Sports

Videos and elaborate stunts geared to signing day are changing the college football recruiting game

Using a live animal was out.

Been done.

Another football recruit had used a bulldog to announce he'd signed with Georgia. And then there was the recruit from Ohio who used a dwarf caiman — closest thing he could find to an alligator, which aren't legal in Ohio — to illustrate his choosing Florida.

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A crazy haircut was a no-go, too. One recruit shaved "Vols" into his head to signal Tennessee.

Jimmy Clausen killed the Hummer-limousine announcement back in 2006, so that wasn't an option, either.

By last year, when Long Beach Poly High football player Iman Marshall sought a special way to announce his choice of USC, he had to be creative. So Marshall teamed up with Bleacher Report to make a slickly produced music video.

The video, shot in part by using drones, featured shots of Marshall all over Los Angeles. The filming took several days.

Watch Iman Marshall's announcement video

At the end, Marshall, whose nickname is "Biggie," stood in the shadow of the L.A. Coliseum, wearing a USC hat.

"Biggie wanted to change the game," said Hunter Mandel, a producer for Bleacher Report who helped conceive the video. "That's what he said before shooting. That's what he said during shooting. That's what he said after shooting."

Early indications are, he did. This year, Mandel said, Bleacher Report will release up to 15 more videos on or before Wednesday's national signing day.

The videos are a strong indication of how much recruiting has grown and changed in the age of social media. Recruits want to look cool. Coaches want to show off their school. Fans want the news — fast. The public's appetite for recruiting has swelled enough that even large media companies want a piece of the announcements.

Mandel declined to discuss how much the videos cost but said the biggest expenses were for flights and hotels. A crew, which is as large as five people, flies to the recruit's hometown. Shooting can take one day to a week.

Marshall's video received between 500,000 and 700,000 views in the days after its release, Mandel said. More recent videos have topped one million views.

"They all want to break the Internet," Mandel said.

Last Friday, Damian Alloway, an all-purpose back from Fontana Summit High, released a Bleacher Report video that featured a series of clues that led him to the Hollywood sign, only the letters spelled out "UCLA."

Watch Damian Alloway's announcement video

The video was a way to have "fun with the recruiting process" that "can be so stressful at times," Alloway said.

Mandel says he never repeats an idea, so creativity is necessary. On the eve of signing day, Garden Serra defensive back Brandon Burton appeared on ESPN to announce his commitment to UCLA. At the same time, Bleacher Report released a video.

It showed Burton shooting paintballs at his friends, who each wore uniforms from different schools. At the end, Burton captured the flag — with script “UCLA” written on it.

Most recruits tease the videos on their Twitter pages, where they can attract thousands of followers.

Parker Boudreaux, an offensive lineman from Florida, didn't have any scholarship offers as a sophomore, so he joined Twitter, followed every coach he could and posted his highlight videos.

As he got more offers, the dynamic flipped. Fans began following him for updates.

Last year, before Boudreaux announced he would attend Notre Dame, Mandel's team approached him about trying something different: What if he were to pull a bus, or even a small plane, to reveal the Notre Dame logo painted on the road?

Boudreaux wanted in. He chose the bus.

Watch Parker Boudreaux's announcement video

The first time he tried it, the driver accidentally kept the bus in park. It didn't budge. Boudreaux pulled so hard he snapped his shoulder harness. The crew procured a new one, a weightlifting belt wrapped around his hips, and with the bus in neutral, Boudreaux lurched it forward.

"The next few days, my hips were all bruised up," Boudreaux recalled, laughing.

Online, Notre Dame fans told him he was a beast. He was compared to WWE wrestler Brock Lesnar.

But not all the reaction was positive. A fan from a spurned Big Ten school posted, "I hope this kid tears an ACL and doesn't have a career."

The attention cuts both ways.

Josh Imatorbhebhe committed to USC with a Bleacher Report video in May. Echoing others, he said he wanted to create something he could one day show his kids. He was proud of the video but said the attention online could get toxic.

"It's becoming a whole other reality," he said. "It's just like a different world that these kids are living in. You're a student at school. You're a son at home. And then on Twitter, you're some mega superstar."

Fans fuel the stardom, with coaches paying attention. Angus McClure, UCLA's recruiting coordinator, said Bruins coaches monitor a recruit's social media pages for information.

In 2004, McClure, then an assistant at Nebraska, was one of the first coaches to use a brand-new website — Facebook — in recruiting.

"It's all about being viral nowadays," said Brandon Huffman, director of recruiting for Scout.com.

Coaches can create their own online personalities, too. Michigan's Jim Harbaugh has mastered social-media fame. He has been filmed on recruiting visits dropping in on a student's class, climbing a tree and sleeping over at a recruit's house.

The coach has invited a slew of celebrities — including Tom Brady, Derek Jeter and "Nature Boy" wrestler Ric Flair — to attend Michigan's signing-day ceremony.

Dabo Swinney, Clemson's coach, has become an Internet sensation for his locker-room celebrations. Clemson has released videos of Swinney doing "The Dab" dance after wins.

Coaches use the exposure to create a buzz and attract recruits, so most of them don't begrudge a player who has a little fun with his announcement.

Five years ago, Huffman said, coaches "probably would've completely disdained the idea of it. But nowadays, all you've got to do is go to a school's official Twitter or Instagram and you see what they're doing on their end."

Players typically inform coaches before the videos are released. But sometimes allegiances change.

Mandel said the Bleacher Report crew filmed Marshall stepping out a car at Los Angeles International Airport, wearing an array of hats from different schools.

They wanted alternate endings — just in case.

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand

Correspondent Lindsey Thiry contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 03, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "They're calling for the screen - Creative videos and elaborate signing announcements are all the rage in recruiting." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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