I, like many of you, absolutely loved the game NCAA Football. While the play itself was fun, my favorite part of it was less about the individual seasons and games, and more about the program-building built into the game play. Maybe I am a little like Gary Patterson, loving the build as much as the blowouts.
One of the best aspects, in my opinion, was recruiting; creating a board, contacting players, making promises, and hoping they would sign on the dotted line. Even in the game, TCU Football was at a disadvantage in this area, rarely beating out the Blue Bloods for top talent until after I had taken the Horned Frogs to ten straight National Championships (just call me the Nick Saban of the XBox, I guess). Often, the best strategy for success was focusing on local players or those from pipeline states.
Unfortunately for Gary Patterson and TCU, the real world of recruiting isn’t quite as easy to manipulate as that of the video game, though for many years, similar strategies were applied. Early on in his career, the Head Horned Frog spoke about building a fence around DFW and working to keep the local talent, well, local. Later on, he reached deep into Louisiana, building that pipeline state into an easy access point for talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball. #BoysFromTheBoot became a common mantra and an oft-used recruiting hashtag. But now, in a world where over half of TCU’s students matriculate from out of state, where social media can make anyone famous, and where streaming services mean that you can watch San Jose State on the regular, it’s less necessary to recruit close to home.
Patterson knows that, and is using it to his advantage. “We have had five or six guys that kind of came from perimeter places that aren’t just neighboring states, and I think you will start seeing us more and more being able to do that. The reputation of TCU has grown from an admissions standpoint, where their friends are coming to TCU, so they know more about us now. That’s made our job easier.”
Whether it was the Rose Bowl win leading to thousands of applications from potential freshman, or the recruitment of Lucas Niang leading to the signing of Michael Collins, TCU’s recruiting borders are wider than ever. It doesn’t mean that the Frogs won’t still mine local talent - or that Patterson won’t work hard to continue to hold the trust of high school coaches - or that Louisiana, Oklahoma (three commits in the class of 2020 already), and other neighboring states won’t be critical to filling each class. And his reputation with Texas high school coaches, especially, makes it a fertile recruiting ground for him. And it’s not only by design - it’s earned. “With the high school coaches, what we have always tried to do - my assistant coaches and myself - we have always been honest with them, even if it’s not the answer they want. We’ve always tried to help them as much as we could, and I think that goes a long way. And stability, staying somewhere a long time. Those guys know, when they give us one of their players, they’re going to be taken care of to the best of our ability.”
TCU’s growing reputation outside of Texas does mean, though, is GP can spread his net wider to bring in the kind of kids he wants - something he is working to get back to. “A high-profile guy, if he’s really interested, then we’re going to recruit him. But if I have to babysit him through it, then I’m probably not going to recruit him. Because there are plenty of guys out there. You only have to get 5-7 guys in a class that can play anywhere, if you’ll just recruit good players for the rest of them, then you’re going to have a chance to be successful. You don’t recruit all chiefs, and that’s one of the secrets. I think we got away from it, to be honest with you, for a couple of years, and I’m trying to get back to my old ways.”
Getting back to his old ways should be a good thing for TCU Football, and TCU Football fans. We are certainly about to find out, at least.