With East Tennessee State just two weeks away from signing its first football recruiting class in more than a decade, there are plenty of things going on behind the scenes.
Athletic director Richard Sander said Wednesday that he and Phillip Fulmer spent the first part of this week together out in the community trying to drum up support for the fledgling program. The pace is starting to quicken as an announcement on the site for a new stadium approaches.
“We’ve been visiting with business leadership in the Tri-State area, sharing our plans and where we are in the process — the development of the stadium and generally what we’re trying to do overall,” said Sander. “We ask people to be supportive in some way.”
No major donations have been announced yet publicly.
Fulmer, the former Tennessee coach and College Football Hall of Famer, is working on a two-year contract as a consultant to ETSU. He was instrumental in choosing Carl Torbush as the first head coach last June and continues to be an asset as the Bucs work toward fielding a team for the 2015 season.
“Coach Fulmer brings so much to the dance,” said Sander. “I told him yesterday that he’s the ugliest rock star I’ve ever seen in my life. We went up to Abingdon, to Food City to talk to (CEO) Steve Smith, and I’ll bet 15 people came up to us while we were waiting in the lobby, just to tell coach Fulmer how great it is what he’s doing for ETSU.
“He’s recognized everywhere and can state the case of what football means to so many different people. He gives us credibility. I told the president that whatever we’re paying him, he’s worth every penny.”
The national signing day is coming up on Feb. 5, and Torbush has said he hopes to get about 25 commitments and use 17 scholarships in his first class. That group will redshirt next year and then have four years of eligibility left as the Bucs prepare to get back on the field for the first time since 2003.
Prospective signees have been treated to a different kind of recruiting experience at ETSU.
“When you don’t have a team yet and bring kids to campus, it’s a little bit of a challenge, but Carl has done a great job with that,” said Sander. “Bristol Motor Speedway, for one, has been very helpful. We’ve been able to take guys up there and do a lap around the track and just see the facility. I talked to coach this morning and he said the kids have never seen anything like it.”
ETSU has been challenged to keep momentum going since university president Brian Noland announced last April that football would be making a comeback. Sander, however, says a lot of that has taken care of itself in recent months.
“Carl Torbush has so much energy and enthusiasm,” he said. “And with the focus on recruiting, there’s been even more support in the region. We’re going to do a big luncheon on national signing day. It’ll be a historical day for the program. The kids that sign on that day, it’s pretty significant, pretty cool. We’re going to make it fun for them.”
Meanwhile, the decision on a stadium site should be announced around that same time. Sander said a few things are holding that up, including getting all the proper state documentation about the project in line and finalizing geological studies on the site.
The new stadium, with 10,000 seats and a projected $18 million price tag, will be located at one of two campus sites identified by university officials last October — near the soccer fields on the west end, or on the hill overlooking the facilities plant. There were water and rock concerns in the possible construction of either.
“I think maybe in two weeks we’ll be really close,” said Sander.
Kelly Hodge is managing sports editor of the Johnson City Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.