Cory Nicol began his recruiting career in 2012 as part of a two-man operation in the Northwestern football office.
After graduating from Montana State and coaching high school football for a couple years, Nicol sought out a college program to work for. Nicol employed all of his contacts and landed his first collegiate opportunity. Chris Bowers, former director of player personnel at Northwestern, was the first to reach out to him.
“We have an opportunity, when can you be here?”
“At the drop of the hat, whenever you need me,” Nicol replied.
Nicol packed his entire life into his car and drove across the country from Orange County to Chicago.
Depending on the time of the season, Nicol worked an average day of 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
“I happily did it. I couldn’t believe someone was letting me come to their building and letting me do this stuff for them,” Nicol said.
“Getting a job in the industry is very difficult. You’d be shocked at how many people work for free and make these huge sacrifices just to get their foot in the door.”
This is not atypical, and it’s how many people break into football recruiting.
“You have to grind. There’s a wave of young guys in the business right now and all they do is grind. You have to stay in, you have to grind. The more you can do the better you can be.”
While the demand on recruiters increases, so does the burnout rate. Nicol said the average age of director roles is getting lower as more people try to break into the industry and overtax themselves.
“It’s a young person’s game. Recruiters need to know how football players think, what they like to do, what they do in their spare time, and how to relate to them through the latest social media trends.”
Nicol recently brought his extensive recruiting experience to Zcruit, where he remains close with people in the industry. As director of customer success, Nicol helps data-driven football offices recruit smarter through Zcruit’s analytics.
In addition to assisting elite programs, Nicol also wants to advise people trying to break into the industry. Eight years of recruiting experience has given Nicol battle-tested advice and knowledge about climbing up the football ranks.
What skills should recruiters learn to be successful in marketing to prospects?
1. You need to be where the prospects are: Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, etc. You must have a big presence and appear cool through the lens where prospects view you. Every time a prospect opens up an app, he should see your school on his feed
2. Be where the parents and decision-makers are. You need to appeal to Mom, Dad, Uncle, Brother, whoever, on whatever they use to communicate
3. Technical skills in graphic design and video post-production are in HIGH demand these days. If you can master a technical skill, you will open up a lot of opportunities for yourself
4. Be able to put together a recruiting cycle-length marketing plan that includes social media, graphics, video, mail, etc. that can tailor to individual prospects
5. Be a master of a mass communication platform like Whistle
6. Remain relevant in pop culture and know what the kids are liking these days. Often times, it’s a lot easier for a younger person
How can recruiters stay organized?
1. Make a standardized checklist for everything you need to do, whether it’s planning travel or planning a visit
2. Keep all pertinent information in one location as much as possible, whether it’s on a whiteboard, excel file, Google doc, your recruiting database, etc.
3. Set up a calendar notification system. It will take more work on the front end to set up, but you’ll be glad you have it
4. Have a visual big picture calendar visible at all times for you and your staff
5. Have daily meetings with staff, whether it’s five minutes or an hour, to make sure everyone is on the same page
6. Always be thinking months ahead with some foresight so you don’t have to be reactive to things
What are some of the oddest tasks you’ve been assigned as a recruiter?
Not all of these were me personally, but I was close to all of them. Someone could write a good book someday about all the ridiculous stuff.
Decorating Christmas trees, convenience store runs for personal items, dressing up as a mascot, pushing a 400 lb kid up a steep hill in a wheelchair, borrowing a rickshaw to transport handicapped guests, wait out a snowstorm at Buffalo Wild Wings for six hours on an official visit, and give a Hollywood tour to a car full of people who are asleep.
What advice do you have for people wanting to either break into recruiting or climb up the ladder?
Go coach first because you can always switch gears and go into recruiting. But if I start recruiting I cannot switch gears and go into coaching. That’s just the way it is.
You need to develop multiple skills. It’s going to be very difficult for someone who is only a scout/evaluator. A broad skill set will help you get your foot in the door and elevate. The guys who can do the scouting, recruiting and graphics/videos are called unicorns. Be a unicorn. Often times your first director job will be at a smaller school with less support so you will need to wear multiple hats.
Having the ability to do a lot will make you a great candidate for those jobs. Never stop learning on the job. Once you feel complacent, go to your graphics guy and tell him you want to learn Photoshop. Or, go to your operations guy and tell him you want to learn the ins and outs of the operational side. Always be proactive about reaching out, networking and expanding your contacts. Attach yourself and make yourself indispensable to a coach who has the ability to elevate.
Following Northwestern, Nicol worked as a scouting analyst at UCLA and then served as director of player personnel at Cal. Nicol performed a wide range of recruiting tasks under each of his titles, seen here: