LINCOLN — Nebraska’s linebackers coach knows that in a lot of people’s minds, there is a logical relationship between being a skilled college football recruiter and a gifted salesman.
That’s not how Trent Bray sees it, though.
Sure, he’ll lay out the advantages of attending Nebraska on a full ride with a shot at contributing for the tradition-rich football program.
But here’s the key: He’s not trying to meet a quota. He’s trying to build a family. After all, he’ll be coaching the prospects for four years. He wants a good fit.
“I’m giving them information, just staying in constant communication with them,” Bray said in a recent interview. “To me, I want to find something that hits home with them — but I try not to be a salesman. I want to build a relationship and just show a genuine interest in the kid.”
The 32-year-old has emerged as a rising star among young college football recruiters. He secured three commitments in eight days last month, when 2016 prospects Quayshon Alexander (June 19), Greg Simmons (June 25) and JoJo Domann (June 26) all pledged to NU. Junior college linebacker William Johnson committed in May.
Bray said talking with and getting to know prospects just comes naturally.
“I always felt I could be good at it because I enjoyed it, getting to know kids from different backgrounds,” he said. “I just have fun with it.”
His recruits seem to like it, too.
Barry indicated that he was so unexcited over the idea of attending Nebraska that he showed up late to his own in-home visit with Bray. But his first meeting with his position coach ultimately resulted in him taking a trip to Lincoln and eventually signing a letter of intent.
Bray wasn’t flashy or cocky that night, but he spoke with purpose and clarity, according to Barry. There was some joking around, but Bray could quickly reset the conversation.
“Since day one, the same way he acted while he was recruiting me is the same way he’s been acting,” Barry said. “He treats you like you want to be treated. That’s what I liked about him.”
They talk and text about everything now. School, family, girls, football.
Same goes for Domann. He said he chatted with Bray a week or so ago for about 30 minutes. Just because.
“Me personally, I think the best coach and player relationships are if they’re comfortable with each other,” Domann said.
Bray has taken two trips to visit Domann in Colorado Springs. Domann, though, said one of the lasting impressions Bray made was during a spring practice in Lincoln.
Bray’s coaching style mirrored his personality.
“He’s in your face. ‘Let’s go!’ But at the same time, he’s calm and collected, correcting your technique,” Domann said. “That’s kind of the way I am as a player. So just seeing that was attractive to me. I was like, ‘Dang, this is a guy I’d like to play for.’”
Bray is just being himself. That’s what he did for two years at Arizona State and three more at Oregon State.
He adopted recruiting philosophies from his dad, Craig, a longtime college defensive coach who is now retired. They worked on the same ASU staff. Trent also picked up some lessons from Matt Lubick, then the Sun Devils’ safeties coach and now a coach at Oregon. Another Arizona State assistant at the time — Greg Burns, now at Cal — helped Bray map out a region and start acquiring contacts. There were other mentors, too.
Bray laughs a bit when he thinks of his early days as a full-time recruiter, battling UCLA and USC for talent. “I didn’t know if I was doing good or not,” he said.
He’s figured it out now.
Bray visited a different state each day for the final two weeks of recruiting back in January as NU completed its 2015 class. He’s logging tons of miles again this cycle. Alexander is from New Jersey, Domann from Colorado. Simmons is in south Florida. Johnson plays at Arizona Western.
And there’s more work to do. Nebraska’s 2016 class is a little over half full, sitting at 14 known members. Plus, Bray has bonds to strengthen.
“I always say once a recruit commits, I’ve got to start recruiting him harder,” he said. “It’s relationship building. It’s never-ending.”
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