Recruiting Experts…Where are Pitt’s Guys?

Here is an in-depth article re-printed from The Athletic magazine which is a real great value for the subscription price as a daily very in-depth look at sports. I think their national coverage of college ball is about the best. Plus it is something to read in the time before our not important at all Peach Bowl. BTW – please don’t tell any Pitt players the bowl game is meaningless – they just might have a different opinion then then fans watching from afar…

Note that these people named below are not just “out visiting” types of recruiters but personnel who had major positive impact on their school’s recruiting success…

Recruiting is a relentless, 365-day competition to sign the best players in the country. Unlike college football head coaches, the recruiting staffers at these schools don’t get much notoriety, despite being integral to every facet of the talent accumulation game. Typically the primary participants in the battle for prospects, their responsibilities range from implementing strategy to building relationships, planning visits and more.

Like all things in life, some are better than others.

So The Athletic went to the source, interviewing more than 30 recruiting staffers from coast to coast to give us their rankings of the best personnel people in the game. Each submitted three names, with a first-place vote receiving three points, a second-place vote two and a third-place vote one.

Let’s get to the rankings:

1. Mark Pantoni, director of player personnel, Ohio State

Total survey points: 20
Started at Ohio State: 2012

A graduate of Florida, Pantoni came to Ohio State with Urban Meyer in 2012 and became one of the first staffers to turn a college recruiting operation into an NFL-like personnel department. Pantoni is known as an outstanding talent evaluator and has top-tier organizational and strategic skills that have helped the Buckeyes stay ahead of the curve in the constantly changing recruiting environment.

What Pantoni’s peers are saying:

• “To maintain that level of organization at a pressure-cooker of a school like Ohio State is just unbelievable.”

• “Mark Pantoni’s national track record through multiple staffs is undeniable, and he is the undisputed top dog in the space. Ohio State doesn’t make many mistakes, are in sync as a staff and always close well.”

• “I admire him and his ability to work on multiple staffs and keep that consistency. He’s whatever you want to call it, the OG, the lead guy in our profession, our little pocket of college football. He is a great person. He’s always willing to help young people. And he’s a great evaluator. He is a man of conviction and confidence. He is able to stand on the table for a guy he believes in and doesn’t back down from assistants. He has high emotional intelligence. He just gets it. No matter where he is at, whether it is at Ohio State or the 125th-ranked team, he’d make a difference.”

• “Mark is ‘The Godfather.’ His influence can be seen across all corners of college football.”

• “I value consistency and stability and have chased that my entire career, and he’s the definition of both.”

2. Marshall Malchow, associate athletic director, player personnel, Texas A&M

Total survey points: 15.5
Started at Texas A&M: 2020

Malchow, a native of Augusta, Ga., was a recruiting staffer at Georgia from 2016 to 2020 — a period in which the Bulldogs had five consecutive top-five classes, including the No. 1 class in 2018 and 2020. Malchow’s first job was in the Alabama recruiting department; he then made stops at Boise State, Washington and Georgia before being lured to Texas A&M by Jimbo Fisher in January 2020.

What Malchow’s peers are saying:

• “He’s a top evaluator and leader in his role. He has done it at the highest level at multiple places. And he’s a great dude.”

• “They have firmly planted themselves among the best with the caliber of players they have committed this year, but the complete overhaul of the roster from Jimbo Fisher’s arrival to now is unbelievable.”

• “In the two years he’s been there, coming from Georgia, they’ve been able to become a national power in recruiting. The 2021 class they signed and 2022 class they are signing are special.”

T-3. Billy High, assistant athletic director/general manager, North Carolina

Total survey points: 6
Started at North Carolina: 2020

After spending the previous two years at Auburn, High was brought in by Mack Brown in 2020 to run North Carolina’s recruiting department. Brown made a promise when he took the North Carolina job that he’d put a border around the state and bring the Tar Heels back to national prominence. High has not only helped UNC acquire most of the top in-state players, but the Tar Heels are also enjoying success in neighboring states — most notably Virginia. High oversees recruiting evaluations and operations, on-campus recruiting and all other recruiting activities.

What High’s peers are saying:

• “Extremely intelligent and organized, well-versed in both the personnel and scouting function of the job and the operations function. He builds great relationships with the coaching staff (which is critical) and is a great leader within the building and an excellent ambassador for the recruiting side of the industry.”

• “They are assembling a top-10 class after a down year. They do a great job of keeping kids in-state.”

T-3. Jordan Sorrells, director of recruiting, Clemson

Total survey points: 6
Started at Clemson: 2014

Listed as the “recruiting guru” on Clemson’s website, Sorrells leads a recruiting department that is regarded as one of the best at evaluating talent in the nation. Sorrells is a former quarterback of Furman who got his first job out of college working at Chick-fil-A. After returning to Furman following a brief stint in the restaurant business, he was hired by Dabo Swinney. Sorrells has helped Clemson do what so few programs have been able to accomplish: make the transition from good to elite.

What Sorrells’ peers are saying:

• “He’s organized, humble, has a clear plan and knows their identity. He has no ego and does things the right way.”

T-3. Austin Thomas, general manager, LSU

Total survey points: 6
Started at LSU: 2013-17, back in 2021

Thomas was the first college football staffer to hold the title of general manager. In Thomas’ first stop at LSU, from 2013 to 2017, the Tigers signed three top-five classes and landed the nation’s No. 1 overall player in 2014, five-star running back Leonard Fournette. He had brief stints at Texas A&M and Baylor before returning to LSU in January.

What Thomas’ peers are saying:

• “He changed everything for off-the-field recruiting staffers. His ability to see everything before it happens is impressive. Incredibly organized and detail-oriented. Impressive teacher as well.”

• “I think Austin reinventing what the position of a recruiting staffer can look like is what put him over the top for me. I feel like he was the guy who really took the director of player personnel/general manager, whatever a school calls it, and expanded it to really be like a second or third in command in the program type role.”(Courtesy of Texas A&M)

6. Danielle Braswell, director of on-campus recruiting, Texas A&M

Total survey points: 5.5
Started at Texas A&M: 2021

After spending the previous two seasons as an assistant director of on-campus recruiting at Arkansas, Braswell made the jump to Texas A&M and has quickly become one of the most respected names in the industry. In her current role alongside Malchow, Braswell is responsible for all of the logistics associated with visits for Texas A&M’s targets. She also is crucial in building and maintaining relationships, which pays dividends on game-day recruiting showcases.

What Braswell’s peers are saying:

• “All the recruits that I talk to always mention to me she is a huge piece of what they are doing recruiting-wise at A&M. All the recruits have a really great relationship with her. She also has a huge role in the relationships with recruits’ parents.”

• “Nobody has done a better job of adapting to the new rules than them (Braswell and Malchow). It will show in this class and for years to come. Credit to them. I can’t say that I’m not jealous.”

T-7. Scott Aligo, director of scouting, Kansas

Total survey points: 5
Started at Kansas: 2021

Aligo was named the director of scouting at Kansas (his alma mater) in June by first-year coach Lance Leipold. Aligo was an attractive candidate after his work in the transfer portal for Michigan State. The portal will be a major part of every school’s roster construction moving forward, and though Aligo is still relatively new to the personnel game, he already has a pretty impressive notch on his resume.

What Aligo’s peers are saying:

• “He’s on here because of the forethought and work he did to build the MSU roster with transfers. They were the early adopters to the portal and did the homework and found the right guys that fit the program.”

T-7. Andy Frank, director of player personnel, Penn State

Total survey points: 5
Started at Penn State: 2014

Frank arrived at Penn State in 2014 with James Franklin and has helped the program enjoy a significant uptick in recruiting. The Nittany Lions signed four straight top-15 classes, from 2017 through 2020, including the No. 6 class in 2019. Seven of the 15 highest-ranked players Penn State has signed in the modern era of recruiting have come in the Frank (and Franklin) era.

What Frank’s peers are saying:

• “He’s an intelligent, detailed veteran. He’s one of the guys I trust that I call anytime I’m looking into any situation and need feedback or advice.”(Courtesy of Michigan State)

T-7. Saeed Khalif, director of player personnel, Michigan State

Total survey points: 5
Started at Michigan State: 2021

Khalif is in his first year at Michigan State after three years at Wisconsin. During his time in Madison, the Badgers improved their national recruiting ranking reach year. Khalif is now serving in an integral role under Mel Tucker, who has mastered the art of the transfer portal. Khalif arrived in June — after the Spartans worked the portal magic that transformed their 2021 roster — but he ran point on acquiring former four-star running back Jalen Berger from Wisconsin this offseason. Khalif is also in charge of evaluating the current roster and implementing Michigan State’s recruiting plan.

What Khalif’s peers are saying:

• “Saeed Khalif is the sharpest and most dynamic guy in the personnel business. Very impressive.”

• “The way they have seemingly handled the transfer portal is second to no one in my opinion.”

T-10. Drew Hill, director of player personnel, Oklahoma

Total survey points: 4
Started at Oklahoma: 2014

Hill, hired by Bob Stoops in 2014, has been a part of one of college football’s most prestigious programs during a renaissance in the recruiting era. Under his watch, the Sooners have led the way in the new age of recruiting, whether it be with graphics, online communication or modern relationship building.

What Hill’s peers are saying:

• “He is a strong evaluator, great leader of a lot of people and has the ability to relate to anyone.”

T-10. Aaryn Kearney, director of recruiting, Notre Dame

Total survey points: 4
Started at Notre Dame: 2015

Kearney joined the Notre Dame football program in 2015 after a six-year stint in similar positions at Nebraska. In 2016, he was promoted to Notre Dame’s director of recruiting and has held the position since. Throughout his tenure at Notre Dame, the Irish have never signed a class that ranked outside of the top 20. Given his background at Nebraska, Kearny has a keen understanding of how to recruit nationally, which has helped him succeed at Notre Dame.

What Kearney’s peers are saying about him:

• “They’ve done an incredible job there, and considering the pool of players they are limited to, and the fact that they have to be spread out nationally, it’s no small feat that they continually sign top classes.”

T-10. Courtney Morgan, director of player personnel, Washington

Total survey points: 4
Started at Washington: 2021

Morgan was hired by Washington shortly after Kalen DeBoer was named head coach in late November. Morgan spent the previous nine months at Michigan — where he played offensive line from 1999-2003 — and was around during perhaps the most critical year of Jim Harbaugh’s career. Morgan worked for DeBoer at Fresno State, but it was still surprising to see him leave Michigan right after the Wolverines earned a spot in the College Football Playoff for the first time.

What Morgan’s peers are saying:

• “He helped turn around Michigan and was Washington’s first hire. He helped build San Joe State, Fresno State and Michigan’s program.”

Others receiving votes:

  • Ryan Bartow, Florida State: 3
  • James Blanchard, Texas Tech: 3
  • Bryan Carrington, TCU: 3
  • Ty Clements, Clemson: 3
  • Marshall Cherrington, USC: 3
  • Lucas Gauthier, Colorado State: 3  — “Instrumental to (Jay) Norvell’s success (at Nevada). They find all diamonds in Cali and know where they can get the most bang for their buck. Really impressive G5 guy that has had multiple P5 opportunities.”
  • Billy Glasscock, Texas: 3
  • Vince Guinta, Baylor: 3
  • Eric Joseph, Rutgers: 3
  • Pat Lambert, Cincinnati: 3
  • Kent McLeod, Duke: 3
  • Joe Price, UTSA: 3 — “Don’t know him personally. Every time they offer a guy, we watch them. … They discover recruits with no offers before anyone else in this state. Always impressed with UTSA evaluations — think they know what they are doing there.”
  • Matt Seiler, ASU: 3
  • Jesse Stone, UCF: 3
  • Mike Villagrana, Marshall: 3
  • Kenyatta Watson, Florida State: 3
  • Todd Bradford, Oklahoma State: 2 — “Feels like OK State does such a good job every year with their class. They routinely get top-ranked kids, but what’s most impressive is that they hit on their ‘diamonds in the rough.’”
  • Kyle Cooper, SMU: 2
  • Mark Diethorn, Virginia Tech: 2
  • Spencer Harris, USC: 2
  • Eron Hodges, Louisville: 2
  • Russ Kieselhorst, Wake Forest: 2
  • Matt Lindsey, Ole Miss: 2
  • Gavin Morris, USC: 2
  • Jared Russell, Missouri: 2
  • Steven Ruzic, North Carolina: 2
  • Taylor Searels, Texas: 2
  • Mason Smith, LSU: 2
  • Makenzie Votteler, Alabama: 2
  • Luke Walerius, North Texas: 2
  • Graham Wilbert, Pitt: 2
  • Andrew Blaylock, Appalachian State: 1
  • Vernell Brown, Florida: 1
  • David Cooney, Miami: 1
  • Tyler Dean, Texas A&M: 1
  • Matt Doherty, Arizona: 1
  • Taylor Edwards, South Carolina: 1
  • Wes Fritz, Tulane: 1
  • Katie Giusto, West Virginia: 1
  • Matt Godwin, Georgia: 1
  • Annie Hanson, Oklahoma: 1
  • Derek Hoodjer, Iowa State: 1
  • Angela Kirkpatrick, Georgia: 1
  • Trey Neyer, West Virginia: 1
  • Greg Nosal, Bowling Green: 1
  • Corey Phillips, NC State: 1
  • Casey Smithson, Houston: 1
  • Ethan Young, UCLA: 1


11 thoughts on “Recruiting Experts…Where are Pitt’s Guys?

  1. If there is one thing this season has shown, its that we (POVers) know a lot less about player evaluation than we think we do and who ever is making evaluation decisions for Pitt knew a lot more than we thought they did. And yes, that includes me.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. In football or basketball? lol. Perhaps it is the other schools in the coastal that had worse evaluators and we were the best of the worst? Can’t say I read about our competitors knocking it out of the park in the coastal. I would venture to say that those receiving one vote and two votes, may have been voted on by themselves or their spouses, parents, etc. Again, lol.

    We are probably not as good as we think in this space, and probably not as bad either.

    For the extreme, some will look at the high ranking of the clemsonite and say how wrong this is and we beat them. This is probably not a one season analysis (except for the portal potty analysts).


  3. I second the athletic subscription … trick to keeping a good price is to not renew and you’ll get a link at the discounted price.


  4. Perfect beverage for our bowl game…Crown Peach.
    And yes, I always watch Pitt’s bowl appearances with a group of Pitt fans and have attended 6 others in person.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I also subscribe to The Athletic. It’s a good deal.

    Surprised by anyone from Kansas making the top list.

    At some point, UNC will need to deliver…we’ve seen the ratings of the recruiting classes… but so what if it doesn’t translate into on field success?


  6. If I counted correctly, Pitt has 28 people as support staff for the football team. This is in addition to the 11 or so on-the-field coaches. So there’s a total of at least 39 people directing or helping to direct the football-team enterprise…

    Seems like a lot, but Alabama probably has that many supposedly hands-off coaches…

    I wondered about this because in his press conference the other day the Duzzer mentioned that they need to add support staff – might have been related to internet work or NIL, I don’t recall. I guess he’s in a good position to bargain right now…

    Pitt football is creating jobs!



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