Pat Sheahan’s office at the ARC is covered with photos of different football players he’s coached in his 12 seasons at Queen’s.
Every year, 75 to 100 high school prospects visit that office before deciding whether to come to Queen’s. Only 25 to 30 of them will be at the football team’s training camp in August.
“In some cases, Queen’s is very high on their list,” Sheahan said. “In other cases they never thought about it.”
Sheahan said the team spends around $50,000 annually on recruiting, most of which goes towards travel costs.
“The team is heavily dependent on alumni donations to be able to complete the recruiting activities in a year,” he said, adding that booster donations account for over 50 per cent of the recruiting budget.
Geography plays an important role in Queen’s recruiting — 65 of the 85 players on the Gaels’ roster last season were from Ontario.
“Some [prospects] look at Queen’s and say ‘Well, it’s just another school. What’s the difference from Western and McMaster?’” he said. “[But] the Ontario-based student has an idea that Queen’s is … an Ivy-league calibre school.
“Saskatchewan is one [place] where it’s extremely difficult to recruit … we’ve had a number of qualified students who could go to the University of Regina or the University of Saskatchewan almost tuition-free.”
But he said Ontario prospects can present challenges too.
“We probably have a better chance of getting someone from Vancouver than we do of getting someone from the Sarnia-Windsor area,” Sheahan said. “To go to school here, they’ve got to drive by every school in Ontario.”
One way the football team finds players is through provincial all-star teams. Special teams co-ordinator Ryan Bechmanis is also an assistant coach for the Ontario East U-18 all-star team, where he’s in direct contact with high school prospects.
“You’ve got 100 football players together in an indoor facility,” he said. “[Bechmanis will] be one of the coaches.”
Sheahan said academics are another major factor in recruiting.
“Student-athletes that fall under the Queen’s radar are very much a special population,” he said. “These kids will qualify for academic scholarship money at a variety of places, when they may only just get in here.”
But Queen’s academic standards can also work to Sheahan’s advantage — he said they made the difference for offensive lineman and incoming Engineering student Dan Hayes, the team’s only recruit of 2012 so far.
“Queen’s, for him, was the right mix of academics and athletics,” Sheahan said. “Of the 85 players on our team last year, 16 were in Engineering … the fact that [Engineering students] thrive here creates a comfort zone for student-athletes.”
Sheahan said the Queen’s campus also impresses prospects.
“There’s old-time spirit here,” he said. “The football team’s important on campus.”
As the head coach, Sheahan said his personal brand is important for prospects. After having three children graduate from Queen’s — including two varsity athletes — he said he relates to parents.
In December, Sheahan extended his coaching contract to 2017, locking in the next five seasons with the Gaels. “Student-athletes would like to know that the head coach is someone who’s approachable,” he said. “Someone who’s going to guide him, mentor him through this next phase.”
But conversations don’t end when a prospect leaves campus.
“When other schools are pursuing a kid aggressively, you can’t not call the kid for three weeks,” he said. “Every night, I sit down after dinner — I’ll have 10 phone calls to make and it could be a two-minute call or it could be a 45-minute call.”
Sometimes the calls are more urgent.
“There are six months where you’re fairly involved with him, then the pressure comes when other schools are saying ‘You’ve got your acceptance’ or ‘We need to know,’” he said. “Then [the prospects] are saying ‘Coach, what’s going on? Am I in? Because I’ve got to say no to McMaster.’”
Problems usually arise because of a lack of structure in Canadian recruiting. Sheahan said compared to U.S. college football recruiting — where prospects can only sign letters of intent to play for schools between Feb. 1 and April 1 — Canadian recruiting is a “free-for-all.”
“My hope was, with the advent of athletic scholarships in the OUA, that we would be able to tie some operating rules to the letter of intent,” he said. “We still haven’t quite reached that level yet.”
Sheahan said the worst part of recruiting is dealing with the occasional prospect who decides not to come to Queen’s.
“If I’m following you for six months and then you tell me on the first of June that you’re going to Western, that’s six months of wasted time,” he said. “It was required, but it’s also a waste.”
At the moment, Hayes is the team’s only official recruit. Sheahan said he has more prospects who want to sign, but they haven’t been officially accepted to the school yet.
“We’re anticipating more good news as the weeks unfold.”
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