Unofficial visits speed up recruiting process

The Oklahoma coaches know football recruiting has changed. It's no longer seasonal; it's a 365-day per year process. They know it, and they’re not fighting it. Because if they did, they would be left behind, especially as it pertains to unofficial visits.

It’s still common to rack up commitments on official visits during the fall, but the unofficial visit is threatening to replace that. OU has been getting commitments on unofficial visits, and the official visit is now more about solidifying those commitments.

“Unofficial visits are everything now,” said OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. “You look at all the kids committed before their senior year. They’re doing everything on their own. Recruiting has become year-round. Kids are committed before September.”

What that has meant is speeding up the evaluation process. No longer can coaches wait to evaluate a recruit during their senior season and try to get them on campus after the season. When looking at one class, it has become necessary to look at the following one, too.

“Most guys are recruited before they can take official visits,” said OU wide receivers coach Jay Norvell. “Juniors, sophomores are getting so much attention that they’re getting recruited before they can even take official visits.

“So much of it is over with before the fall of their senior season starts. Those official visits during that time are almost afterthought visits.”

It has been a nice blend for OU in terms of its recruiting. The Sooners nabbed several signees in December and January to cap off their 2012 class.

Among OU’s 12 verbal commits for 2013, three have followed unofficial visits. Three-star athlete Austin Bennett (Manvel, Texas/Manvel) actually committed during his unofficial visit.

“The unofficial visit gave me a lot of one-on-one time with Coach Norvell,” Bennett said. “You got to see how much they really cared about you and how much they wanted you in their program. It let me know OU was the place for me.”

Six of the commits were at one of OU’s two junior days in February and March.

“You’re getting juniors or sophomores in December and January when you’re out on the road,” Heupel said. “You’re getting names as you go by schools. Kids come to your campus before their senior year. They’ll come in the spring or summer heading into their senior year. It has changed the cycle of it.”

Two of OU commits, Fresno (Calif.) Central East four-star safety Hatari Byrd and three-star safety Ahmad Thomas (Miami/Central) have not seen the campus and are using their official visit to make sure they’re 100 percent with OU.

And as OU found last year, sometimes its best work is done during the official visit time period. Not because that was the plan but because it had to work out that way.

“At times some of our best guys have been guys we’ve gotten in December,” Heupel said. “It’s an on-going process. Your needs change as a program sometimes as well, with guys getting injured or leaving the program. There are different needs as a process goes.”

Brandon Chatmon contributed to this story.