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September 18, 2012

Young coaches recruiting well

MORE: Rivals250 | 2013 Team Rankings

Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

Any good salesman will tell you what University of Washington coach Steve Sarkisian knows: it is all about the quality of what you are selling.

That philosophy even applies if you are trying to give away a football scholarship.

"You have to have a good product to recruit to," Sarkisian said. "You have to have a program that kids want to be a part of.

"Recruiting is 365 days a year and you have to have that mentality."

Sarkisian is steadily improving his product at UW after taking over a winless team just three seasons ago, and the 38-year-old is one of six head football coaches in the FBS-level automatic qualifying conferences 40-years-old or younger -- all of which are having marked success in recruiting.

Competing with Sarkisian for recruits are USC coach Lane Kiffin, 37; Northwestern program head Pat Fitzgerald, 37; Stanford alum and head coach, David Shaw, 40; Mississippi State fourth-year coach Dan Mullen, 40; and one of the hottest names in coaching circles, James Franklin, who at 40 has helped Vanderbilt rise to new heights in recruiting.

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said that the amount of success of this group of young coaches has had on the recruiting trail does not surprise him.

"Each of those guys was successful at recruiting as assistants," he said. "Each made their names that way, really, and they love it and they are very aggressive about recruiting.

"Their youth brings energy and it makes people want to be a part of what they are trying to do. It is a cycle but it starts with desire to be a good recruiter and putting in the energy."

Washington's recruiting class is currently ranked No. 16 in the Rivals.com team rankings list. By comparison the season before Sarkisian took over in Seattle, the Huskies' recruiting class was ranked No. 68 in the nation.

His first class was ranked No. 28. It improved to No. 23 and again to No. 21 for the Class of 2012. If Signing Day was today, this would be UW's first class ranked in the Top 20 in over a decade.

Sarkisian said that he thinks his age does help when recruiting.

"With social media and trying to stay in touch with kids you are on call all the time," he said. "Young coaches who are working at it all the time is how to get good recruiting classes."

The online aspect of recruiting is something that Farrell has been a major part of during his time at Rivals.com. He said that the company has helped push recruiting forward and believes that while some schools still are hesitant to rely on the industry, many have embraced it just like any other technological advancements.

"What we have at Rivals.com is a tool to track recruiting," he said. "Some schools and some coaches use it more effectively than others.

"I think one of the biggest things Rivals.com has done is to speed up the process sometimes. If it gets out that Washington has offered a kid then it will push the hand of Cal, USC, UCLA, or whoever else was considering a kid. If you want to really stay on kids once the information is out there it becomes crunch time to send you offer out."

The Stanford program was resurrected both on the field and in the living rooms of players several years ago under Jim Harbaugh.

Harbaugh was seen as a young, high-energy coach during his time on campus. He was replaced last season by a much more mild-mannered David Shaw.

Shaw, a former Stanford wide receiver, is also younger than his predecessor.

Farrell says that while the profile of the program has been elevated that recruiting to schools like Stanford -- as well as Vanderbilt and Northwestern -- come with a unique set of challenges that youth cannot overcome on its own.

"It is a different animal at those schools," he said. "Those coaches are young and I would bet it helps them relate to kids, but without a good grade point average, test scores, and probably some other extra curriculars they won't be able to come to either of those three spots and maybe Stanford more than the other two."

The last three classes for Stanford have steadily risen in the rankings. The Cardinal's 2010 class was ranked No. 26 in the nation; the program's 2011 class checked in at No. 22; and Stanford's 2012 haul was No. 5.

"It may help me relate to them, being younger," Shaw said. "What I think really helps is that I can relate to Stanford kids. The kids that will fit here, I think, I can recognize those guys and relate with them."

Farrell said that mixing the two is easier said than done and that Franklin and Fitzgerald join Shaw in recruiting non-traditional players.

"For the most part those guys are dealing with more mature kids who are looking at college as a 40-year opportunity and not just a four-year situation," he said. "I think that all three are great situations for that as they are grounded and honest and they don't have to recruit kids with rah-rah type deals they can tell them the facts and show them that football can get them to become a doctor or a lawyer or whatever they want to be besides a great football player.

"All of those schools are getting better on the field too so that will only help the message."

Vanderbilt is currently ranked No. 15 in the Rivals.com Class of 2013 recruiting class rankings. Its class was ranked No. 29 last year, which was a major jump after finishing the previous four cycles ranked No. 70, No. 61, No. 71, and No. 90.

Northwestern's 2013 class is currently ranked No. 32 nationally. The program has never had a cycle where it finished inside the Top 50. Its highest final class ranking was in 2006, when its class finished No. 52. Its worst finish was just two years ago, finishing No. 87.

With five months until National Signing Day, recruiting classes are not finalized yet and a lot can change between September and February.

Farrell knows that this group of coaches has what it takes to finish strong.

"You have to be tireless to be successful in recruiting," he said. "And the evidence clearly points to this group doing it right and closing the deal."

Like good salesmen.

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