First impressions are everything. It’s the saying you heard a million times growing up for a reason.
A similar concept applies in college football recruiting. Perception, at times, becomes reality.
Why do blue blood programs like Ohio State, Oklahoma and Florida consistently recruit at a high level? Well, part of it is perception. Those are the “cool” schools to go attend if you’re an 18-year old kid deciding where to play college football.
Think back to when you were in high school. Would it draw more buzz around town if you were going to Harvard because of family ties or if you were going to Northwestern on a full-ride scholarship? The answer is probably the former. You might get a better education and come out the other end with a far better living situation if you decided to attend Northwestern. But which decision creates more buzz? Definitely Harvard.
College football is the same way. For kids who grow up in Missouri, committing to play football at Alabama, Oklahoma or Ohio State creates a buzz unlike anything you would get if you commit to Mizzou. Right, wrong or indifferent, we all know it’s true.
Eli Drinkwitz is trying to change that perception.
He’s convinced a former in-state blue chip recruit in Mookie Cooper to come back home to play at Mizzou. He landed a top 20 recruiting class in 2021. He’s trying to back it up with another top 20 class in 2022. He’s active on social media. He’s adding young and energetic members to his staff. He’s trying to find new and creative ways to add to his sales pitch. He’s creating new traditions.
Family cookout! @MizzouFootball— Eliah Drinkwitz (@CoachDrinkwitz) May 31, 2021
Special thanks to Just Jeff’s & Hokusai Shave ice for the secret sauce! #MizzouFamily pic.twitter.com/Qp21WAMZDs
All of this is for a reason. Drinkwitz is trying to help Mizzou become an attractive brand. That’s no small task. Programs aren’t built overnight. That first impression lasts a longggg time. The same is true in college football. The relationships Drinkwitz is building now might not pay off for another three years. That’s alright. The groundwork is being laid.
Earlier this week we saw some of the fruits of that labor. One of the great events Barry Odom came up with in his time at Mizzou was the “Night at the Zou.” It started out as a camp in 2016 and grew more and more into a recruiting event. Drinkwitz has put his own touches on what the event should be.
Night at the zou was !! #NEWZOU— Max Whisner (@maxwhisner01) June 3, 2021
What it’s become is a relatively exclusive on-campus visit for some of Mizzou’s top targets both in and out-of-state. Let’s take a quick glimpse at some of the in-state recruits in attendance this year, shall we?
- 2022 5-Star WR Luther Burden - East St. Louis
- 2022 4-Star CB Toriano Pride - Lutheran North
- 2022 4-Star DE DJ Wesolak - Booneville
- 3-Star DT Dominique Orange - North Kansas City
- 2023 4-Star OL Cayden Green - Lee’s Summit North
- 2023 4-Star TE Brett Norfleet - Francis Howell
- 2023 3-Star WR Jaidyn Doss - Raymore-Peculiar
Yeah, that’s a lot of talent. And it looks like the day is already paying off with the top rated player in attendance.
I spoke with 5 WR Luther Burden yesterday after his Mizzou visit and he had nothing but good things to say.— Hayes Fawcett (@Hayesfawcett3) June 4, 2021
The #10 Player in the Class of 2022 (#1 WR) and current Oklahoma commit has a busy summer/ fall planned ahead.
The next picture shows his full summer/ fall schedule pic.twitter.com/Tj8nQ3HLQo
The Luther Burden visit @MizzouFootball lasted 12 hours. The family stayed so long they got a hotel room: they ate dessert and played video games at Drink’s house. They loved Drink’s vision and presentation. Luther is headed to 7-7 camps. A lot of recruiting left.— Frank Cusumano (@Frank_Cusumano) June 3, 2021
Burden is the type of talent Pinkel was able to find a way to reel in during Missouri’s high point from 2007-2013. He’s one of the 10 highest rated recruits in the country, according to Rivals. If he were to flip from Oklahoma to Missouri, he would be the first in-state 5-star player to commit to the Tigers since Dorial Green-Beckham in 2012.
Drinkwitz has already won his fair share of recruiting battles, but this might be his biggest win yet. Whether Burden ultimately signs with Missouri or not, it’s clear recruits are taking notice that the tide is changing in Columbia.
“That’s one of the best classes to come and gives Mizzou a chance and they’re doing something new to bring a lot of players’ attention there,” DJ Wesolak told 247 Sports. “They’ll be a big-name school with Drink if they keep doing what they’re doing recruiting and win a lot more games there.”
Watch: #Mizzou football coach Eli Drinkwitz says he truly expected to beat No. 17 LSU on Saturday. That's his team's mindset.— Andrew Kauffman (@AndrewABC17) October 12, 2020
"You live up or down to your expectations, period. I mean - no offense, I'm a 5'10" dorky white dude with no business being a college football coach." pic.twitter.com/aKwIjMxpjv
It’s tough to change perception. But if anyone’s up to the challenge, it very well might be the self-proclaimed “5-foot-10 dorky white dude that has no business being a college football coach.”