College Recruiting: A Give and Take, Part I - Introductions

In this feature, coaches Jay Johnson and Alan Versaw exchange information and perspectives on the college track and field/cross country recruiting process. This will be a continuing feature on this site and on over the next few weeks as we seek to make the process both more productive and more transparent for all concerned.

In this first installment, you will meet the two coaches and learn a little about how this project got started. We hope you'll enjoy the exchanges and will join in the discussion by posting comments of your own.

From this point forward, Coach Versaw's words will be printed in plain text. Coach Johnson's words will be printed in italicized text, making it easy to discern the voice you are hearing.


PART 1: Introductions

Ever since the NCAA did away with the early signing period for track and field, early January through early February has become the my least favorite time of year. It's not that doing away with the early signing period was a mistake; it wasn't. It's that now all of my headaches stemming from helping to match prospective athletes with colleges are concentrated in a single three-to-four week period.

Over the nine years that I have been coaching high school distance runners, I have listened to a handful of college coaches speak to athletes and high school coaches about the recruiting process. While some of what I have learned from those sessions has proven helpful, there have also been some serious disconnects between what I heard and what I see happening in practice.

With an eye toward sharing some ideas I had to make this whole process less aggravating and more efficient, I started a conversation with Jay Johnson. Jay formerly handled recruiting at the University of Colorado and was partially responsible for bringing former Buffs Stephen Pifer and Brent Vaughn to CU. He also recruited Emily Hanenburg, one of our former star runners, to CU.

Jay has left, at least for the time being, the college recruiting scene, but remains actively involved in coaching high-level distance runners. You can spy on him at Drop in on his site every now and then. Despite the career shift, however, he maintains a passionate interest in college recruiting. Actually, I can't think of a thing Jay has done that he was not passionate about. You probably don't want everyone in your life to have Jay's energy level, but you need a few a like him or life simply isn't as interesting as it should be.

It's been a little over three years now since Emily signed with Colorado. Although we have seen a number of talented distance runners come through our program since Emily graduated, my experience with Jay Johnson remains the best college recruiting experience I've had with any athlete at any level. Jay did an A+ job. Reports reaching my ears tell me he did an A+ job with other athletes as well. So, it was only natural that I turned to him when my level of irritation with the process reached the point where I felt somebody needed to start a conversation about how this process can be done better.

I ran into Alan Versaw, girls and boys coach at The Classical Academy, last week at a local coaching clinic, which was a nice reminder that I first meet him four years ago at a local coaching clinic. Alan shared with me that he was frustrated in regard to the college track and field/cross country recruiting process. Now, at this juncture, it's fair to ask, "Why does Alan Versaw's opinion matter?" or "Who the hell is he and where does he get off criticizing a fellow group of coaches?" Fair question and I submit two replies:

1) His girls team qualified for Nike Cross Nationals this fall.

2) He's the Colorado editor of; while all HS coaches do a great job of knowing who the best runners in the state are, Alan's analysis culminates in an interesting dénouement each year when writes the "Class of 2009 College Choices" article for

So Alan's opinion matters, not only because every girl on his team can get an athletic scholarship at some school but also because he follows the same process for the all of the best kids in the state, across event areas. And if Alan's frustrated then we can assume that other good coaches, coaches whose egos are fully satiated thank-you-very-much, are also frustrated.

So Alan and I are going to do something simple over the coming weeks.

He's going to share a observation/frustration/anecdote about the recruiting process from the HS coaching perspective; I will share the counter-argument/position/frustration from the college coach's perspective. Though I'm no longer a college coach, the assumption is that I know what I'm talking about, having recruited at both the JUCO and NCAA Division I levels... and, yes, assuming that I know what I'm talking about is indeed a sizable assumption. The cool thing about doing it this way, a former college coach speaking on the matter, is that in the last week I've spoken with five different college coaches who gave me five different answers to the question, "If you could say one thing to HS coaches and/or HS athletes - and you could be completely honest, knowing your comment wouldn't hurt your recruiting efforts - what would you say?"

The answers range from the amount of money the kids are expecting, to the idea that a JUCO is often a better place to start, both academically and athletically, a four-year education, to the idea that high school athletes better have trained hard in high school if they are to be able to handle the volumes and intensities necessary just to score one measly point at the outdoor conference track and field meet.

Alan and I will no doubt get something useful out of this back and forth, yet the real opportunity here if for you to join in the conversation and comment. If you have something to share, please do. Thanks.

Links to All Parts in Series:


Part I - Introductions

Part II - Scholarship Amounts

Part III - Closure on Scholarship Amounts

Part IV - Role of the High School Coach

Part V - Closure on Role of the High School Coach

Part VI - Transitioning from HS to College

Part VII - Wrap-Up


Updated Recruiting Series Article