MISSOULA — High school football players got a chance to make their commitments official this week with the early signing period. But for college programs, recruiting has been anything but easy as they continue to navigate through the changes the COVID-19 pandemic created throughout the last two recruiting cycles.
Adaptation is the name of the game, and the Montana Grizzlies are no exception to that. Griz head coach Bobby Hauck said as of now, it's all a numbers game.
"There's a real numbers crunch," Hauck said. "Some of that is self-imposed a year ago. Around the country I think there's a lot of different factors going into this. You have to be a salary cap guy."
Because of the COVID year, eligibility was paused for those on the team and an extra year was added.
This year's seniors didn't count towards Montana's scholarship count, but that's now gone, and Montana can have 110 players on the roster, with 63 total scholarships that can be divvied up to as many as 85 players.
Couple in the fact that the classes of 2020 and 2021 just both completed their freshman seasons eligibility-wise to make one large class, and now, UM added 12 players during the early signing period from the class of 2022. By comparison, Montana added 19 players in the Class of 2021 early signing period and added 22 new players in 2020, 26 in 2019 and 26 again in 2018, Hauck's first year back at the helm.
In this past season, Montana had 58 players listed as true freshmen or redshirt freshmen on its roster, including punter Brian Buschini who has since transferred to Nebraska.
And, along with those classes impacted by COVID, there's other factors to weigh as well when building a roster.
"There's an added class to the class that you recruit and what I mean by that is the transfer portal," said Justin Green, Montana's running backs coach and recruiting coordinator. "That is something that is different. That is something that is out of control. So being able to man high school kids, the portal, junior college kids, is going to become a full-time job."
Along with balancing numbers, ways to recruit have rapidly changed, and those elements are something colleges will have to maneuver for the foreseeable future.
"You've got to get the right guys no matter what you do no matter what the avenues or how you get them," Green said. "Guy is in the portal for a reason, question is what extenuating circumstance is it and are we ok with bringing that to our culture. That's junior college kids, that's high school kids that we have to make sure we're vetting that process."
But when it comes to finding the right guys, the philosophy remains the same.
"Recruiting, to me, is recruiting. It's about relationships and getting the right guys to fit what you want and getting them into a good situation for them," Hauck said. "The perception is recruiting is selling someone on your program, that's part of it, but the real part is the evaluation and getting the right guys."