As face-to-face interaction occurs less frequently, UNC athletic programs have found ways to effectively recruit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recruitment is an ongoing process that involves constant communication between athletes and coaches. This process normally allows for the recruits to visit the campus and the facilities for their respective sports.
Due to the restrictions of the pandemic, teams inevitably had to alter the ways in which they brought high school athletes into their programs. As with most things, Zoom has been used as a replacement for meeting with potential UNC athletes.
Damon Nahas, an assistant UNC women’s soccer coach, has played a role in the team's recruiting since being brought on staff in 2015. He said the Tar Heels were in a good position before the outbreak from a recruiting standpoint, but adjustments have been made to keep the relationships strong.
“Zoom calls were a big thing, but we really just continued to keep communicating with them,” Nahas said. “We felt like we had an advantage because of the work that was done prior.”
Though some recruits came to campus in February, Nahas said some campus tours were done on Zoom with multiple coaches on the calls afterwards.
Nahas said he has enjoyed these interactions, as unconventional as they may seem. The staff as a whole made an effort to embrace the differences in this new period.
“I think it went as smooth as it possibly could,” Nahas said. “It’s more just having fun with it, just interacting with them in a fun way without making it too serious. Not making it feel awkward.”
Michael Eskind, an associate coach and recruiting coordinator for UNC track and field, recognized the challenges that come from not only a coaching perspective but for the new athletes as well. The premature ending of the track and field season impacted both NCAA and high school athletes. Some competitors did not have the same opportunities to show their progression between the indoor and outdoor seasons.
“That was part of getting to know these kids better and better,” Eskind said. "It’s that next level of kid that isn’t top one or two of their class in their event. They’re the ones that were hamstrung.”
Eskind pointed out the strategies that athletes use in making their final decisions. Being present with the -team and touring the campus are important aspects of the decision-making process, so with limited opportunities to see the campus, some students came down on their own to see the school.
“I think you look at things a little more critically,” Eskind said. “You look at facilities, dorms, proximity of one or the other.”
With the gradually changing field of college athletics, Eskind and the rest of the team are trying to approach the recruiting process with a sense of normalcy. He said that they are operating with the mindset that they are going after some of the best athletes in the country.
“We’re going to figure out the best way to get those kids,” Eskind said.
Cameron Padgett, a UNC baseball commit and junior at East Rowan High School, had a unique path to committing. He recalled being contacted in the fall of 2019 before both parties kept consistent communication. Padgett only played six games during his sophomore year, but he was still offered a spot on the team. Though he always wanted to play for North Carolina, the typical amount of communication and campus visits was limited.
“You do the best you can,” Padgett said. “You live stream with them, chat with them. You do the best you can, but it’s different from being in person with them.”
Padgett and the UNC baseball staff continued their communication over the summer and Padgett ultimately committed in September. He is aware that he missed out on the experience of meeting some of the players and coaches in person and forming those relationships in a traditional way.
“That’s what you want going into a college,” Padgett said. “Especially in the committing process. You want somewhere you can call home and somewhere where it can be a bonding.”
Padgett asserted that his decision was not difficult, as he grew up in North Carolina and was a fan of the team. He has been to the campus multiple times, and said he looks forward to arriving on campus as a Tar Heel and having the experience as a student.
“Literally just being on campus," Padgett said. "Going to football games, basketball games. Just being active in the community.”
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