Courtesy of Oberlin College Football
Despite the challenges of this past year, Oberlin’s football recruitment flourished through the dedicated work of coaches, staff, and current student-athletes: The team is adding 34 new student-athletes to the roster this fall. During a normal year, it is common for potential student-athletes to visit campus and for coaches to travel around the nation to recruit. Head Football Coach Steve Opgenorth knew that recruiting would look different this year with COVID-19 restrictions; nevertheless, the coaching staff and team made the most out of the circumstances.
“I knew that we would have to adapt and overcome when the pandemic hit,” Opgenorth said. “Instead of being on the road to recruit and seeing people at camps, we spent a significant amount of time in the virtual world. A lot of credit goes to our staff for coming up with new and innovative ideas of what we could do through virtual visits; for example, we came up with ‘Heisman Home Visits.’ We were able to recruit students with a culture and personality that was able to be projected through a Zoom call, and from there, we were able to build meaningful relationships.”
Building that personal connection with a potential student-athlete is particularly important as student-athletes are looking for a place where they can flourish on and off the field. Opgenorth has worked extensively with the coaching staff and Athletics department to further improve recruitment by involving current players and alumni in the recruitment of the next generation of Yeomen.
“The most important part of recruiting is that connection with the current student-athletes,” Opgenorth said. “I know it was, for me, a long time ago when I was looking at colleges and figuring out where I was going to fit in socially, academically, and the balance of being a student-athlete. I think that those who can project it the best are the current students who are living it day-in and day-out. It’s the honest approach to recruitment and building relationships.”
College first-year and safety on the football team Jake Russell explained how the role of current student-athletes became even more important with COVID-19.
“Current players were a very important part of recruiting this year, whether it was doing the regular stuff like reaching out to recruits over the phone or due to COVID[-19] having recruiting visits over Zoom instead of in-person, every step of the way the current players were as involved as ever,” Russell wrote in an email to the Review.
For now, Opgenorth is focusing on the upcoming season with the first game on Sept. 4 and continuing to instill players with the drive and determination to succeed on the field — a mindset that the team refers to as the standard.
“The recruiting class was our first priority and now we’re working on further preparing our current players with a culture and understanding of the standard and what can be accomplished through hard work and a buy-in of what the standard is,” he said. “The expectation is to reach our full potential.”
For College second-year and linebacker Hulan Edward, returning to the field and competing with his team is a top priority for this upcoming season.
“More than anything, I’m just looking forward to getting back on the field,” Edward wrote in an email to the Review. “After blowing out my knee freshman year and COVID[-19] last year, the opportunity to compete with the team again excites me more than anything.”
Opgenorth noted that this process will not happen overnight — the team must work together to win.
“The all-in mentality does not qualify that a game loss is solely based on a number,” he said. “It says that your product will be the result of collective effort of reaching your full potential, which won’t happen overnight. We’re excited about the fall, and having 34 individuals coming here to play college football was the first step in knowing and understanding the opportunity here at Oberlin College and the mountain we’ll climb together.”