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KSU football coach Hazell talks recruiting

 February 3, 2012 By David Carducci~Staff writer~The Record Courier

Darrell Hazell revealed the names of the 25 new Golden Flashes making up his second recruiting class as Kent State's head coach on Wednesday's National Signing Day.

Two days earlier, I sat down for an hour with Hazell to discuss recruiting. He talked about everything from his recruiting philosophies, to he looks for in a player and the process of selling them on a school and shared some stories from the recruiting trail, from how to choke down a meal that may not be too appetizing during a home visit to dealing with the seedier side of recruiting.

Here is a look at some of what he had to say:

Q: Last year you only had three weeks to put together your first recruiting class after taking the job. Now that you've had a full year to recruit this second class, what differences did you find between recruiting at this level and recruiting at Kent State?

HAZELL: For me it's more a difference between being an assistant and a head coach. As an assistant, you sit in one location for three or four days and scout the area. But as a head coach, you go in, see one or two guys, and then you are out.

Q: So much goes on in recruiting - you watch so much film, you have so many needs you want to fill, then you have different coaches traveling all of the country, sometimes to different places trying to fill the same need. It can be pretty hectic. How do you keep the big picture together?

HAZELL: It's funny you ask. We went back and watched all of our guys, one after another (on Sunday) and afterwards we all just said "wow." That's because when you are putting it together for 11 months, you don't see the final product. We are all working in our own separate worlds, then we come back and meet on it. We keep asking the same questions over and over again. Do they have enough character to represent you? Can they flourish in the classroom? And can they help us win a championship? Then you start making tough decisions. Eventually it all just comes together.

Q: What is the biggest obstacle you find when you are trying to sell Kent State to recruits?

HAZELL: I asked a kid just last week what he knew about Kent State, and he said the (1970) shootings. That's a kid. A 17-year-old kid, and he said the shootings.

For most people it's distance because Kent State isn't a national name. If you are down in Texas or Florida, you have to explain to them where Kent State is. Then you get them here and they say 'this is a lot different than I though tit was going to be. I thought you'd be out in the sticks. I heard that two or three times.

Q: What ends up selling a recruit?

HAZELL: It's competitive out there. I think it all comes down to how comfortable that kid feels when he is with the individual coach and when he is on campus. Some kids pick you for crazy reasons, but for the most part it is how comfortable a kid feels.

Q: I know to change it a little bit for each recruit, but what is your basic pitch?

HAZELL: I tell them this is a special place. It's going to be really special. This is the time to get on board. And this place is about one thing. It's about people. And then I kind of elaborate on that. That's where I go with it, and then it comes down to trust, trust in what we are doing.

Q: For a long time, Kent State had a reputation as a school that did not do a good job of recruiting Ohio. You've dedicated yourself to recruiting in-state kids. This year more than half of your recruits are from Ohio. Have you noticed a response from Ohio high-school coaches?

HAZELL: At first, they hadn't seen us for so long, it was shock. Then it was gratitude. We extend invitations to them to come out and hang out with us. I think they help us because of that.

Q: When you meet with a recruit, it can be like a job interview. And you are dealing with a 17 or 18-years old who have probably never held a job or interviewed for one. This is a whole new experience for him and it's probably pretty scary. How should he approach it?

HAZELL: What he should be thinking is I need to be myself and not put on any airs. But, I'm sure he is thinking I need to say the right things, impress the coach.

I know it is stressful, for the player and the parents. I have a good story of something that just happened (on Sunday). This has happened quite a few times, but not to this extent. We had a player in, and he had not been offered. We weren't sure, and we brought him up on a visit. It was dad, his mom, his stepmom and the kid. He had a couple of other things going but he really wanted to come here. I talked about the whole thing, the process and the procedures, and then I extended the offer. And all at once, both parents, both moms and the dad, they just had an emotional rush and they all started crying. I never lost eye contact with the kid, and I just kept talking. But I could also see the parents just losing it. It was like a ton of bricks had been lifted off of their shoulders. It was neat. Something like that has happened five or six times this year where someone breaks down.

You often fall in love with the family as much as the kid. I'll always remember when I was at Ohio State home visit with (current Oakland Raiders defensive back) Chimdi Chekwa was so embracing. They were from another country (Nigeria). The mom puts out a big spread and makes you feel like you are their son.

Q: That can be dangerous too if you are a finicky eater. Have you gone into a home and been served something that you've had to eat to avoid risking insulting the parents?

HAZELL: Well, I am one. I don't eat seafood, and if I go to a home where they are serving seafood I find a way to force it down. The whole mind is consumed, instead of talking about recruiting, it's with how am I going to be able to eat this? I try to move the food around the plate a little bit and then try to eat some.

I was in a school last week and the coach of a recruit runs out and gets me this chicken and rice and comes back. Well, right before he comes back, I feel like I'm getting sick. He comes back and I'm wondering how am I going to be able to eat this food. I had four or five bites, but I was pretending like I was eating. It was in one of those folding containers. When he turned a way for a minute, I said 'man that was really good' and threw it in the trash before he looked back.

Q: Do you remember the first living room you were ever in as a recruiter?

HAZELL: I don't. That's 25 or 26 years ago. But I remember a lot of the living rooms. I remember being in a kid's living room where he is sitting on the torn-out front seat of a truck and there is a hole in the wall and no lights in the house. I remember thinking this kid lives like this.

Q: And you are also probably thinking you have the keys to something better for him. Was that when you were at Ohio State?

HAZELL: I was thinking that, but it was when I was at Oberlin. That kid's dad was shot and killed the next year. He was just walking down the street, minding his own business. It was terrible. But the kid got his degree and he made it.

Q: It has to be pretty satisfying to think back about how you recruited different kids and how making that offer changed their lives?

HAZELL: There are a lot of those guys. I'll think of a kid named Delfon Curlpepper who came from the slums of Detroit. We got him away from that, the violence and the drugs. He was a really sharp guy and he made it. That was another Oberlin story.

And when I was at Army there was a kid named Danny Colintrelli. We recruited him out of Florida and he was from a really good family. The mom was working at the school and his dad owned his own business. Danny really wanted to come to West Point, but he was on the border academically for West Point. He would have been a really good student for most places. We wanted to get him and we worked hard to get him. After his first year, I left to be an assistant at West Virginia, and he called me and said 'Coach, I'm thinking of leaving.' But I talked him into staying, reminding him how much he really wanted to be at West Point. Well, he ended up staying, graduating and then going to serve in the war. His mom kept calling me saying she was so scared. But the kid ended up loving serving in the army. And the mom ended up being so grateful that I helped convincing him to stay, even though she was terrified. When he got out, she was really happy.

Q: That's a whole different thing, recruiting a kid to play football at West Point knowing that he may have to go on to serve in a war.

HAZELL: It is. I'll get a call out of nowhere from some of my receivers who are serving. They'll say, hey, I'm flying a Blackhawk helicopter.

Q: Were any of the kids you recruited ever killed?

HAZELL: Not to my knowledge, thankfully.

Q: How unusual is it to like a player, but then you meet with him and you leave thinking I just can't take him?

HAZELL: It's very rare, but it does happen where guys will say too much, try to impress you too much or talk too much.

What can scare you off more often is the patents. You ask yourself, do I want to get involved with this kid and have the parents around? We were recruiting a player this year where the mom was just brutal. I got three or four calls saying don't get involved with this one. She may have been the cause of his (high school) coach getting fired. We weren't sure he was good enough, but with (the mom) we weren't ready to take a chance.

Q: What was the best home visit you've ever had?

HAZELL: Maybe one of the best home visits was (current Chicago Bears wide receiver) Dane Sanzenbacher when I was at Ohio State. We sat down with his folks, but then Dane and I got away from the folks for a little bit just to talk a little. He said, 'I'm starting this piano thing.' So I sat down right next to him on the at his piano and listened to him play for 30 minutes. It was just real neat. We removed ourselves from football and it was him being himself and doing what he likes to do. Some coaches may not like that. But I like that.

Q: We hear all kinds of stories about players and parents being guaranteed anything from money to cars. How much of a seedy side of recruiting is there at this level?

HAZELL: Here you find more of the negative recruiting. Most of the other stuff doesn't go on. Well, I shouldn't say that. I haven't seen it. I was in a situation once when I was coaching at West Virginia. I was in Ft. Lauderdale with a kid. It was between us and another school. I said, 'What do I have to do to get you to come to West Virginia.?' And he said the other school was willing to do this, and this, and this. And I said, 'Whoa, good luck to you.' It can be pretty dirty out there.

Q: What can the NCAA do to clean it up?

HAZELL: I think the only way to stop it is when coaches know something is happening, you have to turn them in. Coaches won't turn anyone in. They won't do it. It's hard to do.
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