A Brave’s new world: Recruiting a journey for players, coaches at Alcorn

Published 12:08 am Thursday, August 9, 2018

Claiborne County, Mississippi doesn’t have much to offer, except for maybe Alcorn State University.

To see a movie or go bowling, the drive is almost 20 minutes from the school. The nearest Walmart is 45 minutes away. Yet time after time, the Alcorn State football team finds recruits — some three-star prospects — to come to the reservation.

In Alcorn’s latest recruiting effort, the Braves landed Jaaron Jackson, a three-star defensive end from Florida. Jackson had countless of offers from FBS schools such as the University of Southern Mississippi, South Florida and South Alabama.

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In the end, he chose to attend Alcorn.

Back in June, the Braves also picked up a commitment from Port Gibson’s D’Marious Hicks, who is considered one of the top 40 recruits in the state of Mississippi.

So how does Alcorn’s coaching staff find the next Brave? Tight end coach and recruiting coordinator Elliott Wratten said ultimately it’s not too hard, even considering the location.

“Selling Alcorn is a lot easier than one thinks,” Wratten said. “To be honest with you, the people make the place. It’s no different than Indiana recruiting against Ohio State. Also, winning helps solves a lot of problems.

“One thing that I’ve learned while being at Alcorn is that there are a lot of SWAC and HBCU fans. We have a lot of Alcorn fans around the nation.”

Tools of the trade

Wratten said recruiting has recently become a full-year ordeal. After Alcorn signed its 2018 class, the coaching staff began recruiting class of 2019 prospects and highlighted potential class of 2020 recruits.

In the early stages of Wratten’s coaching career, he said the hardest part was determining who to target, as well as offer. But as the years progressed, it has become easier to find the next Brave, he said.

“It’s easy to find a recruit that you think can play now with Hudl,” Wratten said.

According to Hudl’s website, it offers tools to edit and share quality highlight reels with interactive statistics for recruiting purposes for football players. However, Wratten said that isn’t the only tool that makes finding a recruit simpler.

“Depending where you go, high school or community college, the coaches will give you a list on who they think will be a FCS or a low FBS level talent,” Wratten said.

“Twitter is also helpful because it is probably the most honest place to see what type of offers a kid has. If we see other SWAC programs have offered a certain recruit, then we now that kid could probably play for us.”

Starting local

One third of the Braves’ 2018 roster is from the state of Mississippi.

Wratten said starting local and then branching out is key for Alcorn’s recruiting process.

“It’s important you start recruiting at home,” Wratten said “It’s important to start where your fan base is — where your biggest fan population is.

“Mississippi is a phenomenal football state.”

Not only does Alcorn begin the recruiting process within Mississippi, but it tries to start an hour or so away in places such as Natchez, Vicksburg and Woodville.

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Juan Anthony Jr. is expected to be a key contributor for Alcorn this season. Before becoming a Brave, Anthony was a Wilkinson County High Wildcat in Woodville.

Anthony finished his senior year with 63 receptions for 976 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also returned kickoffs for another 523 yards and two scores, which earned him recognition as a MHSAA Region 7-3A All-Region First-Team member. Wratten said if Alcorn didn’t start the recruiting process locally, they could have missed out on signing players such as Anthony.

“A lot of these people will probably be missing out on guys who had a big senior year,” Wratten said.

The receiver said he also received an offer from Alcorn’s rival, Jackson State. Although the bigger city did entice Anthony, he said committing to Alcorn was easy.

“I grew up an Alcorn fan,” Anthony said. “People like to win and Alcorn wins. We do a lot of winning here.”

While Anthony says it is a blessing to be a Brave, he said talented players in Woodville, Natchez and Vicksburg get overlooked sometimes because they don’t come from a big-time, powerhouse program — another reason why Alcorn starts local.

“You get a chance to see them more, and they get a chance to see us more, too,” Wratten said. “When you are close, they can come to camps, junior days and game days. We will get out and see those guys in the fall. It’s just easy access for us. They get to see what our alumni fan base is all about and see what game days are like here at Alcorn.”

Branching out

Quarterback Noah Johnson — who is from Tampa Bay, Florida — remembers exactly when he got his offer from Alcorn.

Johnson said he was playing against Strawberry Crest High School and threw for five touchdowns. He said he was happy with his performance because University of South Florida coaches were in attendance.

“I was pretty bummed when Coach (Willie) Taggart didn’t offer me,” Johnson said. “However, Alcorn did after that game.”

When Johnson first received his offer from Alcorn, he said the first thought that came across his mind was, “Where is this school even located?”

So he went, did research and thought Alcorn was the place for him.

Johnson said he ultimately came to Alcorn because the Braves wanted him to play quarterback. Though, that wasn’t the only reason.

“The coaches kept it real with me,” Johnson said. “They told me that I can be a quarterback but I needed to continue working to become a collegiate quarterback. But I knew I was coming from a big city to the middle of nowhere in Mississippi. However, it’s a blessing for me because it got me away from the big city life and keeps me out of trouble.”

Although Alcorn does not provide the big city amenities like Tampa, Johnson said that’s another reason he became a Brave.

“We don’t like to sit around and do nothing,” Johnson said. “We find ways to compete out here. Most of the time it is us getting out on the practice field and putting in work. That’s our fun.”

Fellow Florida native and running back P.J. Simmons said being able to focus on just football and school was a reason he came to Alcorn, too.

“We just try and perfect our craft,” Simmons said. “The best thing about this place is that this place makes you focus on your craft and your schoolwork. We aren’t distracted by the big lights and the clubs like other players might be at those bigger schools.“

Johnson said being a big city kid at Alcorn has calmed him.

“If you want to be a great player and come here, Alcorn will humble you,” Johnson said. “It will put you in the mindset of nothing but work. You will be consistently working, taking care of your body and mind. That’s ultimately why I came to Alcorn. I wanted to be great and they want me to be great, too.”

People make the place

Wratten said Alcorn can’t get scared to offer kids who already had a plethora of offers. At the end of the day, the Braves will try and build contacts in Alcorn alumni heavy areas.

“We will try and build relationships through text, tweets and invites to games,” Wratten said. “Biggest thing is building relationships with area coaches, position coaches, coordinators, the head coach and most importantly the players. They have to feel contacted with more than one guy.”

Feeling connected with more than one coach on Alcorn’s staff determines if a recruit will commit, Wratten said, while making sure the players and their families feel at home.

The people make the area worth it, offensive coordinator Ryan Stanchek agreed.

“I think the people make the place,” Stanchek said. “We have great people here. It starts at the top with Coach McNair. For instance, if you are a quarterback, why wouldn’t you not want to come play for Pat White and Coach McNair. We have to sell our people. We have to sell our brand. Alcorn is great place. We have a lot Alcornites around the country, and that is what we sell.

“We will always recruit the state of Mississippi. Then we will branch out to Louisiana, Texas and Alabama and the rest of those southern states that we have ties in. We have done a great job in recruiting.”