K-State football shifts to online recruitment amid COVID-19 pandemic

Head Coach, Chris Klieman, leads the Wildcats onto the field. K-State faced off against West Virginia at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Nov. 16, 2019. The Mountaineers defeated the Wildcats 20-24. (Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

Recruiting changed at the fundamental level for Kansas State football because of COVID-19. Now, they participate in Zoom calls, FaceTime calls and more to keep recruits interested in K-State.

K-State football canceled Junior Day activities this past spring. The events are usually an opportunity to get recruits on-campus, show them the facilities and let them attend a practice.

The pandemic also caused the cancellation of other recruiting activities, including the official visits and in-person meetings.

“My job has changed in the way of how I communicate with young men,” Taylor Braet, director of football recruiting, said. “It has become a lot of Zoom, FaceTime, Snapchat, Twitter, more than it has in the past. It’s kind of harder to build a relationship with them when you can’t see them.”

The Wildcat coaches, like the rest of the country, adjusted to the lack of face-to-face communication.

“It’s really hurt me in the fact that the best thing that I do, and the best thing that we do, is having kids physically visit here,” Braet said.

He said it is hard to sell recruits on K-State if they cannot come visit, even if it’s the greatest place in the world to him.

“Would you rather walk out on that field or would you rather see it on Zoom?” Braet asked.

Braet prides himself on his energy and enthusiasm about K-State football. He runs around the facility yelling “Go Cats,” he uses “Holy Cats” instead of more explicit exclamations, he wears custom K-State themed shoes and he even drives a purple Jeep around Manhattan.

“It’s hard to show over the Zoom your enthusiasm, the excitement, what Kansas State means,” Braet said. “I can’t … do all the crazy, fun stuff that we do when they visit. I can’t yell at them in the parking lot when I see them pull in and all the stuff, I feel like, that energy that makes us different from everybody else.”

One way they are showing off the facilities, campus and the community is by spacing out the content over multiple calls.

“During the beginning of the pandemic, I had it scheduled where me and Coach Klieman would get FaceTimes from kids every Tuesday night,” Braet said. “Then I would come in on a Wednesday night and get FaceTimes with an offensive coach, then on Thursday nights I would do it with a defensive coach. We would almost be FaceTiming 10 kids per night.”

All totaled, Braet had been on 197 FaceTimes with different recruits just from April to May.

“Most of them said we were one of the first [schools] they did that with, or had a FaceTime with the head coach under the stadium lights,” Braet said. “[Klieman] would be making fun of me all the time — which he loves to do — and I love it. I’ve only been around him for a year, but it feels like he’s known me for ten … [they] get a good feeling for [us]. I’d say that helps too.”

During those calls, Coach Braet tries to show off as much as he can. He will show the weight room one week, the gear the next, then the stadium under lights, or the academic center, or anything else the recruit is interested in. The strategy: keep them calling back and keep them excited about K-State.

“I had one guy call me almost every Thursday just to see the gear or to see [the] Jeep. ‘Hey Coach, are you by the jeep? Let me see the Jeep,’” Braet said.

Still, it is hard to evaluate players when they are not able to visit campus and coaches cannot travel out to see them practice or play.

“It’s kind of minimized what we can see,” Braet said. “We used to be able to get guys to camp, now we gotta get them to send heights and weights via film or something like that, instead of them stepping in the building and doing a height and weight on them.”

Beyond the trouble evaluating physical characteristics, the coaches are missing out on the opportunity to build a relationship and really judge a player’s character.

“Judging a guy’s character over a Zoom call or FaceTime or Snapchat is a lot tougher than doing it in person,” Braet said. “Seeing how he interacts with you, how he shakes your hand, some of those principal things [former head] Coach [Bill] Snyder would have talked about too.”

It’s still unclear how the NCAA will deal with roster management, scholarship numbers and the number of new freshmen a football team can bring in due to the shortened season and the potential to offer an extra year of eligibility to fall athletes.

Braet says that he hopes that the pandemic ends before this crop of recruits makes it to campus and that he feels bad for athletes who have lost their seasons.

“Obviously, there’s a lot more people struggling during this than football and recruiting, and I feel worse for them than I do for this,” Braet said.

Hi! I'm Nathan Enserro, an alumnus from Olathe, Kansas. I graduated in spring 2022 with a Masters in Mass Communication, and I graduated in spring 2020 with a Bachelor's of Science in strategic communications from K-State. I covered K-State sports for the Collegian for four years.