Written by SportsDayDFW.com
How the Internet has rocked college football recruiting
Before he became a leader of Texas' defense, Sam Acho hunted quarterbacks in relative obscurity.
For the better part of his career at St. Mark's, Acho played and few people watched. Recruiting websites ignored him, and so did every marquee program. Not until the spring after his junior season was he tendered a scholarship, when TCU made him an offer.
Then came July 5, 2006.
Two videos on Rivals.com showcased Acho's amazing exploits. Former St. Mark's assistant coach Todd Wright left a message on his phone: "Your world is about to be changed."
Overnight Acho became a cyberspace sensation as fans and coaches alike pored over two minutes, 11 seconds of him smashing ball carrier after ball carrier.
"That's when all the buzz started," Acho said. "I was shocked."
But Acho shouldn't have been. The Internet has reshaped the football recruiting landscape in the last decade. College coaches, once limited by tight budgets and packed schedules, can cast a wider net for recruits. Players, once overlooked because of their school's location and size, can show the world their talents. Highlight videos and statistics, once difficult to retrieve, are a click away. A cottage industry of interactive recruiting sites has a potential customer base of 1.2 million high school football players.
"There is so much more information out there than there ever was before," said Randy Rogers, a former college coach who has run a scouting service in Austin the last 12 years. "And it's so much easier to find a kid."
Three years ago, Alex Mortensen was watching a TV show about the rise of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace when an idea popped into his head.
"Why isn't anybody doing this specifically for football?" he said.
The son of ESPN NFL reporter Chris Mortensen, Alex played quarterback at Arkansas and Samford. He had intimate knowledge of recruiting and the challenges faced by those who had experienced it. He was also familiar with former high school teammates who had become discouraged after garnering little or no interest from colleges.
Mortensen brainstormed with his friend Neal Brown, a former Georgia Tech equipment manager, and developed PlayNextLevel.com.
Launched this year, the free site allows players to post highlight videos, measurables, statistics and photos. In many ways, the concept mimics LinkedIn, which allows job seekers to create a profile that includes a resume, picture and biographical information.
So far, about 500 athletes have created an account and have uploaded content.
"You have to be more proactive," said Chris Mortensen, a consultant and investor in the site. "That's the one thing when we talk to players: They say, 'If I could do it all over, I would have been more proactive myself.' "
Sites such as PlayNext Level.com and Takkle.com, featuring the slogan "Get Discovered!" have become vehicles for self-promotion. But they're not alone.
YouTube has become a recruiting destination. That's where Texas Tech found Brandon Smith's highlight reel last year. Before the Red Raiders came calling, the cornerback at Central Lafourche in Raceland, La., had received one scholarship offer - from Florida International. By February, he had signed with Tech.
Had the video not been made or posted by a Central LaFourche alumnus, Smith said, "I still think I would have been recruited. But not like that. I was very thankful."
"In the end, The No. 1 task for a prospect is to get on the radar screen," Rogers said. "These sites facilitate that immensely."
Before the Internet, information was not as readily available while players were not nearly as empowered.
Coaches sent letters to high schools, soliciting a list of potential recruits. This took months, so the evaluation period often didn't begin until the spring before the prospects became seniors. That's when coaches hopped in their cars to seek out game film on 16-millimeter reels. Not until the ensuing fall - and usually after Thanksgiving - did the recruiting actually begin.
These days, many scholarship offers are made and accepted before players enter their senior years. Technology has expedited the process, and the best example of this is the evolution of the highlight tape. The rise of VHS and DVDs presented a usable format to show clips. The development of computer editing software provided the means to cut and splice them. The Internet has allowed for their widespread distribution.
"It's just advanced light years," Rogers said.
But not everything has changed. The highlight tape is still tantamount to a first impression. College recruiters seek out game film so they can see the unvarnished truth about a prospect. They also consult high school coaches, whose influence hasn't been diminished.
"They really rely on our word," said Denton Guyer coach John Walsh. "They call the coach to see if they can get a recommendation worthy of a $200,000 scholarship. Film can be misleading."
In Sam Acho's case, however, it offered a glimpse at what was to come.
"You have to do whatever you can to get your name out there," Acho said. "But if you're talented, schools will find you no matter what."