Just before the Michigan game, Jonathan Pollock, a 2016 linebacker from Orlando, Florida, committed to Rutgers, and RFamily got a lot stronger. His father Alan Pollock was kind enough to sit down with On the Banks to discuss the recruiting process from a parent's point of view. The Pollocks did a ton of homework to make sure Rutgers is the right place for Jonathan to thrive, so Mr. Pollock has a lot of terrific insight.
How the Recruiting Process Started
Jonathan plays for Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando. Dr. Phillips turns out five or six D-1 prospects every year, including Haha Clinton-Dix, now playing for the Green Bay Packers (formerly a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide). It is very unusual for a freshman to play varsity at Dr. Phillips, and Jonathan was able to do that. We took a tour after Jonathan's freshman year. He was invited to a camp at the University of Memphis as a freshman, and performed well enough to earn an offer on the spot. That was his first taste of a college camp. I was like, "This is pretty easy!"
After that, we took visits to lots of schools: Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Louisville, Appalachian State, Cincinnati, Duke and North Carolina. We have been doing this two or three years already.
Jonathan's Mississippi State Commitment
Jonathan went to Mississippi State's camp. His high school coach told him, "If you get an SEC offer on your trip, commit right away." So when he did well enough at Coach Mullen's camp to earn an offer, he committed during the trip. We liked Coach Mullen, and still do - he was always straight with us, and he would sit down and speak with us and with Jonathan very warmly. But as Jonathan and our family got a little more experience, we started to realize the letters "S-E-C" aren't everything. It's about getting an education, playing in front of your family, and finding a place that fits you and what you want to do.
I don't have anything bad to say about Mississippi State, but to get there, you need a plane, a bus and a boat. I'm joking a little bit, but it's pretty remote, and you actually need to fly into Memphis and then drive two or three hours. It's actually way easier for us to get to Rutgers through Newark Airport than it would be for us to get to Starkville, Mississippi, from Orlando.
Jonathan decommitted from Mississippi State In June. There were a few things we didn't like, and it was not related to the coaching staff. We like Coach Mullen. But the school is in the middle of nowhere, and they bring in a lot of JUCO players. It wasn't a good fit, and we realized Jonathan pulled the trigger prematurely.
Local Ties and Future Plans
My whole family lives in Pennsylvania, so we have lots of ties near Rutgers. I am from Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania originally, the Scranton area, so I didn't grow up far from Rutgers. My parents still live there, my brother lives in Allentown, and my sister lives in Harrisburg. One of the things we like about Rutgers is if Jonathan needs anything, my brother can be there in about an hour. We love that New York City and Philadelphia are close, and we value the connections he can make at Rutgers. Jonathan wants to be a college football strength coach after school - he's always been a gym rat, from sixth grade. He does competitive power lifting too. He was squatting over 400 pounds in middle school - his legs got so big that it was impacting his running.
On the Importance of the Depth Chart When Evaluating Schools
The bigger the program you go to, the more problems you are going to have in terms of playing time. If you go to a school like Alabama, the depth chart in front of you is very tough to crack, and there are always really talented players coming in behind you too. Then there are the JUCO players. You can be there for three years, and think it's your turn to start, and all of a sudden, here comes a new recruit or a JUCO player. One of the things we did not like about Mississippi State was they bring in a lot of JUCO players. Potential playing time is a huge consideration.
What the Pollocks were Looking For
Relationships with coaching staffs, players, the other recruits, and family are crucial. We have a great relationship with Ted Field and his family, we talk all the time. And Jonathan might speak even more with Mo Jabbie - they talk pretty much every day. These three are all leaders, and they are trying to recruit even more good players they are friends with. For example, Jordan Johnson, (Kaleb's brother) has told Jonathan he is really high on Rutgers. Also, both Jonathan and Mo are close to Dwayne Haskins, and those relationships might help bring him there too. It is neat to watch the kids start recruiting each other, and momentum is a powerful thing in recruiting.
Did you watch the Ohio State game?
Definitely. They get a pass for that - it was their first time in a road B1G environment, and that's a crazy place to play. They ran into a very talented, well-coached team on the road, and not many teams in the country would be able to keep up with the Buckeyes when they play like that. My son's a linebacker, and that many missed tackles are especially hard to watch. We were screaming at the TV.
The Move to the Big Ten
I can't tell you how important the move to the Big Ten and the Big Ten Network are going to be for Rutgers recruiting, in places like Minnesota or Ohio. These kids are going to think, "well, if I don't get an offer from my home state school, I can go to Rutgers, because they're in the Big Ten, and I see them on TV. I can make my home-state school regret passing on me by beating them at Rutgers every year!" It's awesome to know that every year, you are going to be playing Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State.
What Did you Like About Rutgers?
I like Coach Flood - he's just a great dude. I believe what he says, and believe his philosophy. I love his vision for the program, where he wants to take it. When he sat us down, he didn't talk to me - he talked to Jonathan directly, and treated him like a man. He asked Jonathan why he wanted to come to Rutgers, and education is a big deal for us, so is playing in front of family. We are also very pleased that Coach Flood runs a clean, disciplined program - this is definitely NOT one of those programs where kids are always getting in trouble or getting arrested. Why would you want your kid to go to a place like that? Being down here in Florida, we see what Florida State and Miami and Florida are about, and we really didn't want any part of those schools.
How important is coaching staff stability? And what do you think about the Rutgers coaches?
It's crucial. For some of the schools recruiting Jonathan, we weren't sure the coaches with whom we have relationships will be there in a year or two. That's why Coach Flood's extension was so important for us. It's like, "OK, now we know what we want to do." It was a huge question mark for us, and we definitely considered it. If I'm trusting my son to a coach, I want to know he will be there, not somebody else. We love Coach Flood, and Jonathan talks to Coach Panagos either on the phone or through Twitter or whatever every single day. He's a great guy. And people on Rivals giving Coach Rossi a hard time need to back off, because they have NO idea what they are talking about. That guy's defensive scheme against Penn State was perfect. And Coach Fraser? You can't ask for a better linebacker coach than Coach Fraser. He sends Jonathan something handwritten every week.
On Early Enrollment
Jonathan definitely intends to enroll early. We think it's a huge advantage in terms of getting on the field as soon as possible. We have talked with Coach Flood about that, and Coach said early enrollments are definitely a huge advantage for the team, and the program too. But Coach Flood also explained that the disadvantage when you enroll early is that you are thrown into college life. It's not like the summer, where you only may have one class plus football activities. If you enroll in the spring, you have four classes and you need to be the kind of kid who can handle that. Jonathan is one of those kids.
Red Flags in Recruiting
JUCO players bother me. Programs bringing in a lot of JUCO players were red flags, because those guys are often not focused on academics, and they take playing time from kids who have been in the program. That was another thing we liked about Rutgers - not many JUCO kids end up at Rutgers, because it's tough for them to qualify academically. We also were very cautious of programs who wouldn't show us their recruiting board, and where Jonathan fit in. Some schools were very secretive about that, and we didn't like it. And of course, if we asked a coach what he would do if the NFL came calling, and he responded with something like, "well I would have to do what's best for my family," I don't want to hear that, so that was a huge red flag.
On the benefits of committing early
Jonathan loved Rutgers and saw no reason to prolong his recruitment. He came to me and said, "Dad, I love it there. I haven't seen one bad thing yet. I want to commit, because I don't want to have to talk to seven or eight other coaches every week. I want to focus on my high school team and keeping my grades up." The recruiting process has been fun for us, but it's also a lot of work, and it can be a huge distraction. Some kids really love the attention, and drag it out. Jonathan wasn't that interested in that aspect of it.
On the Wisconsin Game
Jonathan has a game on Friday night, so by the time we get home, get him something to eat and showered, it's 1am before he's going to bed. We'll be up by 4:30 to go to the airport, and even then we won't get to the stadium until probably 11. [Note to Rutgers fans/students: stop griping about how tough it is for YOU to get in your seats for a noon kickoff!]
Rivals - Mr. Pollock has become an active poster on the Rivals premium board
It's good to see the scope of what people are saying about your kid, and you never want to see people trash another kid. People on the boards don't understand that parents and recruits read what they post, and it can make a difference.
On the Star System and Offer Lists
Jonathan has shut down his recruiting, and told other schools he is committed to Rutgers, so schools have moved on. If he kept his recruitment open, I'm sure he would have many more offers by the time this process is over. The same goes for combine and all star game invites - Jonathan was invited to the Army All American combine last year, like Ted Field and Mo Jabbie were invited this year. He didn't go - he went to the Under Armor combine in Tampa instead, which they purposely schedule on the same day, so this year the Army people did not invite him. And that's fine, we knew that and understand it. But there's often a backstory to all of this - star rankings, offer lists, combine and all-star game invites, all of it. The star system is ridiculous. The day after Jonathan committed to Rutgers, he dropped 120 spots nationally. Why? Because the recruiting services know he's a non-story then, and they can't make any more money from news about him.
What was the reaction from some of the other schools after Jonathan's commitment?
By Tuesday after his Saturday commitment, we heard from Oklahoma, Northwestern, North Carolina, all congratulating him and wishing him well. Not every school was so classy, but those schools at least understood his recruitment was over. Temple in particular was pushy after his commitment. Indiana loves Jonathan, and they have continued to recruit him as if his commitment never happened - they were here all day [Thursday] and went to his game. That's very flattering, because it's like your hard work paid off, and they are respecting that.