GREENSBORO, N.C. — Last summer, Boston College’s football recruiting did not even register a blip on the national scene. There was not one word mentioned by the recruiting services about where BC’s incoming class ranked. It deserved scant recognition because it paled in comparison with the blue-chip classes assembled by the powerhouses.
Now? Since Steve Addazio was hired Dec. 4, 2012, he has presided over a turnaround on the recruiting trail, seizing upon the impact of social media to disseminate his program’s message in a “#BeADude’’ campaign that borrowed from the mantra of defensive coordinator Don Brown and spread like wildfire.
“They said he could recruit and he recruited,’’ said senior linebacker Steele Divitto. “It just goes to show it’s just getting kids to buy in, buy into it, and he’s had a lot of success with that.’’
That success translated into the Eagles gaining commitments from 21 recruits for the Class of 2014, a group that is now being ranked as high as No. 22 in the nation by Rivals.com. It includes no fewer than 12 three-star prospects and one four-star blue chipper in St. Sebastian’s inside linebacker Connor Strachan, the 6-foot-1-inch, 240-pound nephew of former Eagle Steve Strachan.
“My whole thing is that it’s nice that we are ranked and all that,’’ said Addazio Monday during the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Football Kickoff. “But it’s really about getting the guys who can really succeed here and keeping your focus on that, and I think we’ve done a good job with that.’’
So what was the pivotal factor in getting this class assembled?
“First off, we had a great product,’’ Addazio said. “Like anything, if you have a good product and you’re willing to go out there and work and sell it, it’s a good combination. And we do have a good product.
“It’s one of the most beautiful campuses in the country, it’s an elite school academically, we have a great football tradition with 12 consecutive bowl appearances and eight consecutive bowl wins and five first-round [NFL] draft picks in that time, so we’ve got a lot to sell.’’
Addazio and his staff found new and inventive ways to use Twitter, Instagram, and Vine to market their program, and recruits bought in and began to fall in line.
“Ultimately, it’s a communication game,’’ said Addazio, who used his indefatigable energy by taking on the added role of recruiting coordinator.
“I always believed that I wasn’t a huge writer [of recruiting letters and cards], but I was good on the phone and in person because I liked people and I liked to communicate.’’
So much so, Addazio said his staff had him in touch with at least 50 prospective recruits a week.
“Obviously, you have to say that Twitter and Instagram and Vine is a factor,’’ Addazio said. “Because this is the mode of communication for kids today and you’ve got to enter into that world. I think it’s important. It helps you stay connected and then you just enjoy it and have fun with it and engage them.
“Social media is a big piece of this thing and to ignore that is foolish and I ignored it for a while because I probably felt like I had other strengths. But now I’m like, ‘Well, why not exhaust all avenues?’ ’’
Getting comfortable with the use of social media as a recruiting tool took some adjustment for Addazio, who was used to the conventional methods when he recruited for Syracuse, Notre Dame, Florida, and, more recently, at Temple, where he left after two seasons to take over at BC.
“People got into the social media thing and I was not a social media guy,’’ Addazio acknowledged. “But I decided that as the leader of this organization . . . I had to get out of my own comfort zone with that to set the tone for the rest of the staff to get out of their comfort zone.
“Then we started having fun with it.’’
Addazio challenged his staff to see who could recruit the most Twitter followers. The head coach is currently the leader with about 3,000.
Addazio said young assistants Al Washington (running backs) and Justin Frye (offensive line) are in a neck-and-neck battle for second.
In their attempt to have some fun with the social media, though, the “#BeADude” recruiting campaign was born, which came from Brown’s description of great playmakers as “dudes.’’
“It was just fun and it caught on with our team and it caught on in recruiting and we ran with it a little bit,’’ Addazio said. “At first I did a couple of Vines and a couple of Instagrams with 12-second videos of Matt Ryan and all that stuff.
“But it was amazing how many people saw that stuff. But the ‘#BeADude’ thing is still going and it’s still growing.’’
It enabled BC recruiters to fan out over a broader area in their search for a few good dudes, venturing into Florida, Virginia, Georgia, Delaware, and Michigan to find prospects.
“I don’t know a lot about the class, but I know we’re recruiting in a lot more areas that we haven’t reached out,’’ said senior quarterback Chase Rettig of Sierra Madre, Calif., who came East when BC was the first school to offer him a scholarship. “I feel like the last couple of years it’s been strictly in the Northeast, which is fine. There’s a lot of talent in the Northeast, but from what I can see where Addazio’s been, he’s like all over the map.
“He’s definitely spreading the field.’’
And while he expressed a desire to gain some inroads with the strong Catholic high schools in California, Addazio said it was vital to maintain a strong presence at home, which likely explained why seven of the prospects in BC’s 2014 recruiting class are from Massachusetts.
“The lifeblood of our program starts in Massachusetts and expands into New Jersey and Pennsylvania,’’ Addazio said. “Those are just vitally, vitally important. I can remember being at Syracuse and for us to have success our great players came from Mass., Connecticut, [Pennsylvania], New Jersey, a couple from Maryland and we sprinkled in a few from outside, like Donovan McNabb came from Chicago.
“I think you can never give away your local areas because you have great contacts in your local high school coaches and you need them, and you need their help and you’ve got to make sure that you take care of your own.’’
Strachan said his decision to stay home was based, in part, not only on BC’s aggressive recruitment, but on the sense of urgency he felt when he visited one of the Eagles’ fast-paced spring practices.
“Their practice was the most up-tempo, full-speed practice I had been to,’’ Strachan said. “I had been to [Virginia], Wake Forest, Penn State, and Notre Dame. All those programs certainly seemed to be pretty settled and were moving in sort of day-to-day [pace], while BC was looking like they were getting better and better every day.’’
Still, it was readily apparent after the Eagles went 2-10 last season (1-7 in the ACC) and were picked in a preseason media poll to finish seventh in the Atlantic Division, BC’s coaching staff was going to continue casting a far and wide net for a few good dudes.
“The emphasis here with our kids and with our recruits is, ‘We’re going to be part of a team,’ ’’ Addazio said. “We’re going to be a team that cares about each other, but a team that will demand from each other and hold each other accountable and we need to do that.
“We’re not going to man-on-man out-athlete anybody. But as a team, we can be strong. That’s the mind-set and that’s the mind-set in recruiting as well.’’
The message was clear for recruits: “You can go elsewhere and be just another guy; or you can go to BC and be a dude.’’
Soon the message started hitting home. When Richard Wilson, a 5-10, 210-pound running back from Detroit Country Day, committed July 8, he announced his decision by posting the following message on Instagram: “Just committed to Boston College #Blessed #GreatSchool #BeADude”.
“The more dudes we can have, the better off we will be,’’ said Divitto.