Part 3: Recruiting And Academics The Hill Way
A decade-long coaching tenure is rare today's world of intercollegiate football. The number of coaches who can claim that distinction is smaller than one would think.
In today's ever-change instant gratification world, one has to have thick skin, a supportive administration, or an extremely solid belief commitment toward building a program to stay at one school that long.
Entering his tenth season as Fresno State's head football coach, there's no question that Pat Hill has all three.
Hill has built the program on three distinct principles: developing Fresno State as the Valley's team; Recruiting Valley High School Football Players and resurrecting Fresno State's academic reputation; winning by playing a tough, major college football schedule.
PART III: Recruiting and Academics the Hill Way
Most impressively, Hill built the Bulldog program without the temptation of a "quick fix" approach, which is generally accompanied by heavy junior college recruitment. He built it, and the foundation of the program, by recruiting and developing high school players. By building relationships with high school coaches, Hill and his staff have scoured the California high schools. Hill serves as his own recruiting coordinator, evaluating and determining which players the Bulldogs will recruit and ultimately offer a scholarship.
This approach has been well-received by the student-athletes and their parents. The mother of a recent Bulldog recruit, who had another son play at a Big Ten school, was so impressed with Hill's hands-on approach to recruiting, that the she didn't allow her younger son to follow his brother's footsteps and he signed the Dogs.
While he admits that his recruiting style is different than most, and Fresno State doesn't always appear on the recruiting "guru" web sites, he is pleased with the type of student-athletes he attracts.
A program is often identified by its success of the individuals it produces. Many Bulldogs who have come through the program developed their skills to play at the next level. The Bulldogs had 18 players on 2005 NFL rosters. Houston Texans' quarterback David Carr, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 NFL draft, is a Valley product who was Hill's first recruit.
Logan Mankins made the 2006 NFL All-Rookie team after starting every game at left guard for the New England Patriots. He was New England's first round draft choice last April.
"We are never recognized for having Top 50 recruiting classes," said Hill. "Since I've been here, we've never even had the best rated recruiting class in the WAC. But we have produced more All-WAC and NFL players than any other WAC school. I don't care about the recruiting rankings, or how many stars someone has next to their name coming out of high school. I care about developing players and productivity. A recruiting class should only be judged after three or four years."
Hill's first recruiting class, led by Carr, was ranked second to last in the WAC that year. As seniors, that class of players won a school record 11 games, four were drafted into the NFL and three others made NFL teams as free agents.
While Fresno State had a propensity for recruiting a lot of junior college football players in years past, that hasn't been the case under Hill. Fresno State has just three scholarship players on the 2006 roster that played at a junior college.
"There is a lot of good football played in the area junior colleges," Hill said. "But I'd rather have a player for four or five years and work with them to develop their skills as a player and student at Fresno State. As a coaching staff, we can have a greater impact on a young man's life the more time we spend with them. That's not to say that we won't recruit junior college players. There are special circumstances or individuals who can fit into our program coming from a junior college, but junior college recruiting will never be our focus."
Hill has attracted bright students, who he believes make better football players. In this year's high school recruiting class, Hill said that four of the players scored higher than 1,000 points on the SAT, seven had a 3.0 GPA or better, including one with a perfect 4.0 GPA.
"In addition to being fast and tough, we are looking for players who are smart on the field," Hill said. "In college football today, you have to be able to read and react quickly and understand the complexities of the game. We also have a high expectation for academic excellence, and the high school students we are attracting are not just getting themselves eligible to play, but they are excelling toward their degree."
That has transcended into Fresno State becoming a model program for academic success. Under the Academic Gameplan program designed by Associated Head Coach John Baxter, the Bulldogs NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) ranks in the top 10 percent of all Division I-A schools. It is the fourth-highest score of schools located in the West. Only Stanford, Air Force and Utah had higher NCAA APR scores than Fresno State of the institutions that participate in the western football conferences of the Pac-10, WAC and Mountain West.
Under Hill, the Bulldogs have produced a record number of Academic All-WAC players, including 14 in the 2005 season, the most in a season in school history. Prior to Hill's arrival, Fresno State produced a total of nine Academic All-WAC players. Since then, Fresno State has produced at least eight per season for seven consecutive years with a total of 80 players honored in nine seasons.
"Coach Hill's actions to support academic excellence among the football team have produced this excellent result," said Fresno State President Dr. John Welty. "There is no stronger advocate to ensure that student-athletes achieve both on the field and in the classroom. He reinforces this in all of his contacts with players, parents, fans and his coaching staff."
Because of the solid foundation, Fresno State remains as one of the nation's premier college football programs. And under Hill's continued passion and commitment to student-athletes and the Valley, the Bulldog program will continue to prosper.
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Join the State - Fresno State! Get tickets online 24/7 at www.gobulldogs.com or by calling the Bulldog Ticket Office (559-278-DOGS), Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Ticket Office is located at the south entrance of the stadium off Bulldog Lane. Fresno State's 2006 home schedule- which kicks off Sept. 1 against Nevada- features opponents such as Oregon, Colorado State, Hawai'i, New Mexico State and Idaho.