The Hail Mary of College Football Recruitment? Digital Apps

JULY 22, 2016 • Blog Post • BY ATLANTIC RE:THINK

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IN THIS ARTICLE

  • Mobile apps remove physical barriers and standardize judging criteria allowing young athletes to get noticed by collegiate recruiters regardless of location or resources

In yet another victory for mobile connectivity, Nike's new Hudl app has leveled the playing field for aspiring college athletes

Being recruited to play college football starts with many trips to local and regional training camps and showcases. Families hopscotch across the country during the summer, hoping their kids do well enough at one camp to earn an invitation to the next one. The holy grail is to be invited to the Nike event known as The Opening, an invitation-only camp held every July at the company’s world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. Ninety-eight percent of current Division 1 football players attended a Nike camp during their recruiting cycles, along with many players who never earned a spot on a college roster.

Of the 17,000 or so who attend the company’s 19 regional football camps each year, only about 160 earn the coveted invite to the national showcase. Players who can’t attend a camp, for financial or any other reason, don’t stand a chance of even getting an invitation.

That may finally be changing, thanks to the mobile phones most players already use every day. Nike partnered with Hudl, a digital video platform used by a million high school athletes across the country, to create an app that lets every player prove himself in the camp drills without leaving their hometowns. Starting in 2017, they’ll be able to earn an invite to The Opening directly through the app.

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Nike created the standard in 2011 when it started giving camp attendees a score based on their performance in four drills: the vertical leap, the 40 yard dash, the 20 yard agility test and the power-ball toss. Known as the Nike football rating, it gave the athletes a way to measure their performance against players at other camps and especially to the highest-ranked recruits. Those scores became tickets to The Opening. 

In the new mobile app, players can record video of themselves going through each of the drills. Their results are ranked against every other app user, and coaches and players can see immediately how they measure up.

Nike’s Hudl app is the latest in a series of apps that have already infiltrated the college recruiting landscape, with previous examples offering a way for coaches to give recruits a virtual tour of their campuses or creating ways for them to track their communication with recruits. The JumpForward app includes a searchable nationwide database for coaches and recruiters, complete with contact information. The Nike Hudl app instead focuses on the athlete, giving him a way to get noticed regardless of his ability to travel to camps or develop highlight reels. In this way, it levels the playing field for athletes who can’t afford to travel.

  • Apps are helping to level out financial hurdles for potential college athletes during recruitment.

Former NFL running back LaMike James thinks it will also open doors for kids who aren’t strong football players yet, just strong athletes with football potential. “I don't really care how bad a football player you are,” he said at the app’s launch event in December. “If you can go out there and clock a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash, it's going to get attention. Someone's going to look and someone's going to check you out.” It means a high school soccer player interested in college football can send his rating to a college coach instead of having to send a highlight reel or go to a camp. And a coach may find someone who might have been missed looking only at highlight reels or camp results.

“The app is also going to answer the questions that a lot of coaches have, even when they do get a highlight tape,” former NFL standout Marshall Faulk added. “It’s all of those things that they usually don’t get to find out until after signing a kid.”

Faulk marveled at how much technology has transformed the entire recruiting experience. In his day, he said, they sent VHS tapes to coaches. Then came DVDs. But the biggest leap came with the invention of Hudl, which allowed recruits to create digital highlight reels. As of last fall, 96 percent of U.S. high school teams used the platform. The app taps into this network, allowing all young athletes to participate. If they play in a rural area on a mediocre team or their high school has no team at all, they may still catch a coach’s eye by scoring well on the app’s leaderboard.

  • Hudl helps shift the entire sports recruitment process from VHS tapes to digital reels.

Beyond the leveling effect, Faulk loves the app’s impact on trash talk. “There’s always kids at home saying ‘I’m better than him,’” Faulk said. Now, those kids can’t just talk the talk. They’ll be able to open the app, run through the drills, and prove it—or not.

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