Student Submission: Dealing their card in recruiting

UNLV Head Coach, Marcus Arroyo, praises the team after their victory against New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Ethan McCoy

Out of the nine percent of high school football players who have a chance to play college ball, UNLV always looks to prove its superiority and why those students should not look anywhere else.

Recruiting in college football has never been an easy task, but UNLV is looking to break records and history in its bids to players around the country. 

“We have top of the line and state of the art facilities, other teams in the mountain west conference don’t have anything close,” said Kelsea Winkle, director of recruiting for UNLV. “We have our own academics, our own training area, and our own weight room, and we live in Las Winkle headlines the recruitment experience at UNLV, and praises the famous lights and glamor of the strip will be able to win over top prospects for incoming classes.

The state of the art facilities Winkle is referring to are the three-year-old Fertitta Football Complex which cost $34.8 million dollars to construct, as well as the home of the Rebels, Allegiant Stadium. All to try and win over incoming recruits.

Despite all of these fancy buildings, history shows that UNLV does not have the greatest stat record when it comes to being a winning program; not having a winning season since 2013 when the team went 7-6, which for some can be off-putting. However, Winkle does not believe this should be an issue. 

“Lot of recruits are drawn to the program itself and the people within the program are a huge motivating force,” She said. “Facilities are great, but what draws in is culture.”

For UNLV, it is more than just their flashy lights, but the connections.

The feeling of family trumps all when a recruit comes to UNLV. With the addition of head coach Marcus Arroyo in 2020, the attitude of the program has been to transition into a cooperative and winning team, and when it comes to recruits, relationships are the most important factor, Winkle said, “If coaches truly want them, foster them to grow, everyone wants to feel valued.”

The goal at UNLV football focuses on not creating ordinary factory-like programs that only farm out student athletes for on-field success and the sake of the program, instead to be successful the program looks to better the players as people, humans and create a family culture that other programs don’t advertise.

Making sure coaches also have a full understanding of who they bring into the program creates an environment of trust among everyone. The process applies equally to the recruits as they get to understand the lives and styles of their future teachers and mentors.

A much more pivotal process of this recruiting strategy has been much more of an internal cultural and functional push to show that UNLV will compete. “This season so far we were the underdogs, and we’ve shown up,” Winkle said. “We have great talent, truly UNLV football has a bright future. Our coaches are amazing and we try to create a higher level of coaching I’d say.”The other thing that has recruits licking their chops includes the brand new NIL feature that student-athletes can participate in. As in normal life already, everyone’s name, image and likeness can be used to profit, however, the NCAA never allowed students to participate in this. And now since the change, the school of choice is incredibly important for a student-athlete when choosing how to represent their brand, as well as possible sponsors.

“So many changes in the past two years, a much bigger focus on what schools can give for a recruit for NIL. It’s about who can give more money,” Winkle said. “NIL plays a huge role” when competing with other schools, and “state law can’t allow athletes to make money from UNLV” which can be a negative, but NIL can still apply to athletes privately to them while attending.

While NIL cannot be controlled by the school, Winkle is only worried about providing a good recruitment experience. “Whether or not you are a 5-star athlete, you will be given a 5-star experience, no matter what type of visit, we want them all to have that experience.”

While Winkle works on providing a proper image for recruits, Ethan Russo oversees the process in giving coaches the chance to see potential athletes of the future. Russo, the director of player personnel, meets with coaches and builds their idea of what kind of player they would like to see in the lineup for future classes. Russo works to find players of their wants and dive deeper to see their character and academics.

“When it comes to high school perspectives, we are gonna get guys that can compete at this level. At the end of the day, we have to be able to coach and develop them,” Russo said. “Meanwhile the transfer portal, we look for production, coaches want guys that can plug and play, and there’s not a lot of those guys out there like that.”

The transfer portal acts as a giant free-agent pool of students who want to try their luck at another university after already attending one. This is a fantastic opportunity for smaller colleges like UNLV to grab impactful players such as running back Aidan Robbins from Louisville.

A key piece the Russo looks for when it comes to transfer guys is pedigree. Russo said, “…for whatever reason they were rated a 4 star in high school, I’ll use pedigree that this is an elite level athlete out of high school, and for some reason, it didn’t transfer to the first college.” The goal then would be to try and train that player back to a stage they were previously in their career.

Although after all the jumps and catches, in the end one thing matters most. “Personality matters, a big part of the evaluation process, it’s about guys you get, not what you miss on. Have the right mindset to be successful,” said Russo.


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