For teams in the Canada West conference, the start of the 2014 recruiting season coincided with the start of the 2013 football season. Several teams, notably Alberta, looked to get a jump on their competition, forcing all teams to start signing players early.
The early commitments along with the new facilities at the University of Manitoba made an already competitive recruiting environment even more so, forcing all teams, including traditional powerhouses like Calgary and the University of Saskatchewan, to look over the fence.
The Huskies have had a competitive recruiting package for several years, putting together a winning tradition, outstanding team facilities, a tremendous education and an unmatched gameday experience to lure potential recruits. When Alberta started signing players during the season, it forced all the teams to react, but it didn’t change the recruiting landscape as much the Golden Bears may have liked.
“It’s different,” said Jason Sulz, Huskie receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. “It really sped up and we signed way more guys in September than we ever had in the past. I think, with the athletes signing earlier, that it’s putting more of a rush on the recruits. They feel they have to sign sooner, which is great, as we don’t have to keep pushing them to sign.
“Our first signing came September 3, and we said ‘Whenever you want to sign, go ahead’. We were expecting him to sign on December 1, anyway. So I think it’s putting more pressure on the recruits to sign earlier, and for all the guys who aren’t sure where they’re going to go, if they see three or four players from their position sign for a school, it might eliminate that school for them.
“I was a little surprised things were moving as fast as they were, but it’s really a good thing. Nobody wants to be out there recruiting in March for guys you will need in May. It gives us a little more time now to plan for spring camp.”
Recruiting has grown and evolved across the CIS, with teams spending large parts of their budgets on attracting players. It’s now common practice to fly recruits in to tour the school and facilities and work out with the team. Top recruits are no longer judged against their peers in their home city or province, but are now ranked nationally by sites like Canada Football Chat and receive offers from teams across the CIS and NCAA.
One look at the Huskies’ roster quickly reveals that they have been recruiting top talent from the backyards of other schools for some time. Not only are they one of the only teams to keep almost all the top talent from their own territory, but they have been successful in attracting top talent from across Western Canada, like Edmonton’s Garrett Meek, Winnipeg’s Mason Dick and Calgary’s Brayden Twarynski.
“The territories are really no longer there anymore,” explains Sulz. “It used to be that we would work here, the other teams would work their area, and everybody was happy. It’s national now and a lot more money is put into it. 20 years ago, guys were working off of a $4,000 recruiting budget, and that’s about three flights, whether you go there or they come here, that’s kind of it.
“With more money coming in and more opportunities to see these kids, it’s definitely changed and it’s broadened. I still feel that there are still lots of players for everybody, and especially the last couple years, I haven’t felt that if we don’t get a particular player, we’re done. A lot of that’s because we’ve got some good local players and good local junior programs, and if worse comes to worst, there are still pretty good players available.”
Because of their success in recruiting the top talent from Saskatoon and many of the top recruits across Western Canada, the Huskies aren’t actively looking to Eastern Canada or the United States for more talent. The odd superstar in the making like Travoy Martinez or Ryan Breadner aside, Sulz feels it is unlikely the team will branch out beyond their traditional recruiting areas any more than they have in the past.
“We’re not going down to Texas to watch a high school jamboree and recruit kids. I don’t think we need to. It has to be the right situation to bring them up. It’s expensive for their tuition and living expenses and for traveling back home. It’s similar for eastern players. If there was someone who had ties in the community, say their grandparents lived in Saskatoon or they had a connection that made it an easier transition, then we would look at it.
“After going to the Football Canada Cup, there are probably ten players from the east who we would like, and around six of them are Francophone. So we’re down to four or five guys, and you have to compare them to what you have available here at home. If there’s a significant difference, okay. But if the talent is comparable to what we have in the west, we’re better off spending our energy locally or closer spots.”
With another excellent group of local players joining a talented and more experienced roster, the expectations will be high for the Huskies in 2014. The team will continue on their path towards a Vanier Cup with morning workouts next week and again in mid-March before formally announcing their recruiting class at Dogs’ Breakfast 14 on Thursday, May 1.