It's been said the fastest way to a man's heart is through his stomach. College football coaches know the saying also applies on the recruiting trail.
In most cases, the food a prospect eats on an official visit can't compare to playing time, relationships with the coaching staff, or academics when it comes time to make a decision. But trying to impress recruits with five-pound lobsters, chicken wings, all-you-can-eat buffets and 72-ounce steaks certainly can't hurt. And as silly as it sounds, there are countless stories about recruits who made their college choices based on food they've eaten while visiting or because the town they've moving to has a specific restaurant.
Coming out of Ellison High School (Killeen, Texas) in the Class of 1999, Reggie Duncan was a Parade All-America running back who was coveted by schools from coast to coast. Duncan signed with Kansas instead of in-state Texas A&M largely because he fell in love with the chicken fingers he ate while visiting Lawrence. Auburn linebacker Cassanova McKinzy was dubbed "the Chick-fil-A recruit" after he selected the Tigers over Clemson in 2012 because he liked the proximity of the chain's location to the Auburn campus.
"We want to know what the kids like before they visit," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "What drinks they like? What food they like? There was this one time we found out this guy liked a certain kind of chocolate milk, and we made sure it was there. All of those things are important."
In the 2015 recruiting cycle, prospects admit food is something they think about a lot.
No. 1-ranked running back Ronald Jones II said the worst part about leaving Texas to play at USC is that there aren't any Whataburger franchises in Los Angeles, but he admitted Trojans coaches have introduced him to the greatness that is In-N-Out Burger. Florida State running back commitment Jacques Patrick admitted he didn't want to pick a school that didn't have a Zaxby's in town. Fortunately for Patrick, he will be able to get wings, fingerz and zappetizers anytime he wants because there are six Zaxby's in Tallahassee, including one just 1.3 miles from Doak Campbell Stadium.
"I'm not going to lie, food played a role in my recruitment," ESPN 300 linebacker and Alabama commit Adonis Thomas said. "It might sound goofy to a lot of people, but knowing you can eat well when you're in college is part of that at-home feeling you get when you're looking at a school.
"At Alabama, you get to eat all you want. There's good barbecue down there. I love barbecue and Chinese food, and they have some good places like that in Tuscaloosa. I fell in love with Full Moon Bar-B-Que when I was down there. Knowing you're going to find a good cooked meal is something that really is important to a football player."
Apparently so are cookie cakes.
It's still unclear where and when the trend of using cookie cakes in recruiting originated -- some coaches have suggested it started at Army in the '90s under Bob Sutton -- but now if a recruit walks into his hotel room and doesn't find a cookie cake with multicolored icing welcoming him to the university, he's greatly disappointed. The cookie-cake phenomenon has become such a big deal that recruits flood social media with pictures of the delightful delicacy on visit weekends. The icing on one such treat at South Carolina was even reported as a minor NCAA infraction. Thankfully for recruiters, the NCAA ruled that those cookies weren't crumbling anytime soon.
"Kids get fired up by the funniest things," Florida Atlantic assistant coach Nick Caley said. "Of course, as recruiters you want everything to make them happy when they're visiting your place. I know we've stepped up our cookie game here at FAU. We now have cookie cakes for the kids that are the thickness of a brownie."
Some schools have taken the food factor to a different level. Georgia Tech uses doughnuts that spell out "Go Jackets" and Stanford serves cupcakes that are so high-quality they have to be eaten with a fork and knife.
"All of these little things matter when kids are on visits," Arizona receivers coach Tony Dews said. "Many recruits are coming in after a long flight, and something simple like having a nice cookie in their room to munch on can really set the tone for the rest of the visit. Kids truly want to find that at-home feeling when they're looking for a place to spend the next four years of their life, and nothing creates that feeling better than food."