So let’s say you’re a big fan of Southeastern Louisiana, or Nicholls State, McNeese State or Southern.
And let’s say you, like most college football fans, can’t wait for preseason camp to begin this week.
You’ll be right there on the sideline, water bottle in hand, watching the very first practice.
If that’s the case, when you see all those players in their helmets and shorts, take an extra-long look at this year’s class of true freshmen.
Chances are, coaches worked harder than ever to recruit them.
Because more universities are adding football, local programs who compete in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) are forced to dig a little deeper - and, in some cases, drive a little farther - to fill out their rosters.
Southeastern, of course, brought back football in 2003. Even since then, a handful of other schools across the South have started or re-started programs, as well.
We’re talking about schools with large media markets, strong recruiting bases or large student enrollments - and, in some cases, all three. They include South Alabama in nearby Mobile; Lamar in nearby Beaumont, Texas; Georgia State in Atlanta; and Texas-San Antonio (the latter, a former Southland Conference member, is moving up to the Western Athletic Conference).
In many cases, these schools are competing with established programs in Louisiana (Nicholls, Northwestern State, McNeese, etc.) for the same players. That makes recruiting more competitive. And it forces teams to extended their tentacles a little farther.
Realizing the sea change, SLU coach Mike Lucas grabbed a map of the region and drew a giant circle, using Hammond as its center. Any town within a six-hour driving distance became part of SLU’s new recruiting base.
“The more people playing football - that’s good for the (coaching) profession because more of us are employed,” Lucas joked. “But now, with recruiting, you may have to drive 20 miles farther than you used to.”
The pattern is similar elsewhere. Although Southern always cherry-picked states like Ohio, Mississippi and Florida, its base has expanded, as well. This week, when SU players report, 10 of them will bring Georgia accents.
While SLU and Southern search a little farther and wider for talent, other schools have opted to dig in.
Nicholls coach Charlie Stubbs said his staff typically stays within a 100-mile radius of Thibodaux.
McNeese coach Matt Viator said his program also sticks with homegrown talent. The only adjustment: Because of the Academic Progress Rate, which penalizes teams for player attrition and poor grades, the Cowboys and other teams are more likely to look at a recruit’s academic history.
“We don’t do this (exclusively), but if you just stay from New Orleans to Houston on Interstate 10 ... I mean, everybody in the country recruits there for a reason,” Viator said. “So we’re fortunate. Yes, maybe the talent pool is diluted. But there are still enough good football players in the area.”