Joe Terranova, a project manager in marketing research for Ford Motor Corp. in Dearborn, Mich., was frustrated.
Terranova, a self-proclaimed football junkie with a penchant for recruiting, wanted to know who were the best high school players in the country, and which college had recruited the best class of freshmen athletes.
Nobody had an answer. And Terranova figured he wasn't alone. So 16 years ago, he published "The Handbook of College Football Recruiting." The guide listed the top incoming freshmen by position and ranked the colleges on their recruiting.
He started with 400 subscribers who each paid $2 for the guide. Today, Terranova has 11,000 subscribers paying $16.95 per year for three reports. He reportedly earns $40,000 a year.
Terranova is considered an innovator in what has become a profitable business for several scouts across the country. Terranova, Max Emfinger of Houston and Dick Lascola of Fallbrook are three scouts who have parlayed a hobby into a successful business.
Emfinger, 42, is a former assistant coach at North Texas State who also scouted for the Dallas Cowboys. Lascola, 44, once served as an assistant at Northern Arizona. Terranova, 45, is a former all-state basketball player in Indiana who played at Notre Dame in the early 1960s.
"It started as a hobby," Terranova said. "I never could get a good list of incoming freshmen, so I started doing my own surveys."
Each March, Terranova writes to major college coaches asking for a list of players they plan to recruit. Then, he contacts a player's coach and asks for statistics or game films.
"I'm basically a name broker," he said. "I act as a clearing house for all the major colleges. They supply me with their recruiting lists, and I'm basically repeating what they tell me."
Terranova claims that 70% of the players listed in his handbooks eventually start in college football programs.
"One year, Nebraska sent back a list of 170 players alone," he said. "The whole thing has become a full-time project. The interest in college football recruiting continues to amaze me. It gets bigger every year."
Emfinger started his service six years ago and admitted he struggled for three years. Today, he has 4,500 subscribers who pay from $15 for $125 for newsletters, handbooks and magazines.
"It doesn't sound like much until you start stuffing envelopes," said Emfinger's wife, Ginger.
Like most prep scouting services, Emfinger's is a mom-and-pop operation. He employs a full-time assistant, a part-time assistant and hires a couple of people in the neighborhood during the peak mailing period.
The reports have a language of their own. Players are described as having "quick feet," "good acceleration off the line" or "aggressive attitude," along with the standard height, weight, class and 40-yard dash time.
Emfinger can recite from memory information about many of the players he rates. He uses a color code for rating, with top players earning a blue rating, then gold, red, and lower red.
"When I make a radio or television appearance, I never take any notes with me," he said. "And I rarely get stumped. My wife says I'm a frustrated jock. But I'm doing something that I love. We struggled for three years, but we're making a good living.
"I don't pretend to know everything, but I know the Southwest area as well as anyone, and I bet I know the Big Ten better than Joe Terranova. This is a labor of love for me."
Unlike Terranova and Emfinger, Lascola doesn't sell his service, Scouting Evaluation Assn., to the general public. Lascola's reports are strictly for his 85 college subscribers.
Lascola employs about 40 scouts in 14 regions. Most of his employees are former high school or college coaches. He started scouting high school players in Southern California 11 years ago with 13 colleges as customers.
The scouts have different methods of getting information. Emfinger and Terranova do not personally see many of the players they rank. They rely on game films, questionnaires and the opinions of high school and college coaches. Lascola, or his team of scouts, personally watch a player at least twice.
Lascola said that Terranova and Emfinger have created a lot of interest in recruiting. But he said they are also doing a disservice to high school athletes.
"A guy like Joe Terranova puts a lot of pressure on a kid when he ranks him as the best in the country," Lascola said. "I can remember doing a radio show the day Aaron Emanuel committed to USC.
"The caller wanted to know if Emanuel had a chance to win the Heisman Trophy three straight years. Guys like Terranova build up players like Aaron Emanuel and Ryan Knight to a point where if they don't walk on water, they've failed. These guys become a thorn in the side of a college."
Terranova disputed Lascola's opinion that he places pressure on high school players.