Tuesday, June 19, 2018
  • USF Sports Bulletin
  • Joey Knight

What’s it like when a college coach helicopters to your school?

When Florida's staff asked Largo High coach Marcus Paschal about flying a helicopter in for a recruiting visit last week, the answer came easily and quickly.

School and district administrators had no concerns with Dan Mullen's rented chopper landing or taking off from the football field. There were no logistical hurdles to clear.

"All we did was sit there and watch it happen," Paschal said.

Perhaps that's a sign of how routine helicopter recruiting has become since it become part of big-time coaches' arsenals around 2009.

It's unclear which school came up with the idea of dropping in by chopper, but Lane Kiffin was one of the practice's early adopters. During his lone season at Tennessee, his staff needed a way to go see as many games as possible while navigating Atlanta's brutal traffic.

The solution: Fly above it.

LSU coach Ed Orgeron — then Kiffin's recruiting coordinator  — said the main purpose was practical. But the staff was recruiting five-star offensive lineman Ja'wuan James that season, the chopper circled the stadium once or twice, just for show.

"We all had our Tennessee jackets, and you could see everybody looking up," Orgeron said this fall during an SEC coaches' teleconference. "Seemed like there were a half-dozen college recruiters or more just looking up and going, 'Wow, look at this. What a great idea.' It does give the wow factor when you show up, but it was more or less a means of getting from game to game in a big city."

The practice worked; James flipped to the Volunteers and started all 49 games there before becoming a first-round pick for the Dolphins.

The idea continued to spread. Georgia used one this season to recruit five-star quarterback Justin Fields. Nick Saban toured south Florida in one last month. Before Kevin Sumlin was fired at Texas A&M, his chopper even had a name — the SwagCopter.

Mullen's rental cost about $10,000 from his program's recruiting budget. For his needs, chartering a helicopter was the only option.

He landed at Largo on Wednesday morning and later flew to Bradenton's IMG Academy. Because the recruiting contact period lasted only 23 days, Mullen didn't have time to waste sitting in I-275 gridlock during weekday morning rush hour. The chopper allowed him to avoid the 47-mile drive and use his limited time wisely as he tries to rebuild UF's roster.

The fact that Mullen got to travel in style was an added bonus. NCAA rules prohibit him from talking to 2019 or 2020 recruits, but they don't stop him from being seen on campus. Flying into the facilities is one unmistakable way to accomplish that.

Mullen picked two great landing spots. IMG Academy has 11 blue-chip prospects in next year's class and at least three for 2020.

Largo's headliner is four-star defensive lineman Jaquaze Sorrells, Tampa Bay's top 2019 recruit and a top-100 national prospect. The 6-foot-3, 270-pound athlete had 17 ½ tackles for loss as a junior and decommitted from UF a month after Mullen took over. The Packers also have two other major recruits, 2019 offensive tackle Raymond Collins and 2020 running back Jayion McCluster.

Although Mullen's flight was practical, it clearly made a splash. Social media was buzzing. A video of him taking off from Largo has been viewed more than 15,000 times online. Parents were gushing when they found out about it.

"They were like, 'Wow,'" Paschal said. "You see this type of stuff in the movies. Now we're getting those types of things happening at Largo High School."

Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.v

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