SBLive’s Preps Lab podcast with T.J. Cotterill: O’Dea’s Monte Kohler on how to help athletes navigate recruiting

It seems there are more misconceptions than ever about what it takes for student-athletes to get recruited to play at the next level, particularly with so much pressure athletes and their parents face today to play beyond high school. 

The latest episode of SBLive’s The Prep’s Lab with TJ Cotterill explores how student-athletes can best navigate the recruiting process — or even just get recruited — and how that has changed over the years. 

Cotterill sits down with O’Dea football coach and athletic director Monte Kohler, who pulled from his his dearth of experience – with more than 35 years at the Seattle-based school having coached many college and even NFL-bound players. 

Kohler, the state’s winningest active football coach, also spoke about this year in particular and how the pandemic restrictions have dramatically altered the recruiting landscape, especially for this year’s seniors. And how coaches and athletes together should play an active role in owning the recruiting process. 

Listen to the episode here, and subscribe below:

(Full archive of the Preps Lab podcast)

Episode breakdown

(0:30 minute mark) What have your college-bound athletes shared in common? What are some shared experiences in how they got themselves a spot to continue playing in college and beyond?

(3:15) What can this year’s high school athletes, especially seniors, do amid the pandemic restrictions and no sports if they still dream about playing at the next level?

(7:30) How should coaches’ roles best help kids depending on if they’re highly recruited or barely recruited?

(10:45) How active should student-athletes be in their own recruitment and how active should their coaches be in getting them recruited?

(13:00) What are the most glaring ways the recruiting landscape has changed over the years and what it takes for athletes to get to the next level?

(18:20) Pressure on parents to get kids to specialize, sign up for camps and offseason training. Philosophy on how Coach Kohler navigates those challenges with players and parents.

(24:45) Best uses of social media for student-athletes and the benefits/disadvantages of it in recruiting.

(30:20) What are the commonalities of athletes who want to play at the next level but don’t get that opportunity? What could the athletes and coaches have done differently?

(34:40) For athletes who are about to transition to college sports, what are the biggest eye-openers once that transition starts? What should they know to help them prepare for the transition?

(38:40) How competitive drive can open doors for student-athletes when their skill and talent might not be.

(41:00) Biggest misconceptions about the recruiting process for student-athletes and biggest challenges for those wanting to get recruited to play after high school.

Noteworthy quotes from Kohler

“Things are going ot move and the dynamics are changing completely for these kids, but we’ll have a better feel probably after that second signing date.” 

 “You want to give them enough information that they are in control of it, that it’s not overwhelming and it doesn’t become a negative process. It should not be something where the kids are like, ‘Thank God it’s over.’ But a lot of times that’s what happens.” 

“I tell people all the time – I went to Carroll College. There is a place for everybody, If you really want to play there’s a place for everybody. If it’s that important to you and you have that passion and that love then there’s a place for you to play football. If it’s just about you being recruited and you think you have to be Division 1, then sometimes there’s a reality check that has to come into play.”  

 “There are some misses, and that’s kind of sad. I don’t know if it’s because some kid somehow got four stars before he earned his four stars. But you still have to evaluate the talent. You can’t just go off of social media or however many stars a kid might have. There are football players, and I think that’s what’s missing. You can’t hide if you’re not a football player.” 

“I personally want kids to do as many things as possible. I have a son who is a junior and I want him to do as many sports as he wants to. But one thing I’ll never do is get in the middle of a family dynamic. But just make sure it’s for the kid and not the parent. And you can figure out pretty early who is leading that charge.”

“Taylor (Mays) didn’t run track his senior year. And now he comes back and says it was one of the worst mistakes he ever made. That’s one of the stories. It doesn’t matter that you tell them it’s going to be a mistake, but it’s not until 5-10 years later that they come back and say, ‘God, I should have ran track or should have played basketball or whatever it may be.’ ” 

“I don’t like that coaches say you should play basketball year round or football year round. When I was the track coach our big kids were throwing shot and our skill kids were running 100s and 200s. Track is the best training you can do to get ready for football. Period.” 

“We get a lot of (college) coaches who come through O’Dea. But probably the second or third question that comes out of their mouths about a kid is ‘What other sports do they do?’ They want to know. It’s important to college coaches that kids are competitive.” 

“The other part of this is – enjoy it. Have fun. High school sports is not about recruiting. Each school is different in what percentage, but it’s more than 90 percent are not going on to play college football. So let’s have fun and experience other coaches and teammates and have fun with the game and enjoy everything. And take everything you can possibly learn from it so that when you’re away from high school that you’re ready for life. That’s the whole point of sports is to try to teach you some life lessons. You’re going to lose. You’re not going to be recruited. You’re not going to get the job. All of those things make us better and stronger – going through all those things in multiple sports because every sport has a different lesson to teach us.” 

“If it’s not positive, it just doesn’t need to be posted (on social media) … we do some different programs with our athletes like our Boys to Men program, where we educate and try to understand like your mother and your sister – what would they think. Your family name. Would it make them proud? So just think before you do anything.” 

“If a kid is good enough to play, he’s going to play. I truly believe that. Are there misses? Yes. Some kids have taken that winding road to JC and this and that to get to where they are and those kids I just love because they just keep fighting and grinding to get it done. And maybe that was the best thing for them because they weren’t ready to play out of high school and the level they thought they should have been. But they have to own it.” 

“College coaches ask me all the time – does he love to play the game? Or does he love to be recruited? … Some kids just want to be recruited and post they’ve been offered by so and so.” 

 “All games are about movement, so be phsyiclaly ready to be your best self on the field. Strength coaches can put weight on you, but if they take you out and you run gassers and you make one or two, you’re in trouble at that point. Come in ready to work and compete.” 

“We win at O’Dea obviously because we’ve had talent. But we win because of our program guys. They are going to die in the fourth quarter for us. They’re never going to play college football but they’re there to compete and leave it all on the field. And then once in a while you get that special guy with the talent and he’s got that dog and heart in him and he passes the eye test and those guys explode up to being national recruits and play at every level they can, and that’s fun, too. But those program players are never going to the NFL, but that’s where the heart of your program is.” 

“You hear more and more form college coaches that they don’t recruit guys who aren’t good in the room anymore – good in the receiver room or good in the quarterback room. And that’s refreshing to hear that there’s those college coaches out there who care about character and the culture.” 

“For myself – I was slow, small and weak and I had to walk-on at Carroll College. So that tells you what kind of player I was. But I loved the game, and that shows because I found a place. I didn’t blame my high school coach or my parents or anything. It was just about the game. But you have to be realistic and take ownership of where you are at. Is it about the game? Or is it about the school?” 

“O’Dea has had some great players. But some of the best high school players we’ve ever had on state championship football teams didn’t play college football because they were 5-10, or they ended up at a Big Sky school, but he’s still one of the best players we’ve ever had even though he didn’t pass the eye test. Colleges are worse at that than the pros – that eye test is important. But film, passing that eye test and your grades and character. Those all come into play.” 

“I think coaches probably get too much credit and too much blame (in recruiting). Here we’ve obviously had Paulo (Banchero) in basketball and Taylor (Mays) and Demetrius (DuBose) and Nate (Burleson) and etc. They’re not my guys. They belong to their parents. I can honestly say I didn’t do a damn thing to get any of those kids their college scholarship. We kept them in the right line and all of that. But the credit belongs to their parents. They aren’t my guys. That’s important that I’m not creating something that’s not there. Kids have to have the freedom to understand it’s their choice and they get there because they put in the work to get that. I didn’t do it for them. They paid the price and did everything to earn that themselves, or their parents gave them great genes. They earn it and it belongs to them.” 

About Preps Lab

The Preps Lab with T.J. Cotterill is a podcast where you will hear authentic conversations about how things get done in high school athletics. Whether it’s a coach, athlete, athletic director of other contributor in the world of improving high school athletes’ experiences, we’ll hear from them and their practical ideas and philosophies on what they do to create successful environments in the ever-evolving world of prep sports. Episodes publishes every other Tuesday.

About the host

Cotterill has been covering high school sports for more than a decade. He’s a former sportswriter at The Bellingham Herald and The Tacoma News Tribune, where he spent more than three years as their high school sports coordinator and a year covering the Seattle Mariners. He is a substitute teacher in the Puyallup School District and assistant coach with the Puyallup boys basketball program. Reach T.J. on Twitter @TJCotterill.

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(Lead photo by Andy Buhler)

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