By ANDY WOLF
Rob Keys and his University of Findlay football coaching staff hit the recruiting trail a little later than normal this offseason.
“Good problem to have,” the eighth-year head coach said.
Findlay not only made the Division II playoffs for the first time in school history, but knocked off then No. 2 Shepherd University on the road before falling in the Super Region I semifinals to Assumption College (Nov. 25).
“I hope we have the same problem forever,” Keys said. “You (normally) finish in the regular season and it’s the second weekend of November and you have roughly two weeks to prep yourself to get out on the road and get ready for recruiting.
“Our staff had to turn around and, without any time off, seamlessly transition to recruiting and attack it.”
In all, 55 recruits signed National Letters of Intent to play at UF.
With a majority of the work done leading up to National Signing day, all of the signees rolled in by 1 p.m.
Keys said there were no surprise signings.
“Everybody we sent letters out to signed,” Keys said.
As the recruits are the future of the program, Keys and his staff largely sells them on the future as the focal point and not as much on recently being a playoff team.
The Oilers are hoping to be more than a one-year wonder, too.
Of the 58 allowed players to dress for the playoffs, 53 are back.
“From a football perspective, the future is very, very bright,” Keys said. “But at the same time, it’s not just going to happen again. It’s got to be willed to happen. It’s got to be worked at.”
The UF recruiting class has a bit more of a local flare as well.
Area signees include Liberty-Benton quarterback Austin May, Van Buren tight end Matthew Iliff, Carey defensive back Cody Luzader and Findlay kicker Chase Wilcox.
“We’re going to try to find best possible players in the recruiting class,” Keys said. “If they’re right next door it’s even better.
“Success of the program has a lot to do with some of the local kids choosing the University of Findlay as well as some of the kids right now on the roster having success.”
May is one of three quarterbacks in the class, along with Kade Peters (Hemlock, Michigan) and Kyle Profitt (Goshen).
Wilcox was a Division I first-team all-Ohio selection at kicker.
“This kid is a very talented young man and it’s great to have someone from Findlay High School in the program,” Keys said. “… We like to have the local guys succeeding and I’m excited for Chase to come in and compete.”
Keys is hoping for some freshmen to be able to step in and play right away but feels its not vital to moving the program forward.
The Oilers not only got deeper but more competitive at every position.
“Great programs should have very little freshmen coming in and playing, unless we just knocked it out recruiting-wise,” Keys said. “It’s more than just bodies. It’s really good players inserted into your program with really good players in your program. Then you have exponential growth because there’s so much competition in your program.”
The class also includes three Division I transfers.
Defensive backs Myles Ross and Ja’Quan Buffaloe both come in from Rhode Island while offensive lineman Zack Sharp (6-foot-8, 329 pounds) is transferring from Bowling Green State University.
Ross finished sixth for Rhode Island with 44 tackles and tied for lead with two interceptions as a sophomore last season.
The recruiting process is always on-going.
Signing day can tend to get nerve-wracking but Keys said Wednesday went as smooth as ever.
For the lot of the operation, he has his dedicated staff to thank.
“I’d match these guys up against anybody else in the country,” Key said. “It’s easy to recruit to Ohio State and Alabama. Who doesn’t want to go to those places?”
After not resting since camp initially opened in July, Keys anticipates some much-earned down time before spring ball starts up.
A lot of the time consumed is spent on traveling across the state line and back, often in the same day.
“Talent is easy to identify,” Keys said. “The character and quality of a person you’re recruiting is hard to identify. You need to spend as much time possible to figure out if this person fits in this program.”
The commitments came pouring in as early as December via many players’ personal Twitter accounts.
The element of social media has become a vital tool in the process for both the players and Keys.
“Now, it’s just like everything else in this world — real time,” Keys said. “As kids are signing, that information is being sent out to everybody. It’s really neat to see within social media, how our players and recruits already know each other. …
“They start to become a class and know each other before they even start their careers.
By ANDY WOLF