College coaches continually look for the ideal athlete for each position on the football team. The vitally important physical elements -- height, weight, speed, quickness, leaping ability, change of direction, strength and technical skills -- are among the characteristics evaluated by coaches before making that highly sought-after scholarship offer.
It's amazing, however, how often it's true that an abundance of physical talent doesn't translate to success on the gridiron. There are other factors -- the proverbial intangibles -- which can indeed be the difference between being mediocre and being exceptional. Intangibles are the attributes an athlete possesses or the behavior he exhibits that require absolutely no physical talent but are crucial to success. These intangibles are sometimes difficult to measure, but any college coach will tell you they are worth their weight in gold.
It doesn't take any physical talent to go all-out every play. For example, coaches look for the running back who fights for every inch of turf or the defensive lineman who turns and runs downfield to pursue the football after the pass is thrown.
The term "finish" also relates to giving effort. The offensive lineman who stays with his block or sprints to get a cross-field block even though he is backside of the play is an example of a finisher. Even though coaches can emphasize giving great effort, more often than not it is an intrinsic quality the athlete himself possesses, and what brings it out is the personal pride and self-discipline the athlete demands of himself.
In the early fall of 2000, our Ohio State staff still had one scholarship to offer to a defensive lineman. We had trouble deciding between three players for the final grant-in-aid. They were all about the same size and had similar talents, so the decision was a tough one to make.
I kept watching film trying to find something that would make one guy stand out above the rest. Finally it happened. With just a few seconds left in a game that was all but over, one of the guys I was evaluating broke through and blocked an extra point even though his team was well ahead. He didn't have to do that -- he could have taken the play off. We offered him the scholarship even though he was from a much smaller school than the other two linemen.
The player's name was Tim Anderson, and he ended up being a three-year starter and a third-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills. Tim now plays for the Atlanta Falcons, and the irony is he probably wouldn't have been offered a scholarship if he hadn't blocked that extra point. A play that meant nothing ended up meaning everything. Effort in football can't be overemphasized.
Too many times leadership is determined by how rah-rah a player is on the field. Sometimes, however, the best leadership is not vocal; leadership by example can be just as meaningful and just as productive as how loud someone can yell in an attempt to motivate the team. Coaches look for players who perform on and off the gridiron in a manner other players hopefully will emulate. Of course, coaches love a guy who is vocal and who can back up what he says and demands of his teammates by his own actions.
All mature athletes realize team glory brings about individual recognition. It's not easy for a player who has been heavily recruited and continually told how great he is to keep his head on straight.
College recruiting coaches are impressed by the athletes who give credit to others. Team players use the word "we" a lot more than "I." NFL owners spend thousands of dollars on experts who try to determine if a certain player will be an asset or a detriment to the team. In a sport where longevity is rare, coaches really do not like dealing with self-centered individuals.
Not every athlete can be an A student, but coaches expect the player to become a student of the game. The better a player understands the game, the more apt he is to make smart decisions on the field. By studying alignments, stances, splits, etc., a player can better realize what the opponent is going to do after the snap. Coaches are more likely to recruit an athlete who proves he understands the game than gamble on someone who is unproven.
College coaches are under a lot of pressure to bring in good, solid recruits. Physical talents and skills are a huge part of the equation, but coaches are looking for the entire package in the young men they bring to campus. Often, the intangibles determine the true success of an individual and of a team.
Bill Conley worked at Ohio State for 17 years as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. Since retiring from Ohio State in 2004, Conley has worked as a contributor and analyst for Columbus-area print and broadcast media and as a professional speaker. He also published a book recounting his years as Buckeyes recruiting coordinator, "Buckeye Bumper Crops."