University of Akron football coach Tom Arth planted seeds Saturday at Stile Athletics Field House.
It has not been unusual to see high school players and parents at Zips spring practices over the years. However, more often than not, the lettermen’s jackets bore the names of unfamiliar places.
As the Zips practiced Saturday, though, coaches from Buchtel and East high schools in Akron observed, as did staff members from Wadsworth, Coventry and Cleveland-area schools St. Edward, Eastlake North and University School.
Approximately 125 coaches, parents and would-be college football players assembled, and more than 99 percent of them were local.
It wasn’t abnormal to see St. Vincent-St. Mary or East staff at practices the past seven years, but to see so many representing so many local schools sent a message.
“They didn’t do this stuff before,” one coach said.
The UA staff under previous coach Terry Bowden knew Florida and had a tendency to bring in a significant number of recruits from there. Arth knows Ohio — more specifically, Northeast Ohio — and he appears to be very interested in building a wall around this area to prevent mid-major talent from leaving for other Mid-American Conference schools.
“It’s critical. It really is for us to have access for our coaches in Ohio, especially Northeast Ohio. For myself and the majority of the coaching staff, these are people we have known, really, our whole lives,” Arth said, referring to Lakewood St. Edward coach Tom Lombardo.
However, Akron figures prominently in any recruiting aspirations. To see Buchtel coach Ricky Powers at UA speaks volumes as to what Arth wants to do. He’d met with Powers shortly after being named Zips coach.
“I know the type of athletes and type of players that come out of here, and Coach Powers has done a fantastic job,” Arth said. “He’s a coach in this area that I have as much respect for as anybody.”
What was Arth sharing with potential recruits? Some fans of UA football may bristle at the prospect, but based on the nearly hourlong presentation he gave to them and their families, he views the entire process as a two-way street. Arth said players should ask potential coaches a fundamental question: “How are you going to change my life?” The answer should figure prominently in their decision-making process.
Conversely, he reiterated a basic philosophy he holds.
“I’m not going to reward you for your talent,” he told them. “It’s what you do with your talent.”
Whether impressionable high school athletes are amenable to hearing that message remains to be seen. It’s certainly one that may appeal to parents who have a voice in their child’s decision-making process. Will it eventually bear fruit? Arth understands if that is to happen, his staff has to continue to cultivate relationships.
“It’s follow up and follow through, being consistent,” he said. “We got a great turnout. Now it’s on us coaches to stay in touch with these players and families that come to see us and do everything we can to find the right fit as they continue their career and their academics.”
Safety Alvin Davis is listed as a cornerback on the Zips spring roster. The move may or not be permanent. Arth says the change falls in line with his belief in using versatile players.
“Versatility in our program is really valuable,” Arth said, “and for our defensive backs we don’t really look at a guy as a corner or safety, a nickel [back] or dime [back]. We want to cross-train our secondary as much as possible, so we have the ability to move the pieces as we need to fit with the scheme, to fit with the matchups from a week-to-week standpoint.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.