The Daily Nole

Sunday Centerpiece: Recruiting Then and Now — Former Noles Weigh In

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College football recruiting has become a spectacle that was unimaginable just a few decades ago.

National Signing Day has always been a big deal, but today, there are mathematical formulas for determining a prospect’s worth, composite rankings and subscription-based websites dedicated to news regarding where 17- and 18-year-old students will spend their next three to five years. When some of those decisions are made, they become breaking news stories across hundreds of national and local websites.

“With Twitter, they all know where they stand and where everyone else stands nowadays,” said former Florida State receiver Andre Cooper, who played for the Seminoles from 1993-96. “I realized my talent my senior year and nowadays, kids know how good they are in ninth grade. No one knew how many offers anyone else had back then.”

Leroy Smith played cornerback for Florida State from 2000-04. A native of Quincy, Smith said that not only has recruiting changed, but high school students have changed as well.

“More kids were outside 20 years ago,” Smith said. “Now, kids are playing video games or are on social media. That’s a really big difference. We developed a love for the game by playing in our neighborhoods. This is a ‘now’ generation. Back then, we knew work was necessary. Kids today want instant gratification. A lot of these kids don’t have the parental guidance we did back then, either.”

Smith recalls being recruited by FSU as a high school senior. Smith’s primary recruiter was then offensive coordinator Mark Richt and as a student in the “Big Bend” area, playing at Doak Campbell Stadium was always on Smith’s mind.

“When I was recruited, Florida State was on top,” Smith said. “Being from Gadsden County, I always loved Florida State and was just waiting on that scholarship. (Then defensive coordinator) Mickey Andrews came to one of my basketball games and saw how quick I was. I wanted to be coached by the best. I knew how many players (head coach) Bobby Bowden, Mickey Andrews, Mark Richt, (defensive line coach) Odell Haggins had produced and how many All-Americans.”

Out of Fletcher High School in Neptune Beach, Cooper said he took visits to Georgia, Notre Dame, Miami and Florida State, but it was ultimately came down to relationships. Cooper said his relationship with wide receivers coach John Eason was a deciding factor, but he also had former classmates and teammates on campus, including his former high school quarterback Eric Black.

“For me, I wanted to play for Coach Eason,” Cooper said. “We had a good rapport all along. He came across as someone who was trustworthy and as someone who really cared about his players. I was on campus a lot. I had friends there, former teammates there. When Coach Bowden came in to see me, it was over. He was the closer.”

During the recruiting process, Smith said one of the things he appreciated about the FSU coaching staff was its honesty. Smith redshirted in 2000, but says Andrews, his defensive coordinator and position coach, let him know that was a possibility all along.

Leroy Smith started 17 career games for FSU at cornerback. (FSU athletics)

“They told me the truth,” Smith said. “Mickey Andrews was straight up with me and told me his plan. Everyone is not going to start right away. Mickey Andrews told me I might have to redshirt. I wanted to go to Florida State all along, but when he broke down the plan, that was it for me. If you’re a college coach today, these kids should know your plan for them.”

For Cooper and Smith, the recruiting process is back in their lives, but in different ways. Cooper is now watching the recruiting process unfold as a father. His son, also named Andre, is a 6-foot-5 prospect at Lake Nona High School and has numerous FCS offers and a few FBS offers, including from Florida Atlantic.

“With Twitter, it’s easy to get distracted and to worry about what everyone else is doing,” Cooper said. “He doesn’t worry too much about it. As a dad, I probably worry more than he does.”

Smith played in 43 career games at FSU, made 17 career starts and came away with six career interceptions and two touchdowns before a brief stint in the NFL. Now, Smith is set to enter his third season as head coach at Jefferson County High School. Earlier this year, Smith’s program made local headlines for sending every senior to college.

“The college coach will see what he sees,” Smith said. “The high school coach has to let him know all the things that he can’t see on film — the little things like work ethic, how the kid does in the classroom. A lot of times, the film doesn’t tell the whole story. Recruiting is a big deal.”

As FSU was with him when he was a high school prospect, Smith said honesty is important when interacting with college coaches. Anything else, he said, does a disservice to the recruit and the program.

“There has to be a connection, a relationship, a trust between the high school coaches and the college coaches,” Smith continued. “If the high school coach is up front, it gives him credibility with the college coach. If they’re not up front, they may not recruit your program again. That’s why these kids have to be prepared for college — not just physically, but mentally.”

Cooper finished his FSU career with more than 1,800 career yards receiving and 24 career touchdown catches, which still ranks sixth in school history. His 15 touchdown catches in 1995 remains an FSU single-season record. Like himself, Cooper said he’s enjoyed watching other teammates like Kez McCorvey, Sam Cowart and Kevin Knox raise their kids in sports and get the opportunity to go through the process again.

“One of the fondest things I remember from the recruiting process is the friendships,” Cooper said. “I look around and see so many guys I’ve played with still around the game and raising their kids and enjoying their families and it just seems like a lot of people are doing well.”

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson. Like The Daily Nole on Facebook. To pitch an idea, author a post or to learn more about The Daily Nole, email Mike Ferguson at

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