University at Buffalo football coach Jeff Quinn says his assistants already sense a benefit from the attention UB linebacker Khalil Mack received for being picked by the Oakland Raiders fifth overall in the NFL Draft.
The UB football assistants have been visiting high schools this month, evaluating transcripts of potential recruits.
“One of the coaches came back, and he was recruiting some of the local schools, evaluating these kids,” Quinn said. “And some kid walking down the hallway said, ‘I’m going to be the next Khalil Mack!’ Another kid goes, ‘I’m going to be the next Bull in.’ It’s kind of cool just to hear those responses.”
Quinn and the UB program were basking in the glow of the NFL draft Tuesday, and not just because Mack became the highest-drafted player in UB’s history. Six other UB players latched on with NFL teams as undrafted free agents.
Agreeing to terms on rookie contracts were receiver Alex Neutz with Cincinnati, and defensive back Derek Brim and defensive end Colby Way with the Buffalo Bills. Agreeing to offers on rookie tryouts were running back Branden Oliver with Indianapolis, guard Jasen Carlson with Chicago and cornerback Najja Johnson with Pittsburgh.
“A program-building moment, that’s what this is all about,” Quinn said.
Quinn spent the first day of the draft in New York City with Mack and his family. UB athletic director Danny White held a reception for a big group of UB alumni across the street from draft headquarters at Radio City Music Hall.
UB is coming off an 8-5 season in which it made its second bowl appearance in six years. It was UB’s second season above .500 since 1996. UB has lost a lot of good players, but the schedule in 2014 looks favorable.
“What’s it all mean?” Quinn asked. “It’s probably about $10 million of free advertisement for this university, so it’s exciting. … It means we have to continue building this.
“That national exposure is exactly what this program needed,” Quinn said. “Even before that, we were on national television every week in November. That was a big boost for us. So was playing at Ohio State and having a solid performance.”
UB’s 2014 recruiting class, announced in February, didn’t get rave reviews. It was ranked fourth best in the Mid-American Conference by 24/7 Sports. But it was ninth in conference by Scout.com and 10th by Rivals.com.
Ratings for MAC recruits are speculative. Mack was barely recruited, and the 2009 class, which included Oliver and Neutz, was not highly rated.
Quinn considers his primary recruiting area a 500-mile radius from Buffalo.
“A young man signed with us from every single state within that 500-mile radius, along with that stretch along the coast, from Northern Virginia down to Atlanta, Ga., and Florida,” he said. “We’ve taken a kid out of every one of those areas I’ve emphasized. We’re going to continue to do that.”
UB got one player from Florida in the February crop, an offensive lineman named Matt Murphy. Both Mack and Oliver are Florida natives, and Quinn said he will continue to work the school’s Florida contacts.
Quinn said he had his biggest crowd ever of prospective recruits attending the UB spring game last month.
“We know we have a lot of momentum right now, and we need to continue to capitalize on that,” he said.
The next step in recruiting success for the 2015 class will be getting players UB likes to make campus visits.
“It’s certainly about getting them up on campus,” Quinn said. “That’s the biggest part of this. When a young man’s thinking about making a decision, he needs to get up on campus, see this beautiful university and what opportunities it presents.”