When it comes to evaluating football prospects, Randy Taylor has good credentials. Over the last 30 years, he has experienced recruiting as a high school player and a college coach and has been on the cutting edge of technological and administrative changes that have impacted on the process.
Taylor was an all-state lineman for coach Joe Marini at LaSalle-Peru in 1974, played under Bob Blackman and Gary Moeller at Illinois, was a grad assistant under Moeller, was an assistant on Mike White's staff until after the 1984 Rose Bowl, then coached at Kansas State, Nevada-Las Vegas, San Jose State and UCLA.
Today, he is football recruiting coordinator for Chicago-based National Collegiate Scouting Association. He has launched an extended program for Division I coaches to see film of hundreds of players from the Chicago area and across the country. He also does a lot of public speaking to educate athletes and parents about the recruiting process.
"My role is to evaluate players for colleges," he said. "I watch a lot of tape to help colleges evaluate talent. And I travel three times a month to combines, clinics and camps to talk about the recruiting process and help kids and their parents to understand what it is all about and to make them realize that recruiting today starts when they are freshmen."
Taylor said the Internet and recent NCAA rules have changed recruiting. Thanks to the Internet, there are no more secrets. Coaches are able to find prospects more easily and are able to enlarge their recruiting boards. But the NCAA has placed more limitations on them in the form of 85 scholarships (down from 105), shorter evaluation periods, fewer phone calls, fewer contacts, all in an attempt to create parity at the college level.
"My job is beneficial because colleges have to whittle down their list of prospects and I help them before they get the information," Taylor said.
He said the recruiting process has been impacted by a trend to early commitments, concern over character issues and the ability to separate the good evaluators from others and the good recruiters from others.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno started the early commitment frenzy in the mid-1990s after losing some of the leading prospects in western Pennsylvania. Vowing that it never would happen again, Paterno set about to being recruiting players earlier than ever and pressuring them to make commitments earlier than ever before. Other schools had to follow his lead or get trampled in the stampede.
"You have to show kids some love. Once he shows he can play, you have to recruit him. You have to make that move before anyone else and try to lock them down within your state," Taylor said. "Ninety percent of kids stay with the school they commit to. But it's much tougher to recruit a kid if he has made a commitment to a school."
It might sound silly to do a background check on a teenager before offering a scholarship. But it has become part of the recruiting process. Can he play? Can he get into school? Will be be a problem when he gets here? It is all part of running a clean program. And nobody wants to read about their star quarterback on the front page of the local newspaper for being arrested for drunk driving or getting into a fight at a campus bar.
"You can't cover it up if a kid breaks the law when he's on campus. All the information is out there on the Internet. There are no secrets. You can't look the other way if a kid gets a DUI or is arrested for robbery," Taylor said. "One of the biggest problems is off-the-field activities. Once kids get away from home, from people who keep an eye on them, they have peer pressure and no longer are controlled. So they go out and create problems.
"Alumni put a lot of pressure on coaches and athletic directors. I don't believe a coach can be held responsible if he didn't see a problem coming, if he did what was necessary to keep a clean program. He can't control them all at night. They have to become adults faster than other students. It is part of the growing-up process."
The coaches' job is to evaluate them and develop them, not baby-sit them. Some are very good at it. Some are better than others. The best ones usually produce championship teams and send players to the NFL. Others eventually find another line of work. The pressure to do the job better than anyone else is enormous.
"You start with the feet and work your way up," Taylor said, explaining how he evaluates talent. "Is he athletic? Does he have instincts? Can he run? When a coach has the ability to identify players and build relationships with the athlete, his coach and his family and people in the community to the point where the player can't say no, then he has a chane to get him. But it also is important to know when to cut your losses, to get out because you can't get him."
No matter what position, Taylor said it is most important to look at an athlete's feet. Can he move his feet? Is he flexible? Can he bend his knees? "That's what I look for," he said.
Can a defensive back flip his hips? Can an offensive lineman bend his knees? Can a quarterback use his legs and hips and shoulders to get velocity on the ball? Does a kicker have leg speed? Can linebackers turn and run? Can they backpedal at full speed? Do offensive and defensive linemen have arm length?
If you can do those things, you probably have a future in Division I. And Randy Taylor probably is looking at you on film.