It is a graphic that has become synonymous with the times. Normally a time when college football coaches could travel to high schools to speak with prospective players’ coaches and gather information, they have instead been relegated to hitting the “virtual road.”

“We have tried to embrace that,” Pirates Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks coach Donnie Kirkpartick told Patrick Johnson on 94.3 The Game on Friday. “There have been some good things that have come of the technology. We’ve said this a couple times in some of the meetings that if this would have happened 20 years ago, I really don’t know what we would’ve been doing at this point. We’ve worked our tails off to be honest with you. It’s given us the ability — this technology — to keep everything going.”

Throughout May, many have seen the “On The Virtual Road” graphics on ECU football’s Twitter page posted by position coaches. Unable to physically interact with high school coaches due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19, Zoom and other applications have become vital tools in the recruiting process.

While other areas of life have become more difficult and less efficient since the coronavirus pandemic exploded onto the scene, Kirkpatick said recruiting has actually become much more streamlined.

“What we did, we did it virtually through calling the coaches. Which, because of the situation, the coaches didn’t think you were slighting them by giving them a call instead of coming to see them. Well, we were able to do 14 to 15 schools per day and so we were able to cover more areas that way.”

In a normal recruiting cycle, Kirkpatrick said recruiters can, at best, visit six or seven high schools per day.

Aside from being able to cover more sheer virtual distance and contact more coaches and watch more film, there is a money-saving component to be factored into this. Plane travel, car rentals and food expenses are the big things Kirkpatrick said have been eliminated this year with the move to a more virtual approach.

Of course, those savings are hitting at a good time for the university after the discontinuation of four sports was announced last week. Those cuts, according to the university, will save the athletic department nearly $5 million in operating expenses of the upcoming fiscal year.

Nevertheless, with the slowing down of society, Kirkpatrick said coaches are more available to have in-depth chats about prospects over the phone, while technology allows recruiters to quickly identify players that are more desirable than others.

“It was easy to get the coach and have a good conversation,” Kirkpatrick said. “As the coaches would recommend kids and you talk about kids, could literally be sitting at your desk — my desk being the dining room table — I would look the kid up on my computer with all this technology you have now. As he is sitting there telling me about Johnny Smith who he says is 6’11” and 317 pounds and runs a 4.3, I can look up and see he’s really 5’11”, 190 pounds and I can watch him play. If he’s really good, we continue to talk about him and if he’s not, I move on to the next kid. The visits were very, very efficient that way.”

Kirkpatrick also said the NCAA has allowed more phone calls to high school juniors than they would have originally been allowed in a more normal cycle. That has allowed the Pirates to cast a wide, but selective net when identifying and offering a prospect.

Already, Pirate fans have seen the fruits of the recruiters’ labor. Six transfers have signed with ECU in recent weeks, including former Alabama defensive back Nigel Knott and Arkansas running back Chase Hayden.

The Pirates have also had three commitments in Kareem Stinson, Shawn Dourseau and Jason Shuford since Feb. 1. According to 247Sports.com, the Pirates only have two “hard commits” for the 2021 season in Jalen Clyatt and James Wright. While that number is less than some other schools, Kirkpatrick said that is to be expected due to the high amount of recruits signed during the early signing period in December.

“At this point right now, we feel like in a lot of ways we’re way ahead in recruiting just because of all that,” Kirkpatrick said. “Again, we’ve lost some of the personal touch of touching these people. With Zoom, we’ve done meetings where coach Houston, the position coach, coordinator, maybe the recruiting coach, were all on a Zoom meeting with these kids.”

Despite some setbacks, like having no spring practices to install the playbook or in-person instruction with players, it is clear technology has played an important role in the lifeblood of college football, recruiting. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if some, if not all, of these technologies become go-to tools of collegiate recruiters.

Listen to Donnie Kirkpatrick’s full comments about recruiting with Patrick Johnson on 94.3 The Game that first aired on Friday below:

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