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Recruiting football players for a college team in itself is a very difficult proposition. Throw in the fact you have to sell each and every player on the idea they have to sit out a year and it becomes even tougher.
That’s the challenge the coaches at East Tennessee State’s revived program are facing. As the Feb. 5 signing date looms, head coach Carl Torbush and his two assistants Billy Taylor and Teddy Gaines have been trying to sell the merits of a program that won’t start playing until the 2015 season.
That means all of this year’s signing class will red-shirt for a year and still be freshmen eligibility-wise when the Bucs play host to Kennesaw State at Science Hill High School’s Kermit Tipton Stadium on Sept. 3, 2015.
“I’m sure there’s one or two who really want to play right away, but they need to know,” Torbush said. “We let them know that on the front end. I have not had one kid tell us they are not interested because we’re not playing next year or we don’t have a stadium yet.”
So far, ETSU has about nine commitments. Eight are from players in Tennessee with one from North Carolina.
“I’ve been very pleased,” Torbush said. “I’ve been around this area for a long time and we’ve been exceptionally well received by everyone. I think everybody is excited, high school coaches and players, about football being back at ETSU.
“I think our recruiting class is going to be excellent. It’s going great right now. We still have a lot of kids out there that have shown great interest. For some, it’ll be two or three weeks after official visits before they make a decision, and I think rightfully so.”
Football Championship Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-AA) schools are allowed to offer 63 scholarships, a maximum of 25 per year. As opposed to major-college football, FCS programs are allowed to break up scholarships and offer partial grants.
Torbush estimated that he will get 25 commitments and use up to 17 scholarships in his first class.
“We’re getting I-AA talent,” said Taylor, the Bucs’ defensive coordinator. “We have to. We’re gonna be competing at a high level when these guys are red-shirt freshmen. We can’t sign anybody we don’t think can play I-AA football.
“We’re not going out just to use up scholarships. We’re going out to find quality football players that can help us win championships.”
The Bucs’ latest commitment came from Waynesville, N.C., defensive end Paul Leveritt. He confirmed his commitment on Twitter.
Previous commitments came from Tennessee High receiver Adam Mitchell, Hardin Valley (Knoxville) tight end Matt Brewer and wide receiver Jack Defur, Knox Bearden lineman Caleb Barlett, Clinton wide receiver Drake Powell, South Pittsburg running back Kahlil Mitchell, Knox Catholic offensive lineman Patrick McFall and Anderson County lineman Matthew Pike.
“We need numbers, but we need good numbers,” Taylor said.
Sitting out a year isn’t as bad as it sounds, Taylor says, since many freshmen could use the time to get bigger, stronger and learn their new school’s system.
“I think a lot of kids come into the whole process thinking they’re going to start right away,” Taylor said. “They need to understand the transition there is between high school and college football. Everybody wants to play. That’s the ultimate goal. But what we’re trying to do is sell them the bigger picture of what we’re going to build, of what ETSU football is about and what it’s going to be about.”
ETSU is planning a ceremony on signing day at the Millennium Centre. Although it will be a special day for the program to have its first official players, Taylor says recruiting won’t stop on that date.
“I don’t know if recruiting will ever stop,” he said. “There may be some guys that fall through the cracks who fall back to the I-AA level and we’ll be looking at those guys too.”