Recruiting Q&A – What it’s like to be a CU recruit

Editor’s Note: Thanks to the internet, many of us fans in the Buff Nation can tell you the number of stars a particular prospect has been given by the recruiting services, or the top five schools a certain high school senior is considering. What most of us don’t know is what it feels like to be a Division 1 recruit, or be the parent of a recruit. Below is the third in a series of interviews on CU recruiting. Up this week: Colorado 2012 recruit Clay Norgard, who has already enrolled at CU, and will be eligible to participate in spring practices.

Clay Norgard

Introduce us to Clay Norgard. Both Rivals and Scout have you listed as a three-star prospect, with Rivals showing you to be their No. 4 fullback in the nation, while Scout still has you listed at defensive end (No. 103). I understand that you played any number of positions at Mountain Vista, mostly on defense, moving from middle linebacker to outside linebacker to defensive end to defensive tackle. Is this correct?

I also played Nose Guard and Offensive Guard last season. Stats were not reported completely by my team, but I had 106 total tackles (64 solo/42 asst) 11 sacks and 9 forced fumbles this season. I led my team in all categories for my Junior and Senior seasons. I was named All-Conference as a Sophomore, Junior and Senior, 5A All-State and All-Colorado for my Junior and Senior seasons. I am one of only two players in the history of my school to be voted Team Captain for both Junior and Senior seasons, too.

You are listed at anywhere from 6’0″ to 6’2″, and from 230 to 245. What are the most accurate numbers?

6’1″ 242 lbs at my team physical.

Was a football scholarship always in your plans? When did you know that you had Division 1-A talent?

Yes, it had always been my dream to play college football at the highest level possible, but I knew it would be a long shot just based on statistics. Realistically, I knew only a small percentage of high school players go Division 1. I just tried to become the best player at my high school first, then the best player in my conference, the best in the 5A division and finally the best in Colorado. Being ranked on a national level and having national attention from colleges was really the icing on the cake. I feel like I was very fortunate to get a Division 1 scholarship and it’s not something I have ever taken lightly, but it’s definitely something I’ve been working on for most of my life.

How old were you when you first heard from a college recruiter? How were you contacted?

Started getting letters in the mail spring of my Sophomore year, coaches started coming by the school spring of my Junior year. There weren’t many other football players recruited out of my high school, so it wasn’t a regular stop for the big name schools where there would be an opportunity for coaches to see me working out or playing because they may have been there to see another older guy on my team.

Did you have a “dream school” when you were growing up? Your parents have a history with the University of Colorado. How did family connections play a role in your choice of schools?

I have family that has ties to University of Washington, but CU was my dream school. I grew up loving CU. The fact that my dad played there made it really comfortable to be around the program in the past. We lived in Boulder for two years in the NFL off-seasons and my dad did his workouts at Dal Ward, so my sister and I kind of grew up running around that weight room. CU and Dal Ward have always felt like home to me, so I would say that my family connection made CU the right choice because it just felt very familiar, like “home” I guess.

Colorado was entering a new era when you were being recruited, with the firing of Dan Hawkins, and the hiring of Jon Embree, last December. Were you recruited by Dan Hawkins’ staff? Which coaches were recruiting you? For what positions?

I was not recruited by any specific coaches on Dan Hawkins staff. I was invited to Boulder for football gameday visits but other than that it seemed like the previous staff had no specific interest in me as a player.

If Colorado was not looking like the best opportunity for you under the Dan Hawkins’ regime, where else did you look? Which other schools were recruiting you? Did you have a list of top five schools other than CU which you might have been interested in attending?

As a Junior, I was invited on unofficial visits to a lot of other schools: Notre Dame, Arizona, Washington, CSU, etc. There were lots of others that were in contact and visited me, too but I didn’t really have a top five. I was just trying to keep an open mind to whatever my path was going to be since I really didn’t see it being at CU at that time.

Tell us the story of your being recruited by the new CU coaches last January. (I understand that you went up for an unofficial visit right before Signing Day, 2011, and met with the coaches, and were given an offer soon thereafter – is that correct?)

I got an email from the football staff inviting me up for a basketball game where they were hosting senior recruits on official visits. I thought it would be just like other “gameday visits” during the football season, so I didn’t really expect anything. When my dad and I got there, Coach Embree met with us and Coach Bieniemy was there. They told us what their goals were for the team, what they planned to do in the coming years and what kind of players they needed to accomplish those goals. Then they told me I was one of their top in-state priorities. They offered me a scholarship and talked to me about possibly enrolling early. It felt like my dream of playing at CU might really come true, but it was so different from what I had experienced up there before that it didn’t seem real. We went to the basketball game and the whole time I was thinking “did that just happen?” Then a week or so later Coach Brookhart was at my school and I had the chance to talk with him, too. He reiterated that I was a recruiting priority for them and talked again about the “Early Enrollee” opportunity. After I talked with my school counselor and found out that I if I planned things out I really could graduate early, it seemed like I could easily make the decision much sooner than later. I committed when I did because CU had always been my dream and it seemed stupid to lead schools along just for the attention and the trips when I eknew I wanted to be at CU in the end anyway.

Which of the current CU coaches recruited you?

Coach Embree, Coach Bieniemy and Coach Brookhart

Had you met Jon Embree before January, 2011? What were your first impressions when you met with him in January?

Yes, I had met Coach Embree previously at Buffs4Life events my family attended over the years. I was a little intimidated because of his physical stature and maybe a little guarded because I just really wanted to impress him. He’s an easy-to-talk-to guy, and the more time I spent with him the more it felt like he was really a family friend. He treats me just like all my dad’s college buddies, gives me a hard time sometimes, but really cool to me too, so it feels very comfortable around him now.

You did not take an official visit to Colorado before committing, but I’m guessing you had been to Boulder many times before. Did you make it up for spring practices last March/April? What was that like? What did you do when you were in Boulder? Were you there with other recruits? What did the coaches and players talk to you about?

I went up for 4 or 5 spring practices and scrimmages, mostly just hanging out watching practice. I just kept thinking it almost seemed to good to be true. Other recruits that were there were mostly just the local guys that were also being recruited. Also saw some seniors who were committed or walking on from the class of 2011. Coaches and players I talked to would say how excited they were to have me there, lots of them also talked about turning things around for the program and how things were only going to be heading up for CU. Just lots of positive stuff from everybody, you could tell it was totally different from the way things had been when I had visited in the past. It seemed like there was a more direct plan of where things were going.

You did take your official visit to Colorado in December. What is an “official visit” like? When did you get to Boulder? How long were you there? What did you do when you were on your visit (activities, academic counselors, etc.)? Who was your host?

Arrived on Friday, stayed until Sunday morning. The whole weekend gave me a view of how it would be when I got up there for school. Meeting with academic staff, which is awesome. They have so much to offer the athletes at CU, really want everyone to succeed in school and do so much to help the athletes have a positive academic experience. Met with coach Bieniemy and went over film so he could show me how they would use me as a fullback. Ate a lot, hung out with players at night. Tyler McCulloch was my player host but we hung out with a lot of the other guys who were hosting players that weekend, too. Tyler Henington was up there that weekend and we already knew each other, so I hung out with him and his host (Brady Daigh) a lot. Some of the Texas guys and the Washington D.C. guys were there, so it was cool to meet my future teammates.

When you were on your official visit, did you get to spend much time with other recruits who were also in town for official visits? Did you do some recruiting of your own, trying to get some players to commit to CU? Did other players try and persuade you to look at any other schools?

Yes, spent time with all of the guys that were in town that weekend. For the ones who weren’t committed yet, I didn’t spend a lot of time talking to them about committing. Mostly just told them how great Boulder, CU and these coaches were, how the program was on its way up and how excited we were to be a part of that history. Everyone knew I was committed and enrolling early so no other recruits tried to sway me to consider other schools.

Did you take any other official visits? If so, how did your visits compare? (Better or worse facilities; nicer town; friendlier coaches; better players, etc.).

I didn’t take any other “Officials” but on my unofficial visits I can say I liked the campus at University of Arizona, I liked the location/campus at University of Washington and I liked the tradition at Notre Dame. But CU really just had the whole package; the school and campus, the town and environment, and I feel like this coaching staff is going to bring back the tradition that used to be there so it really offered the best of all the other schools that looked good to me. The coaches really sealed the deal for me, they’re guys I can’t wait to play for.

You were the first commit of the Jon Embree era. After your commitment, the Buffs struggled through to a 3-10 finish in 2011, with CU out-manned in several games. Did you ever waver in your commitment to Colorado? Did coaches from other schools continue to recruit you?

Nope. Not at all, even when they lost I knew it takes awhile for teams to build up. I knew the CU coaches had the right things in mind and so did the players. I didn’t want to be a part of team that had already done it, I wanted to be part of a team that was going to be doing it in the future. A team that’s on the way up, which I know CU is. Other schools continued to recruit me through last spring and summer, but once it was clear I was graduating and enrolling early that dropped off. I didn’t go to any camps other than CU’s, so I think it was obvious where my intentions were. I had no desire to lead any schools on just for the attention and was up front with all of them.

What did you know about your fellow CU recruits? What did you know about other player who were being recruited at your position?

I could tell they all had the same mentality and goals as me. I’ve known Tyler Henington for a long time, we’ve competed against each other in multiple sports since about 3rd grade. I knew that he was really competitive and wanted to win. He has the same mentality I do about loyalty and hard work. Every guy I met who was committed to CU, no matter where they were from (California, Texas, Washington D.C., etc), was that kind of guy. All the guys we met who were current players seemed to be that way too, so I think it’s obvious the coaches are looking for that while they build this team for the future. It feels great to be able to be on a team of guys that have the same goals and mentality I do.

Did you know any of the other in-state recruits (From all-star games, spring ball, etc.)? Did you try and recruit them to CU? What reasons did they give for wanting to go elsewhere?

I knew Tyler Henington and Shane Callahan the best. I knew Shane wanted to go to Auburn since he saw it as an “O-lineman university”. I think he liked CU but felt a better fit with Auburn and I had to just respect his opinion on that. Didn’t know the other in-state guys CU had offered very well, but in meeting them it maybe didn’t seem like it was a good fit on either side. Everybody brings something different, players and coaches. Seeing the guys that have committed to CU, it wouldn’t necessarily be the best fit for all the in-state guys. I know we have the right guys coming in this class, and the other in-state guys seem to have found places that work for them, so it’s all good.

You have “green-shirted”, and are already in school for the 2012 spring semester. How hard a decision was it for you to graduate from high school early? How do you believe that having an extra semester in school will help you? How much of an advantage will you have from getting top participate in spring practices?

Not hard at all, I was ready to leave high school, ready to move on and work toward higher goals. I think being here in the Spring helps most with getting acclimated to the faster pace of school and football. Getting used to college now so that once football is full swing I don’t have to worry about that adjustment. The other guys have said that was one of the hardest things, just figuring out college and college football at the same time. I think being here for Spring football will really help me in learning the details of a new position, so that’s good too.

You are switching to fullback at CU, after playing any number of positions in high school. What is your feel about the move?

It feels good. I feel more comfortable switching to that position than trying to gain a bunch of weight to be able to play Defensive Line at the Division 1 level. It’s a huge chance for me to be able to get on the field right away, too. That’s my goal, just to get on the field and contribute as soon as I can in whatever way I can to help the team.

Before becoming an All-Big Eight player and an 11-year NFL veteran, your father was a walk-on at CU. Yet you are heading to Boulder on scholarship from day one. Do you give your father a bad time about your being a scholarship player?

I try giving him a hard time, but it doesn’t work. When I say “I got a D1 scholarship” he counters with “well I played 11 years in the NFL, try to top that”. There is no winning in that argument yet. Only time will tell on that one, but he’s got me beat right now.

Any other memories from your recruitment which you would like to share?

Getting a scholarship is not easy. Everything you have to do from making highlight film to contacting coaches and keeping up with things. But it’s worth it when the prize is getting to play at your dream school with coaches that you love. It was a ton of hard work, time and effort, but I’m really blessed to have the opportunity.

Erik and Lisa Norgard 

For Erik

Erik Norgard earned nine letters (three each in football, basketball, and track), in Arlington, Washington, in the early 1980’s. Norgard originally enrolled at Western Washington University, before transferring to Colorado in the spring of 1985. Norgard had two stellar years at center at Colorado, earning first team All-Big Eight and honorable mention All-American honors in 1988. Norgard then went on to a ten-year NFL career.

Tell us how you got from Arlington, Washington, to Boulder, Colorado.

I transferred for spring semester 1985 after only one semester at Western Washington University. I was a linebacker and fullback in high school, so I started off playing linebacker at WWU as a freshman. I switched to guard after some injuries on the team created a chance to start and started at that position for 10 out of 11 games that season.

 Since I was a walk-on transfer (CU did not recruit me to transfer, it was my choice) and WWU was a DII school, there was no need to sit out. I didn’t play that next season (’85) because I was still trying to earn a scholarship, which I did in spring of 1986. I broke my foot in spring football that year and sat out that entire following season (’86). Coach Mac honored my scholarship offer, and I spent that season rehabbing and trying to gain weight. At the time I got hurt, CU didn’t have a set “position” for me, but I had done well at guard and center, so that was the goal I was working toward as I came back from my injury.

Coming out of high school, was a football scholarship always in your plans, or were you interested in other sports?

Football, specifically making it to the NFL, had been my goal from about age four. I had just always dreamed of that. I knew that getting a scholarship was the path to that goal. That goal was the catalyst for my decision to transfer to a bigger program, just getting the experience and exposure at a higher level. After college I was an undrafted NFL Free Agent, but I think my walk-on experience at Colorado helped me with that transition, too. Everything I went through in my years at CU was a big part of me achieving a 10-year NFL career. Sometimes the road taken is not always the easiest one, but it’s what you do with the opportunities you’re given that matters most.

How old were you when you first heard from a college recruiter? How were you contacted?

I first heard from recruiters my senior year, and I was contacted by most coaches by phone. I was from a very small school-Division AA-in northern Washington state (only 67 in my graduating class) so there wasn’t a lot of attention from the big schools in our town.

Did you have a “dream school” when you were growing up?

Coming from Washington and having family with alumni ties, the University of Washington was always in the forefront. My parents divorced and my father moved to Colorado in the 70’s, so CU was always in my mind, too. It was really just those two schools growing up that I identified with.

In 1985, when you transferred to Colorado, the Buffs were – sadly enough – exactly as bad off as the Buffs are in 2012. The 1985 Buffs were coming off of a school-record six straight losing seasons (a record tied by the 2006-11 Buffs). Head coach Bill McCartney had been given a contract extension, despite posting a 1-10 season in 1984, and an overall three-year record of 7-25-1. You were coming to Colorado from the state of Washington. What led you to take a chance on Colorado?

My dad lived here in Colorado and while visiting him for Christmas I told him that I planned to try to walk-on at a bigger program. He suggested we go up and talk to the Colorado coaches, which we did over that Christmas break.

Did you talk with any CU coaches? Were you “recruited” to join the Buffs? If so, did they tell you about the new wishbone offense they wanted to run, and how you fit into their plans?

No Colorado coaches recruited me, we really just went up to Boulder and spoke with the walk-on coordinator (name escapes me now), who looked at my grades and my film and said they would give me the chance to walk-on as soon as that spring if I wanted. I made plans to transfer right away, and was enrolled for spring semester shortly after that. There were no discussions about their offense or where I fit as a player, just that I was good enough to compete for a spot, so “come on up”!

When did you first meet Bill McCartney? What were your impressions?

The first time I met Coach Mac was during the off-season program that spring. I thought he was very intense, but I knew immediately that he was the kind of coach I wanted to play for. He was a man with very strong convictions and passionate coaching style and that kind of coach has always appealed to me. You hear him speak and you just want to run through walls for him. I really loved the way he could fire a team up, and I still do.

Had you been to Boulder before? What did you think of the town? Of the University of Colorado? Of the facilities at CU at the time?

Yes, with my Dad living in Colorado I had been up to Boulder before. I always loved Boulder and what’s not to love about the campus? At the time, the facilities were pretty basic, but that was never really a deciding factor in the school I picked. Opportunity to play was my only criteria and I saw that opportunity at CU so I went with it.

What did you know about your fellow CU players in 1985? Colorado was in need of offensive line recruits at the time, especially at your position, center. Did you know anything about any other players who had being recruited at your position?

I didn’t know much about any of the other offensive linemen at that time. I knew I just had to get bigger and learn the system. We had a run-and-shoot style offense at WWU, so my pass blocking skills were already really good. I just had to work on learning to snap the ball. As a walk-on, you run scout team and I got the opportunity to snap the ball a lot that spring for the quarterbacks and Kickers. That really helped with my progression as an offensive lineman, especially as a center.

Did you attend summer school in Boulder? Were there any summer conditioning programs? Did Colorado have any seven-on-sevens or any organized summer programs?

I enrolled for Spring semester, and I did stay up for Summer School the following summer. I don’t remember there being any organized conditioning program or 7-on-7’s for us. At the time, it was just school, training on your own and eating to get huge…

Do you have any other memories from your recruitment out of high school which you would like to share?

My path out of High School was completely different from Clay’s, so going through the process with him was all-new to me. It was nice to see him get the attention and have the experiences I didn’t get to have in high school.

Erik is not only a former Buff, but he is also father of a Buff, Clay Norgard. Clay committed to Colorado in February, 2011, when he was still a junior. Clay is a member of the CU recruiting Class of 2012, and enrolled this past week at the University of Colorado. Clay is eligible to participate in spring drills, and is slated to play fullback for the Buffs.

For Erik and Lisa Norgard

There is an old saying in college football that you don’t recruit the player, you recruit the Mom. Was that your experience with the University of Colorado? Was that your experience with other schools?

From Lisa: I feel like the current staff at CU really takes the time to understand each unique “family dynamic” with all of the athletes they’re recruiting. I think they were perceptive to the closeness of our family and made each one of us (even our daughter) feel like we were an important part of Clay’s future at CU, and after his commitment have always made us feel like we’re “Buff Family”. I tried to observe the process with the other recruits who were in town on Clay’s official visit weekend (December 2nd) and it seemed like this was not unique to just our family (over the months after Clay committed I often wondered if we just felt the “warm fuzzies” because we were already Alumni and Erik a former athlete and just knew CU so well, so it was great to see other families on official visit weekend “feeling it”, too). Other parents commented on the “family vibe” that weekend, so it seemed like the coaches really were recruiting not only the athletes, but also selling families on what their vision was (that “Buff Family” vision). We did not see that family-based attention from most of the other schools (a few seemed to be selling that, but not many) that were recruiting Clay, but felt like it might just be because of our bond with CU and our Alumni past, so those with a different approach didn’t really seem that unusual to me.

Would it be safe to say that your family background helped lead Clay to commit to Colorado?

I think it made Clay’s decision to commit to CU a very comfortable and positive one, but I don’t think our (mom and dad’s) past history helped lead Clay to commit to CU. As a parent being asked to send your child off to college eight months earlier than you had planned, it was surely a more comfortable one for us! As much as we were confident that the CU coaches were men who would guide, mentor and watch out for our son, I would probably not have been as confident sending him out of state so early. That’s a huge “trust moment” and just from a parent’s standpoint, we really did feel that level of trust most with the CU coaches.

What was your reaction, as the parents of a player who was pointing toward Colorado, at the firing of Dan Hawkins and the hiring of Jon Embree?

When the previous coaching staff was fired, Clay was not pointing toward Colorado at all, so there wasn’t any existing bond there. CU had only expressed lukewarm interest in him, so his attention was really turned toward the other schools that were already showing high interest. We supported his feelings, and had sort of set aside any hope of him being a Buff.

It was kind of disheartening, but we figured that was just going to be “his path” and it wouldn’t include heading to Boulder. You really have to support your child in the decisions they make, because those decisions are for them and not for you! When Jon Embree and all his staff were hired, as Alumni and with Erik being a former teammate we were of course thrilled for the program and what it meant for the future of CU football, but still didn’t really think CU was in the cards for Clay so the two were kind of unrelated.

Did you have any contact with Dan Hawkins’ staff before they were let go? When did you first hear from Jon Embree’s staff?

We did not have contact with any coaches from the precious staff that were let go. The first contact Clay had from Jon Embree’s staff was when they invited him up for an unofficial visit to see a basketball game in January, 2011. It seemed completely out of the blue, so he didn’t really know what to expect. In a meeting with the coaches that day, they told Clay he was one of three current juniors who were in-state priorities for them and gave him his scholarship offer then. It was quite an experience for him–to go from mentally and emotionally “moved on” and not even thinking about CU to having them tell him that he was actually a priority recruit for them was totally unexpected. It took him a little while to process that! He has said now that he had always dreamed that CU would be the place for him, but I think he had understandably detached himself from that hope with the way things were during his sophomore/junior years. It was great to see his hope restored with the new coaches. As a mom, this is what I am most grateful for about Coach Embree and his staff. They restored my son’s dream, which is just so awesome!

Clay became the first recruit of the 2012 recruiting class, committing just two weeks after the Class of 2011 signed their Letters of Intent. Were there any second thoughts about committing so early? Did you encourage Clay to take a look around, perhaps visit other schools, or talk with other coaches?

I don’t think there were ever any second thoughts for him. Most schools that were interested before his commitment continued to recruit him, and during the contact period last May many came by his high school to see him, but he never wavered. We did encourage Clay to look around before he committed and he went on quite a few unofficial visits in the previous Fall/Winter before his commitment, but once he decided we all knew it was final. When he decided to pursue Early Enrollment there really wasn’t much time to consider anything else, so committing at that time actually didn’t seem all that “early”. He needed to stay on top of the graduation process and focus on finishing everything on time, so to not have the worry about the recruiting/visits/camp circuit last summer and this fall was a big relief for him. He knew that last summer would be his last summer “off” for a few years, so it was nice to see him enjoy it without the stress and pressure of recruiting! It’s really fun to see your child so happy and secure in a decision that will surely shape his future in a great way.

Clay committed before the Buffs had played a down under Jon Embree. Were there any moments, during the 2011 season in which Colorado posted a 3-10 record, in which you had second thoughts about the commitment?

Never. The plan Jon is selling is a long-term one, and he seems to be looking for players who have that kind of a long-term mentality, which Clay really does. His high school team did not have a winning record over the three years he was a varsity starter, yet he was recognized as All-State and All-Colorado as a junior and a senior (as a side note, only three All-Colorado players this year came from teams with losing records). I think there are some players that define themselves as being “winners” based on being on a winning team—some just don’t see themselves as winners unless their team is winning, too. Then there are other players that just know they’re “winners”—they see themselves as winners regardless of the circumstance (winning or losing team), and the push to succeed comes from within for them. Bring enough players with that kind of personal “winning mentality” together and you can’t help but be successful as a team! These are the kinds of kids we’ve observed Coach Embree and staff recruiting now. It goes beyond just being on winning teams, but all seem to have that same personal “winning mentality” and internal drive to succeed regardless of their path to CU.

Did other schools continue to contact you after Clay’s commitment? Did they attempt to undermine Colorado, using either the string of consecutive losing seasons, or the 3-10 record?

Yes, almost all of the schools that were recruiting him before his commitment continued to recruit him after, as well. As the months went by and it was evident that his commitment was firm and he wasn’t planning on doing any camps or taking any visits, the contact with those decreased. Most were Pac-12 schools, but he also had a handful that were Midwest/Eastern schools. Almost all of them were schools that had been recruiting him well before the offer came from Colorado, only a few came in after his CU commitment. None used any negative recruiting tactics, this may have been due to our past CU ties and the fact that Erik played with many of the coaches (I’m not sure). Really most just tried to sell how he would fit in their program, not why their program was better than another.

Were there other players from Clay’s school being recruited by Colorado? By any other BCS conference schools? Did they have any success/horror stories about their recruitment?

There were no other players from his team being recruited by Colorado or any other DI schools this year, he is the only one. His coach even commented last spring that he wasn’t really sure how to handle the attention Clay was getting, he didn’t have much experience with it before Clay. For this reason, we handled most of the recruiting process for Clay. I think the class of 2008 from his high school had three players go DI (Colorado, Air Force and BYU), but after that there really weren’t any until this year with Clay.

At Colorado, Clay will play a position – fullback – which he didn’t play in high school. Is this something you are concerned about?

From Erik: Not worried at all. Bottom line, he’s “a player”. He played a lot of different positions in high school due to team needs and did well with whatever came his way. He just loves to be on the field and he takes the opportunity any way it presents itself. As a sophomore, the best chance for a starting spot for him was along the defensive line, so that’s the opportunity he seized. He earned 1st- Team All-Conference his sophomore year and All-State/All-Colorado as a junior and senior as a defensive lineman. He’s not a prototypical D-lineman, but he still dominated at the position in high school. Moving on to the next level, you just look at how you can best use your skills and build from there.

Clay did play a little fullback in high school, so the basic knowledge is already there. He’s fast, catches well and is a heck of a blocker, so those skills should translate really well for him. I’m excited for him to have Eric Bieniemy as his position coach. I know how EB coaches and it’s just like Clay has been coached by me since he started tackle football in 5th grade. That’s the kind of coaching he really responds to, so there will be no surprises for him in that respect. It’s a great opportunity for him and he’s looking forward to making the most of it. It’s awesome to hear that they want to use you on the field as soon as they can, which was a big reason for his decision to enroll early and just get going. You just have to take the opportunities that are put into your life and make the most of them, which I have no doubts he will do.

Do you have any advice for parents of future potential recruits as to how to deal with the process?

Do your research on coaches and the programs, try to have an honest and open mind about how your son will fit (or not) with a program, and know that it’s never personal. College athletics is bottom-line a business, with grown men trying to earn a living by putting together a winning product. Most have a pretty clear idea of what they’re looking for. If a player isn’t getting attention from a certain program, it’s only because it’s not the right “fit” for the player or the program. Set aside personal feelings about certain schools and be as open as you can to every opportunity that presents itself. As parents, we just hoped that Clay would find the right fit with a program that appreciated and supported him as much as he did them. We are so blessed that it ended up being at Colorado, and so excited for what the future holds for him and for CU–GO BUFFS!


Lance Carl

Lance Carl was a member of Bill McCartney’s first recruiting Class, the Class of 1983. A little background … While McCartney did have a season as head coach before recruiting his first class (Mac was hired in June, 1982, when head coach Chuck Fairbanks bolted for the USFL), but still was saddled with selling a program which had to that point posted four consecutive losing seasons, including McCartney’s 2-8-1 record in 1982. In the Class of 1983, McCartney was able to convince a number of players to sign on with the Buffs, including Jon Embree, Eric McCarty, Mickey Pruitt and David Tate, who had offers from a multitude of successful programs. Then assistant coach Gary Barnett called the recruiting pitch “Belief without Evidence”.  The Class of 1983 helped turn Colorado into a winning program, which allowed McCartney to then recruit the players who won the national championship in 1990.

Lance Carl was an Iowa first-team All-State wide receiver, according to the Des Moines Register. Playing for Fort Madison in 1982, Carl caught 28 passes for 710 yards and eight touchdowns, while averaging 35.0 yards per kickoff return.

How did you and Fort Madison do in 1982?

As I recall, we were 4-6. We lacked depth on both sides of the ball, and the majority of us went both ways. I played free safety on defense.

Was a football scholarship always your plan? When did you know that you had Division 1-A talent?

I was actually a better baseball player (All State center fielder) and was getting recruited by several Division-1 programs. Football was my 2nd favorite sport. I realized I had D1 talent following my junior year when I began hearing from universities in the Midwest.

How old were you when you first heard from a college recruiter? How were you contacted?

I was 16 yrs. old, following my junior year. I was contacted by mail and then by telephone.

What schools recruited you? Did you have a favorite? A dream school?

Iowa, Iowa State, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Northern Iowa primarily. Growing up 90 minutes from Iowa City, I was a Hawkeye fan and thought it would be cool to go there. I’d gone there for Lute Olson basketball camps throughout high school and was familiar with the city and campus.

Iowa is not normally a recruiting hotbed for the University of Colorado. How did you and the Buffs connect?

One of Coach Mac’s classmates from Mizzou, Don Gill, contacted CU on my behalf. At the time, they had only one other Iowan on the roster, defensive tackle Joe O’Brien. Coach Mac’s offensive coordinator, Ron Taylor (who was also the quarterback at Mizzou when Mac was the center in the early 1960’s), came to visit me in Fort Madison. He saw me play basketball and then watched some game film – he then called Coach Mac and told him he needed to visit me as well.

Colorado, in the fall of 1982, went 2-8-1 in the first season under Bill McCartney. It was the fourth straight losing season posted by the Buffs, so there was little to objectively indicate future success. What was your impression/knowledge of the team?

I had no knowledge of Colorado or the Buff tradition. I’d never been west of Iowa and literally had to get out the Encyclopedia Brittanica to see where Boulder was.

Which CU coaches were recruiting you? What did they tell you about the offense they wanted to run, and how you fit into their plans?

I was recruited by Ron Taylor. My position coach my freshman year was Jim Caldwell, current Indianopolis Colts head coach. Coach Caldwell was an Iowa grad and was familiar with Fort Madison. At the time I was recruited, we had twor or three wide receivers on the field and threw the ball 30+ times a game. The staff thought I could fit in seamlessly.

When did you first meet Bill McCartney? What were your impressions?

I met Coach Mac one week after Coach Taylor came to visit. It was in the winter, I believe in December. He walks in the front door, introduces himself and asks me to come back in two hours. He wanted to spend some one-on-one time with my mom. I actually thought to myself, “Aren’t you here to see me?” I came back two hours later and they were at the dining room table reading the Bible together! Coach Mac stood up, shook my hand again and said he’d like for me to visit Boulder. He said he liked the way I caught the ball, liked my character and thought I’d be a good fit for the program he was going to build.

Did you take an official visit to Colorado before committing? If so, what was it like? What did you do when you were in Boulder?

I was the last player that Coach Mac recruited in his first class. I took my recruiting visit in January and left Iowa temperatures in the single digits, gray skies and gloomy. That Colorado day was like so many in the winter – temperatures in the 40s, blue skies and white powder on the ground. I caught that view coming down US highway 36 and said to the coach, “What was your record last year?” He said, “2-8-1.” I said, “I’m in.” I came in on a Sunday night and a former high school classmate from Iowa had moved to Wheatridge. Her family came to Boulder, picked me up and I had dinner with them that night.

I was the only recruit in the weekend and my host was running back Chris McElmore – great guy, very quiet though. He was a holdover from the Fairbanks’ staff. He liked Coach Mac and the new staff and thought they’d turn things around. I got to tour the campus on Monday and met with Coach Caldwell and a few other coaches. Colorado was unlike anything I’d ever seen and I remember thinking that I was so grateful to Don Gill for making that phone call. The facilities and weight room were shoddy, Balch Fieldhouse is the same now as it was then.

Did you take any other official visits? How did your visits compare? (Better or worse facilities; nicer town; friendlier coaches; better players, etc.).

I took visits to Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa. Actually planned to go to Iowa and play baseball and football but after meeting Coach Mac, visiting the campus and meeting with the coaches, it was CU all the way. Iowa had a great campus and Iowa City is a great college town. Ames is a nice college town as well. Since there are no pro teams in Iowa, it’s all Iowa or Iowa State, depending on which side of the state you live in. I wasn’t particularly fond of Nebraska or Notre Dame growing up so I didn’t take trips to either. The facilities at Iowa were considered good for that time and Iowa State’s were average.

The 1980’s were a period in which there were numerous recruiting scandals (SMU was on its way to the death penalty; every SEC team seemed to take pride in being on probation). Were you aware of any recruiting improprieties, either in the your recruitment, or the recruitment of your teammates? Were you aware of / expecting any “extra benefits”?

As a 17-year old, I was naïve to the whole recruiting process. My mom had no idea of scholarships for playing sports until meeting with a few coaches during recruiting. I wasn’t aware of nor did I expect any “extra benefits.” I thought my visiting the schools was benefit enough.

What did you know about your fellow CU recruits? Without the internet, it would have been difficult to track the recruiting class of 1983. What did you know about other player who were being recruited at your position?

I was the last recruit of Mac’s first class and came in alone during my visit in January. I didn’t know anything about the other recruits except that they’d made an impression on the in-state kids and many were buying into Coach Mac’s vision for the program.

Was there any fanfare at your high school on Signing Day? Was there a Signing Day – or did you just mail/fax in your Letter of Intent?

There was no fanfare at my high school. The local paper came to my house on Signing Day and took a photo of me signing with my mom looking on.

When did you get out to Boulder? Did you come early, and attend summer school? Was there any summer conditioning programs? Any seven-on-sevens?

I came to Boulder that summer following graduation. I drove out with 2 other recruits from NW Missouri, offensive linemen Joe McCreary and Tim Harper. The first time I conditioned, I thought my lungs were going to explode. We got together and worked on routes, timing, etc.

You were in the same recruiting class as CU head coach Jon Embree. Do you remember when you first met Embree? What about other members of the Class of 1983?

Jon was one of the first guys I met and is one of my most trusted friends to this day. At that time, frosh stayed in Aden Hall for two-a-days. Being the last recruit, I hadn’t met any of the guys before and was very nervous. Jon, Tom Gebhardt, Eric McCarty and a few others were very friendly and welcomed me right away. I heard a few jokes about being a Black guy from Iowa! The first night, Jon, Tom Gebhardt, John Nairn, Sam Smith, Mike Marquez and I jumped in Tom’s 280Z and headed to Pearl Street. I remember almost being late for curfew our first night! Our class is exceptionally close and I keep in touch with those listed above as well as others. We’ve been in each other’s weddings, golf together, etc. I serve on the Buffs4Life Foundation board of directors with Joe McCreary and Jon.

Any other memories from your recruitment you would like to share?

I’ll never forget what my mom said after Coach Mac left our house. She said, “He’s the only man that I trust. He’ll see that you get an education and become a man.” Growing up without a father, that statement really resonated with me. Although CU was a long way from my home in Iowa, she saw the benefit of my leaving Iowa and wanted me to experience something beyond my dreams. Her self-sacrifice and belief in Coach Mac spoke volumes to me.

Lance Carl went on to lead the Buffs in receiving in both 1986 and 1987, taking over that role from Jon Embree, who had led the team in receiving in 1984 and 1985. Carl is most remembered by many Buff fans as being on the receiving end of a halfback pass from O.C. Oliver on the first play of the fourth quarter of the 1986 Nebraska game. The 52-yard touchdown gave Colorado a 17-7 lead in what would become a 20-10 victory, the first win over Nebraska for Colorado since 1969.  If you must (and you should), here is the YouTubeVideo of Lance Carl’s touchdown catch against Nebraska (please make note of the first CU player to greet Carl after the score. He’s No. 80 … He was the tight end … am I giving it away?).

As mentioned, Lance remains close to the CU athletic program, and is on the Board of Directors for Buffs4Life, a Foundation which has, as its mission statement: “We provide a support system that ensures that no University of Colorado athlete past or present shall suffer any medical or financial hardship alone.”

5 Replies to “What its Like to Be a CU Recruit”

  1. Those are just great stories Stuart, and I also thank you for your work that comes across as a very large labor of love. I think these stories just give such an insight into what is really occurring at CU with this staff. Even when one of the interviewees does not over embellish their answers, all one has to do is read their comments to see how much more positive this whole process with the CU football program has become.

  2. Great story and memories of a good time for CU football. Lance is a great guy and hearing his story is interesting, especially during the “doldrums”.

  3. I was in the backyard with my dad when this happened. The game was on the radio and at the time I new it was important as my brother and I had sold cokes and hot dogs for spending money in the stadium during the worst string of losing seasons in the schools history (Before Dumb ass Hawkins) This was also back in the days when the stadium was solid red on Nebraska and OU weekend. I would have to say that Lance Carl’s TD catch literally rebuilt the Buffs into one of the top 5 teams of the next decade.

  4. Really awesome post. It is so easy to forget the men that made the program great. One of the reasons I check in with cuatthegame is due to the fact that it is a site that does more than just give the current events. It really helps stay in touch with the past. This has been extremely helpful over the last five or six years. Thanks to cuatthegame and thanks to Lance Carl!

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