Mel Tucker can’t wait to get back to recruiting.
Sure, the Michigan State coach and his staff have never stopped seeking players from the time they arrived late last February, through their first season and into this spring.
But it’s been different. Instead of hitting the road and getting players on campus, everything has been done by computer.
In fact, when the NCAA first instituted a dead period last March as COVID-19 was shutting down sports across the country, Tucker had never used Zoom.
Michigan State coach Mel Tucker was a Zoom rookie before COVID. (Photo: Carlos Osorio, AP)
Putting together his first class as the Spartans coach was a bit of an adventure. While Tucker thinks there are some aspects of working virtually that will remain, he wants to get back to doing things the way he always has – face to face.
It’s not just because he doesn’t want to spend his time in front of a computer. To Tucker, getting recruits to East Lansing is critical in building the roster. There’s no selling point quite like Michigan State’s campus.
“I know one thing – once we get these guys on campus, we’ll be able to close them because they’re going to like it,” Tucker said during a recent episode of Spartan All-Access. “Once they get here, as soon as they walk in the building, they’re going to feel the vibe, they’re going to know.”
It’s been hard for Michigan State — or any staff around the country — to make that pitch. The recruiting dead period has been extended multiple times since last spring and is currently in place through the end of May.
That means coaches continue to do the best they can selling their programs.
“For the 2021 class, it was all virtual,” Tucker said as spring practice began last week. “We’re doing the same thing now — every day, multiple virtual visits. We have a process for that and we get the prospects in there, and their parents or guardian or their coach. We get them on Zoom and we lay out our program, giving the information they need about every aspect of our program, whether it’s coaching, X’s and O’s, strength and conditioning, nutrition, academics, player engagement, athletic training, career development; all of those things.
“We’ve laid it out the best we can virtually. We use graphics, we use video. We have a lot of conversation, we do a lot of listening and we answer a lot of questions.”
The process helped produce a 19-member class in 2021 that ranked 39th in the nation, according to Rivals.com, as well as ninth in the Big Ten. It’s not he sort of ranking that will wow many, but considering it was Tucker’s first and nearly every member of the class signed without having ever been to campus, it’s also not terrible.
There were some interesting prospects in the group, as well, including linebacker Ma’a Gaoteote, offensive lineman Geno VanDeMark and defensive back Charles Brantley, all four stars. The Spartans also have four players from the class already on campus, including quarterback Hamp Fay, defensive back Michael Gravely, tight end Kameron Allen and East Lansing offensive lineman Ethan Boyd.
And the Spartans have commitments from five players for the 2022 class with the bulk of that work being done virtually.
Eventually, recruiting will return to normal. The NCAA Division I Council will vote next month on a plan do begin a transition into in-person recruiting with a move toward getting back to the regular recruiting calendar by the beginning of August.
When that happens, Tucker said he and his staff will be ready.
“As soon as we’re allowed to have players on campus, to talk to us on campus, we’re going to have them in here in a major way,” Tucker said. “We’re in the process of setting up visits, penciling in official visit dates and things like that in anticipation of, at some point, the dead period being lifted and then we can actually get players here to see us face-to-face.”
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