Late last week I caught up with Lehigh head football coach Tom Gilmore to ask him some questions about the incoming class and the recruiting season in general. Here's what he told me.
LFN: Hey, Coach Gilmore. Hope you had a great holiday and a great recruiting season. I was hoping to ask you a few questions about the incoming class of 2024 and the process.
Lehigh Head Coach Tom Gilmore: I'm extremely excited about this class because we brought in the numbers that we needed but we also attracted some top talent in multiple positions. Every coach touts their incoming class every year but I don't think it is a stretch to say that many of these athletes can have an immediate impact on our program if they work hard between now and the start of preseason camp so they are ready to compete this season.
We attracted some very highly recruited players who turned down some very attractive offers to come to Lehigh. I think that says a lot about what we have to offer here but I also commend the staff for their persistence throughout the process. We had a really good group that signed in December but we still needed some key guys to fill out the other needs we had on the roster. There were several prospects who required our attention right up to the national signing day. Our patience and belief in those recruits paid off and the late commitments made a significant difference in this year's class.
LFN: Last year was sort of a whirlwind with a late press conference and then needing to assemble a staff in the middle of the second recruiting window. Now that you've had a whole offseason to recruit, talk about the differences from last year to this year?
TG: We had much more time to evaluate the pool and individual prospects this year. We had to make quick decisions, so we did our best to gather as much information as possible and get the best prospects to campus before the national signing day. This year, we had more time to evaluate our needs and the prospects we were recruiting. We also had much more time to establish relationships with the prospects and their families. This resulted in a class that directly addressed the actual needs we had in the program.
LFN: What did you and the staff identify as the biggest need area from graduation?
TG: The biggest areas of need were the secondary and offensive line but the wide receivers and defensive line also needed larger numbers than normal. I believe that we recruited a very strong class at all of those positions, while still addressing the needs at the remaining position groups. With 30+ newcomers this year, we have addressed the depth issues that were problematic last season while adding talent that can make an immediate impact at nearly every position group.
LFN: Lehigh's incoming class doesn't have any players from the NCAA's "transfer portal" that many college football fans have heard so much about. Do you and the coaching staff look at the transfer portal at all when it comes to recruiting?
TG: We do not have any transfers committed at this point but we have room for one more player in this class who may come from the transfer portal. As you know, it is more difficult to transfer into Lehigh than most universities, so it is not a common practice for us, but it is something that we would entertain under the right circumstances.
LFN: Talk about the role your assistants have in recruiting, and how what they do plays into your role in recruiting. You seem to have a bunch of guys who go after recruiting with a lot of fire. What's the process?
TG: The entire staff devotes an incredible amount of time towards recruiting year round. It is a never-ending process where great work ethic, tenacity and patience is essential in order to be successful. Our staff worked very hard and targeted the best and most viable prospects for our program. Their passion and energy were evident to all the coaches, prospects and families with whom they interacted - that was something I constantly heard from everyone I spoke to on campus, on the phone and in their home communities.
Once the assistants identify the top prospects, I get involved by communicating via Twitter, text and phone calls, starting in the spring and continuing throughout the season. I then try to get to see as many of them as possible in their homes or schools during the contact period. The NCAA-regulated recruiting calendar was very short this year so I had a very hectic travel schedule throughout December and January. I was never in any locale for more than half a day in order to cover as much ground as possible. I visited over a dozen states, most of which I visited in both months. It is a lot of work, but our efforts paid off with a very good class.
LFN: I see a bunch of Pennsylvania names in the incoming class and a few local kids as well (one from Allentown CC, Becahi, Wyoming Seminary). Was there a bigger emphasis on "home talent"?
TG: Once we identify local prospects that are the right fit for Lehigh and our football program, we make every attempt to keep the best talent here. We are excited to have several Lehigh Valley products coming to South Mountain this year and we came very close to having a couple more as well. This will always be a priority for us.
LFN: Do you mostly focus your recruiting on one individual area or do you look across the board?
TG: We focus most of our attention on the eastern half of the country but we also targeted Texas and California this year. We will always hit the northeast the hardest, followed by the mid-Atlantic, southeast and midwest regions of the country. Some areas are more productive in some years but not in other years. That is why we need to cast a wide net and respond to the areas that can be the most productive in any given year. We have a great product to sell, so I think we can be productive as long as we don't spread ourselves too thin.