D2 level, it’s the guy who oversees the entire athletic program putting them together when he gets home at night. While Burton was working on graphics into the night Tuesday, assistant coach Ryan Garrett was putting together the videos for the posts.
“It’s what we have to do,” Burton said. “Every single thing, every single detail is a representation of our athletic department.”
So many programs jockey for position each year for prospective athletes. Each program must do something in order to stand out. For State, it isn’t just with signing-day videos. The athletic department also contracts with Charleston-based Filmanatix to create video content from games and practices, which State posts all over social media.
“The biggest thing we do other than develop young men — that’s the No. 1 thing we do — other than that, what drives the engine is building our network, Yellow Jacket Nation,” Pennington said. “We want to build bridges and get the word out there that this is what we do. That’s a huge piece of what we do.”
At the University of Charleston, football coach Pat Kirkland leans on defensive line coach Zack Santolla to put together those signing-day graphics packages.
“Hire good people who know what they’re doing,” Kirkland said, “and I did.”
Kirkland said that having staff members adept at video, graphics and social media is a necessity. Prospects now expect those things on signing day. They’re looking for something to tweet out or post on Instagram to announce their college decisions, what is likely the biggest decision those kids have made so far in their lives.
Football programs want to give those kids something they’re proud to advertise. That’s especially crucial for smaller programs. That tweet may be the first time some people have ever learned about that school.
A nice highlight video isn’t the magic bullet in recruiting, but both Kirkland and Pennington say it helps a lot. And it also helps for future recruiting. The 2020 signing classes have younger friends also looking to play college football, and a nice video package might catch their eyes.
And if that video piques their interest enough, the coaches might get them on campus and be able to sell them on the rest of what they can offer.
“We’re blessed that ... Charleston is appealing because of where it’s at,” Kirkland said. “There are some places, you want to get a burger, you have to drive 35 minutes. This is a good place.”
Every little bit helps on the recruiting trail and even the smallest details can make the difference between signing a player and watching that player sign somewhere else. While schools like State and UC may not have enough cash to build waterfalls in their football buildings, a couple late nights and some elbow grease can help them look like a big-time program. Burton said the reactions from the players make those long nights worth it.
“The student-athletes that we have here now love it,” Burton said. “So I know it works. And if the student-athletes we have here love it, the student-athletes we recruit will love it, too.”