Brent Venables knows all about ‘Johnny Five-Star.’
As a successful recruiter at Oklahoma, Venables signed his share of blue chippers.
But the ability to skim the cream off the top was just part of what made Venables one of Bob Stoops’ star recruiters.
Asked about his recruiting style and philosophy last week, Venables professed a love of the evaluation process, and expressed satisfaction in signing ‘raw bone’ prospects that over time developed into some of the Sooners’ brightest stars.
“There are a lot of good players out there, and there’s so much to be said for the evaluation process,” Venables said. “On the tree that I come from, we try to look for certain things in a player and then project. We’ve certainly not been afraid to go outside the box in projecting guys to another position.”
He related one of his favorite recruiting stories about a ‘tweener’ defensive end from Carrollton, TX named Jeremy Beal.
“It was about this time of year – in January – and he really had no offers except for Alabama, and that was in a transition time for them when they weren’t doing very well,” Venables said. “His coach was a good friend of mine and he called me and said he knew Jeremy couldn’t play for (Oklahoma)…but asked if I would evaluate what kind of level he might be able to play at.
“Sure enough, we’d had him in camp and tested him, and he just wasn’t overly impressive in the summer, and we had said ‘no way.’ I really didn’t want to evaluate him any more, but his coach called…and when we saw the tape, and my jaw just dropped.
“We had been recruiting a Johnny Five-Star for more than a year, and he was jacking us around. Once we got confirmation that we could get Jeremy, we dropped Johnny Five-Star, brought in Jeremy, who was slow-footed and we really didn’t know where he could play. We started him out at middle linebacker, redshirted him, and he ended up being a four-year starter and was the 2010 Big 12 defensive player of the year and a first-team All-American. He got drafted by the Broncos, but had to go in the back door because he ran a 5.2 at the Combine. But he was just absolute terror of destruction for Big 12 offenses.
“I could run out of fingers and toes counting guys like that.”
Venables said he’s learned not to turn away a player because of uncertainty about what position he may play.
“We had a big, long kid named Dan Cody, 6-5, 210 pounds, who we sat around the staff table and said ‘who wants him?’” Venables said. “We just didn’t know where he played. He was a kicker, he was a tight end, he was a quarterback, he was an outside linebacker. He did everything pretty good, but nothing great.
“Mike Stoops said ‘we need to take him – we can put him at linebacker, can’t we Brent?’ I said ‘yeah, I’ll take him.’ He ended up playing for us as a true freshman and against Florida State in the national championship game, and just had a fabulous career. He became one of my all-time favorite players because of the edge he played with – great energy and toughness – and ended up being a second-round draft pick and playing in NFL.
“I’m always looking for that raw bone, tough guy, who shows the things you’re looking for in a player.”
Dabo Swinney said Venables’ adaptability and his willingness to work as part of team in recruiting was another attribute that made him an attractive candidate for Clemson.
“Brent has a tremendous reputation as a recruiter, and we do a lot of team recruiting here,” said Swinney. “It’s very important that everybody works together. That’s really one of the keys to our success in recruiting. We don’t just send one guy out there and say ‘go get it done.’ Everybody works together, so you have to have the right kind of fit to make that happen. Brent has a tremendous reputation there.”
Venables says he’s flexible when it comes to recruiting new geographical areas.
“My take on it is that I can go anywhere,” said Venables. “It’s about being a people person and developing relationships. It’s about being sincere. People either will trust you or they don’t. They either sense your passion, or they don’t. I think that’s a strength of mine.
“I’ll have to pull out an atlas and use the navigation system. I’ve actually had some experience the past couple of years in the DC-Baltimore-Virginia area, and I’ve recruited up in Jersey and in Florida. When I was at Kansas State I recruited the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Pal Beach area, and up in Tampa this year and in year’s past as well. At Oklahoma, we recruited a little bit more nationally, so I was into Atlanta, too.
“I don’t have the deep-seated relationships that ultimately are my responsibility to develop, but I’ll go anywhere to recruit. I follow the players and then develop the relationships from there.”