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In Search of . . . Talent : When 49er Staff Recruits, It's a Game Played for Keeps

January 30, 1986|DICK WAGNER | Times Staff Writer

Cal State Long Beach is looking for good football players. The search is performed thoroughly by Coach Mike Sheppard and his assistants and with as much energy as they spend trying to win games in the fall.

"It's the same kind of good, positive tension you want during the football season," Sheppard said. "I want our guys (assistants) to be on edge, I want them to worry the whole time whether they're going to get a guy or not because when you're concerned about it you're going to work hard."

The effort that will bring freshmen football players to the campus this September started last May when Sheppard and his staff chose the players (then high school juniors) they would pursue. Months of keeping in touch with the players followed. Films of their previous performances were scrutinized. In the fall, the university's assistant coaches went to high school games to evaluate the players firsthand. Then, starting in December, the coaches went into the schools and homes trying to persuade the players and their parents that Cal State Long Beach is building a big-time football program that can attract the quality players that the better-known schools of the Pac-10 Conference want.

Evaluation is crucial, and sometimes you can't be sure you have judged a player correctly until next fall or the fall after when the Saturday scoreboard tells the story.

Feb. 12 is the day players can sign national letters of intent, the day most coaching staffs officially find out how successful its recruiting has been.

Here is how Cal State Long Beach recruits:

The Pitch

Sheppard's pitch is low-key. He tells a recruit there are three factors he should consider in choosing a university: first, academics; second, football; and third, social development.

He tries to convince them that Cal State Long Beach can fit their needs in all three areas.

"We talk about emphasizing the balance of those three," Sheppard said. "It's important that one doesn't overtake the others.

"If a guy is spending too much time in football, he's not getting enough time to study or really grow in a social situation. If he's spending too much time socializing, he probably isn't doing a good enough job in football or academics. If he's spending too much time in academics, he may be driving himself crazy in the classroom by not balancing his life elsewhere."

The Player Pool

The 49ers have 30 scholarships to offer, and this year, Sheppard said, 10 probably will go to junior-college players and 20 to high school players.

"We bring in (actively recruit) three possible players at a position for each scholarship, so we could bring in 90 players," Sheppard said. "But generally its quite a bit fewer because you may bring in your first choice at wide receiver and he says this is where he wants to go, so you believe it (the commitment) and drop the other guys on your list."

Sheppard has been committed to recruiting top players in the Long Beach area. Few out-of-state players consider Long Beach. On last season's roster, 85 of 90 players were from California.

What Players Ask

The main thing a player wants to know, said Sheppard, is " 'How do I fit in to your depth chart, how soon am I going to play?' "

A high school quarterback, for example, might be swayed to attend Long Beach if he was told that he will start as a sophomore.

When he was recruited in 1985, Michael Roberts, a freshman running back from Poly High School, wanted to know how soon he would play. Although Sheppard made no promises to him, Roberts said he was impressed with the coach's straightforwardness. "He said I'd have a good chance competing with the other guys," said Roberts, who saw considerable playing time last season.

Players also inquire about academics and, particularly, the support of academics--tutoring programs.

"And they always want to know about the weight room," said Sheppard. "A guy wants to see how you're going to develop him and how physically he's going to reach his potential."

The 49ers have a new weight room scheduled to open early next month.

Senior quarterback Doug Gaynor said prospective players ask current players how they like the coaches. And, he said, "They want to know if it's a lot of fun and what there is to do in Long Beach."

Gaynor also said they ask about the 49ers' trip last fall to Honolulu to play the University of Hawaii and what it was like to play against UCLA.

What Parents Ask

Parents are concerned about academics, where their son is going to live, what he's going to eat and what the scholarship covers or what expenses it doesn't cover, Sheppard said.

"I believe they want to know that their son is going to be taken care of and looked after," he said.

Alice Roberts of Long Beach, mother of Michael Roberts, said: "I asked about academics because I didn't want football to come first. I also asked about doctors in case he got hurt."

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