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September 19, 2007

Foles looks for best fit; Garcia enjoys spotlight

The following is an exclusive excerpt provided to Rivals.com from Bruce Feldman's new book, Meat Market. In the book and in the excerpts to follow on Rivals.com, Feldman gives an inside look at the recruiting process thanks to almost unlimited access to the Ole Miss coaching staff while they were recruiting the class of 2007.

Coming later this week:
Part I: QB dominoes fall
Thursday: Part III
Friday: Chat with the author, 10 a.m.

Nick Foles, a blue-eyed blond on the huge side as quarterbacks go, grew up a big Texas Longhorn fan and was disappointed that UT wasn't pursuing him. But he said that Ole Miss was intriguing, and that he was definitely interested. It didn't hurt that Foles's father, Larry, was originally from Pascagoula.

The elder Foles liked Orgeron's confidence and hands-on approach: "Coach O is a recruiting genius. He's going to have a great class. He really knows how to recruit."

The younger Foles admitted he found the recruiting process confusing. He was polite, and didn't seem to have any trace of ego or a sense of entitlement. He was more willing to stump for his buddy, the team kicker, than to talk about himself. He also chose his words carefully and occasionally tried to edit his parents to make sure nothing they said came across as inflammatory.

Foles claimed not to pay much attention to what was being written on the Internet about the recruiting season. "But, thankfully," he said, "Dad does."

Indeed. All spring, the elder Foles was up-to-date about everything written about all the other quarterback prospects, especially those linked to schools looking at his son. He knew all the scuttlebutt about Stephen Garcia and Mike Paulus and Jason Munns, a quarterback from Kennewick, Washington. Larry Foles had read that Arizona State, a school that was also recruiting his son, liked Munns, too. But Larry knew that Munns was more interested in a few schools closer to his home. (He was right: Munns ended up signing with Brigham Young University.)

Nick's father had also read that Garcia was the quarterback the Rebels really wanted.

In the first week of April, while the Rebels were in the middle of spring football, Nick Foles and his parents visited Ole Miss. The younger Foles was "blown away" by the Rebels' indoor facilities. Sitting in on Dan Werner's quarterback meeting was "really cool." Still, the Foles family had a lot to process before Nick would make his decision. To help them do that, they hired a onetime Bristol-Myers exec turned college football coach turned entrepreneur.

Randy Rodgers is a folksy, 50-something-year-old former recruiting coordinator at Texas and Illinois. Since 1998, Rodgers has billed himself as a "Recruiting Consultant/Analyst." And in that role, he has essentially turned the domino effect in recruiting into a cottage industry.

His Austin-based business is called Randy Rodgers Recruiting. The home page of Rodgers' website (randyrodgersrecruiting.com) features a picture of the white-haired Illinois-native wearing a cowboy hat and a shirt designed to look like the Texas state flag. Rodgers works as a consultant to college programs, listing over 50 major universities as clients. He charges between $3,000 and $6,000 to the schools for his evaluation services, which include the names and contact information numbers of potential prospects in the state of Texas. The Rodgers operation is just one of dozens of such services. The twist is that he works the other side of the street as well, selling his expertise about the recruiting game to families like the Foleses.

Rodgers says he's counseling about 70 prospects, adding that two-thirds of them are not major college talents. One of his primary functions, he says, is to explain to the parents how the recruiting process works. "Most people receive form letters and think their kids are being recruited when they really aren't," he says.

For a fee—he doesn't disclose what he charges each family for his service—Rodgers crafts what he calls a "recruiting game plan that is straight, honest feedback of the prospect's ability and where he fits best." Rodgers says he does this by breaking down each school's situation as it relates to the quarterback, ranging from nuances in its depth chart to its offensive style.

"He'll tell you, 'They really don't throw the ball. They're more of an option team,' " said Larry Foles about a program that was sending his son a lot of letters. "Randy said we really want to go to a place with a lot of play-action passes."

Rodgers had tried to size up all of Nick Foles' suitors for his family. In the mix were Ole Miss, Arizona State, UTEP, and Duke, each with its own degree of attractiveness to the Foles family.

Of the four schools, only Ole Miss wasn't a Rodgers client. Rodgers told the family he wasn't sure how to read the Rebels' situation. He knew about Werner because Miami is one of his clients. And he knew that the current Ole Miss QB, junior Brent Schaeffer, "is a different kind of quarterback than Nick." But he quickly added, "Quite frankly, I don't know yet. Ole Miss isn't a client, so I don't pay too much attention to them."


Orgeron knew that as a consequence of the QB domino effect Garcia's stock was rising faster than that of any other quarterback prospect in the country. And the kid certainly appeared to be relishing the stage, which only complicated matters.

Rodgers did have a strong opinion on what kind of fit would be best for his new client: "Nick isn't a West Coast Offense guy, dinking it out in the flat, spreading it around, and running. That's not him. He fits best in the vertical passing game. I think he fits what Dirk Koetter at ASU likes to do."

Rodgers, who enjoys a solid rep among college coaches, is adamant that he would never steer one of his quarterback clients to one of his institutional clients just because of his relationship with the latter. "I'm completely out of the solicitation business," he says. "And I don't lobby schools on a kid's behalf. I stay out of that."

The irony in all this was that Rodgers might have been helping most the one school that wasn't a client.

By early May, the Stephen Achilles Garcia Derby was primed to overtake the Jimmy Clausen Stretch Hummer Extravaganza for the title of most bizarre recruiting sideshow of the season.

On May 2, a tall, attractive 20-year-old brunette named Autumn Clark walked into the Ole Miss defensive staff room and handed Ed Orgeron the day's recruiting scoop. Clark, a former shooting guard on a state title basketball team coached by Rebels tight ends coach Hugh Freeze, was one of a half-dozen female student workers in the Ole Miss football office. Part of her job was surfing the Internet daily for stories related to the Rebels' recruiting world. She'd been given a list of websites like OMspirit.com and RebelSports.net to cover. In today's 30-page packet, the story that jumped out at Orgeron concerned Mike Shula's visiting Stephen Garcia's high school on the first day of spring football.

"Alabama head coach Mike Shula and coach Dave Ungerer were at the school today watching me practice," Garcia was quoted as saying by BamaOnLine.com. "It was pretty cool seeing Coach Shula there because he was the first head coach that has been out to see me. It was awesome having a head coach from a university with such a great tradition there watching me in person. I knew he was there, but I wasn't nervous. I just made sure I played my best."

Orgeron's expression didn't change as he glanced at the rest of the packet. In April, Garcia and his father had road-tripped to both Alabama and Ole Miss. The quarterback said he loved both places, but Orgeron had noticed that the younger Garcia seemed to talk up South Carolina and Florida more than Ole Miss in the Web reports. Maybe now Alabama was surging past the Rebels too.

Orgeron knew that as a consequence of the QB domino effect Garcia's stock was rising faster than that of any other quarterback prospect in the country. And the kid certainly appeared to be relishing the stage, which only complicated matters. He was even writing his own blog chronicling the recruiting season on the Tampa Tribune's website. On the first day the blog was posted, it was the 10th-most-visited page on the newspaper's site. Much of the traffic was coming from South Carolina fans eager to sell their coaching savior Steven Orr Spurrier, a.k.a SOS. The user comments ranged from comical to mind-numbing to sad:

Posted by Big John L, Lexington, SC, on 05/05 at 06:05 PM:

Can't wait to see you run out of the tunnel in 2007 playing for the best QB coach in the nation. Go Cocks!!! PS: Clemson Sucks!

Posted by Tom Medlock, Columbia, SC, on 05/11 at 01:00 PM:

Stephen, I submitted a post before mentioning my niece. She graduated from Plant last year and has just finished her freshman year at the College of Charleston. Her dad is Cuban and her mom Irish. She's loads of fun, very smart, and good lookin' to boot! When you enroll at USC, you'll have to meet her. Go Gamecocks!!

Posted by Townes Maxwell, Oxford, MS, on 05/12 at 03:46 PM:

Stephen, I think you should look harder at Ole Miss. We now have the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach from Miami. I know we have Brent Schaeffer, but we'll only have him for two years. You could come to Ole Miss and redshirt a year, enjoy the grove and the school that has produced more Miss Americas than any other university. Then you could start for the next four years.

Posted by Aaron Holley, Lexington, SC, on 05/12 at 04:51 PM:

Man, Stephen, we need you in Columbia. We are gonna win championships, and you're gonna help us win them. If you commit to UF. you're just gonna be in the shadow of Tim Tebow your whole career, but if you come to South Carolina you have a chance to become a hero.

Coming Thursday: Part III: Ole Miss makes big push for Garcia

Excerpted from Meat Market by Bruce Feldman (ESPN Books). Feldman is also the author of Cane Mutiny: How the Miami Hurricanes Overturned the Football Establishment.

His articles have been cited in several editions of The Best American Sports Writing, and he has won first-place awards in contests sponsored by the Football Writers Association of America. Meat Market can be purchased by clicking here.




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