Brian Bennett, The Man Who Oversees WVU’s Football Recruiting – Part 6
(Editor’s Note – I recently got a chance to sit down with Brian Bennett, who is the new director of player personnel for the Mountaineer football program.
For nearly 45 minutes we discussed various aspects of his life, what brought him to West Virginia and also took a deep dive into WVU’s recruiting, which is the aspect of the program he oversees.
This is the sixth and final article in our series with Bennett on what West Virginia’s football recruiting will look like in the Neal Brown era.
Today we’ll look at the Mountaineers’ recruiting process in regard to the recent rules changes.)
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Transfer portals, early signing date, cost of full attendance – these are just a few of the fairly new aspects of college football.
The biggest change for FBS recruiting in recent years is the new early signing date, which takes place the third Wednesday of December. That has altered many other parts of recruiting.
“The new signing day shifted everything two months forward. It really didn’t change things that much; it just shifted things forward some,” explained WVU director of player personnel Brian Bennett. “It does make commitments more important, in my opinion. If a guy is committed to us, we want them to sign on Dec. 19. That’s the real signing day now. February is just to finish out your class, but December is the true signing day now. Things are accelerated now and bumped forward. Your junior days are now two months earlier, your official visits are a couple months earlier, everything is just bumped forward.”
There are other changes in recruiting, much of it to take pressure off younger prospects.
Now there can be zero communication between a coach and a prospective student-athlete until June 15 after their sophomore year.
Also, there can be no official or unofficial visits until Aug. 1 of their junior year, no off-campus contact with a coach until Aug. 1 of their junior year, and no verbal offers to student-athletes until June 15 after their sophomore year.
Also prospects can start taking official visits as early as April 1 of their junior year, but for Bennett, hosting visits that early seems a bit much
“It would take an exceptional case for us to (have an April official visit), because that’s really early,” said the Mobile, Alabama, native who came with Neal Brown to WVU in January after working for him at Troy the previous four years. “We’ll do some summer official visits, but we would like most of our visits to be in the fall.”
The Mountaineers did host some official visits in June, but will save the others until later in the calendar.
All things are subject to change, though.
“The new signing day has accelerated the process, so you have to be ready to move things forward, but spring is really early,” said Bennett of the official visit process. “Now when the next class comes around and we’ve had a full year with some of these prospects, we may feel a little different about that. But right now we feel spring visits are too early. We hadn’t had a chance to see anyone live yet; we’re strictly going off film, and that’s hard. So we didn’t utilize spring visits this year, but moving forward we’ll discuss if it’s something we want to do.”
West Virginia’s coaches spent part of April and much of the month of May on the recruiting trail, evaluating recruits. NCAA rules allow FBS programs to use a total of 168 evaluation days from April 15 to May 31, with the day each coach spends on the road counting as one day. Thus with 10 assistant coaches, they’ll each get 16 or 17 days to make visits, and they can hit as many schools as possible during each day.
Those spring evaluation days are a huge component of the recruiting process for Brown’s program.
“We put heavy emphasis on live evaluation, because film only tells you so much,” noted Bennett. “Coach Brown wants our coaches see kids live in the spring, and while the coaches are making their evaluation, they also film as much as they can with their phone. The coaches will send me their film each day. Then I’ll plug my phone into Coach Brown’s TV, and we’ll sit there and watch that.
“So, our live evaluation starts in the spring, and then we want as many prospects as possible to get to our camps in June,” Bennett added. “That gives us an in-person evaluation of them, but it also gives them an in-person evaluation of us. That’s what a lot of these PSAs (prospective student-athletes) don’t understand is that they need to take advantage of the opportunity to get to know these coaches and see how they actually coach. The summer camps are the first opportunities for them to come to campus and experience the type of coaching they’ll get. That gives them a chance to figure out who is the best fit for them. And for us, it gives us an in-person evaluation – do they take directions well, do they listen, do they adapt, do they have the physical traits we need. Those in-person evaluations are vital to us. We do not take a kid without some sort of in-person evaluation.”
In a different era, football camps used to be five days or so with a mixture of fun and pigskin for kids of all ages. There are still youth camps, but a big emphasis for FBS programs are one-day affairs used to see top-level prospects.
“Camps now are an evaluation camp,” stated Bennett. “We’re coaching and getting information, but it’s much more condensed than it used to be. The NCAA made it a recruiting event.
“Coach Brown is very active during camp. He gets to every position, and he can’t help but jump in and start coaching. My job during camp is to make sure he gets around and sees everyone.”
West Virginia’s coaches will spend time at their own camps, but they’ll also go on the road to other locations in June to see recruits.
“You have 10 days to evaluate at camps over the summer,” explained Bennett. “You can subtract the elite camps we have here, and whatever we have left, we’ll go out to other camps.”
Brown and his staff certainly have spent a lot of time recruiting for the class of 2020, but they’ve also put a great deal of effort into trying to round out the class of 2019. They found a few graduate transfers, who will be immediately eligible for the Mountaineers and hopefully can plug some of the bigger holes, like at quarterback, wide receiver and defensive line.
“We didn’t take a huge amount at Troy,” said Bennett of the grad transfers. “The market isn’t as big at that level as it is at this level. Again those guys are immediate need; you have to have someone come in and play right away, then you can go find one at that position. A lot are one-and-done, and we generally like multi-year guys, but if there is one out there that is a good fit, we’ll pursue it.”
As for Bennett himself, he’s settling in to Morgantown. After a somewhat nomadic life in the football profession, that including stretches at Birmingham-Southern College, the University of Florida, the University of Louisville, the University of Texas and then Troy, he’s ready to set down some roots.
He’s married to Sarah (Hall) Bennett for almost 18 months, though she’s finishing up her work in medical school in Louisville and won’t be able to join him in Morgantown for another year yet. While West Virginia is unique in comparison to other places he’s been, he’s quickly falling for his new home.
“I’ve never lived anywhere with this many hills,” Bennett chuckled. “But I’m finding my way around. It’s not too bad. My wife and I think we’ve found a house we like. I’m renting currently, but we’ve found a house we love. Now we just have to figure out the process to buy it.
“We’re truly Mountaineers now.”