Recruiting

The wunderkind: 24-year-old White brings in improved class as director of recruiting

Shijing Wang | Staff Photographer

Eric White in his first year at Syracuse and has pushed the football program forward as its director of recruiting.

Eric White walks into his office at 8 a.m. — maybe earlier if there’s a staff meeting.

He’ll spend his day zipping through schedules, chatting with recruits, scheduling visits and making travel arrangements for Syracuse’s assistant coaches — anything he can do to piece together an elite class for the Orange.

And then he’ll finally call it a night around 9 p.m. That is, on the nights that he actually leaves. Because a big office means a big closet and plenty of room for that air mattress that he’s spent more nights sleeping on than he would like to admit.

“I’ve slept here quite a bit,” White said with a laugh. “It’s a seven day a week job, but you knew that when you signed up.”

Maybe he works too much, but maybe that’s what Syracuse’s resident wunderkind needed to do to reach that status.

At just 24 years old, White is the Orange’s director of recruiting operations and has helped put together one of the program’s top classes in recent memory. On Wednesday, that will become official when at least 20 recruits sign letters of intent on national signing day.

The profession is trending toward younger recruiting leaders, but White’s rapid ascension in the field is still rare. He’s far and away the youngest director of recruiting in the Atlantic Coast Conference — no other team in the league lists a recruiting director younger than 30.

“It’s kind of unusual, but personally I prefer it,” linebacker verbal commit Zaire Franklin said, “because Eric, like, understands what we’ve been going through.”

White graduated from Kansas in the spring of 2012. Three jobs and less than two years later, he’s running the show at SU.

“He just left college,” Franklin said. “Eric can relate to us on a level that a lot of these other guys can’t.”

At Toledo, he washed windows and mopped floors. At Wisconsin, he got a chance to be more hands-on. At Arkansas, he joined the Razorbacks’ quality control group.

He was only in Fayetteville, Ark., for a couple of months, but his brief stint there happened to overlap with George McDonald’s even briefer tenure as Arkansas’ wide receivers coach.

“He was there, like, three weeks. Maybe,” White said. “I don’t know if he ever even got a paycheck.”

Reunited at Syracuse, the duo has formed a two-headed, Twitter-crazed recruiting monster.

Between their subliminal tweets each time Syracuse lands a recruit and directly reaching out to prospects on Facebook, White and McDonald have made social media an art form and the Orange’s most valuable weapon on the recruiting trail.

“Sometimes it’s easier just to send a message that only a couple people know what you’re talking about. Sometimes we’re just playing around with each other,” McDonald said. “I like social media, Eric likes it, so we’re just trying to have a little fun.”

Right now is a contact period, so coaches can call recruits whenever. During quiet or dead periods, those conversations are limited to one per week. Schools can send as many letters to recruits as they want — tales of mailboxes stuffed with dozens of letters from a single school are popular sports-blog fodder — but they can never text.

Facebook messages and direct messages on Twitter, however, are always fair game.

“He’s pretty much the master of all that,” wide receiver target Steve Ishmael said.

White messages players, then keeps tabs on them throughout the process — even if a recruit verbally commits elsewhere.

The ones that do choose Syracuse, though, get maybe their most active Facebook friend. The Orange’s commits share a group chat with White where they talk about anything — not just football.

“There will be something like, ‘I’m on a date right now,’ in the group chat,” Franklin said. “If it were someone older, that would be kind of weird, but it’s Eric, so it’s not that big of a deal.”

And therein lies the greatest advantage that White gives SU. Recruits view him as a peer rather than a superior.

“It was kind of like a friend was recruiting you,” cornerback commit Lamar Dawson said.

None of the recruits interviewed for this story said it was strange dealing with someone so young, and said the guardians who accompanied them on visits felt the same way.

Not everyone he encountered getting to Syracuse, though, felt the same way. White started at Toledo where he was asked to do little more than scrub floors and windows.

When Chris Hauser — the former director of high school relations for the Rockets — took a job as Wisconsin’s on-campus recruiting director, he had to convince Bret Bielema to embrace White, 22 years old at the time, in the office.

“He looks at the kid like, ‘How young is this kid?’” Hauser said. “Even when we went to Arkansas, he said, ‘Is Eric the right guy?’”

White made an immediate impression on Hauser, though. His work ethic, efficiency and ambition — he wrote a letter to every Division I school looking for a job — meant that he would push to bring White with him everywhere he went. He even let White live in his basement while the two were working for the Badgers.

In exchange, White watched the Hausers’ infant daughter when Chris and his wife Whitney wanted a date night. He got up early on Black Friday to buy them a television for Christmas.

In the office, his experience with technology and social media lets him do some things Hauser would try to do in “half the time,” Hauser estimated. White even took the initiative to organize UW’s entire library of Hudl scouting videos.

When Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas, he decided to bring Hauser with him. Again, Hauser had to convince Bielema to ignore White’s age and let him come to Fayetteville.

So when Bielema heard that White would be leaving to become Syracuse’s director of recruiting, he was shocked.

“(Bielema) said, ‘What? He got that opportunity?’” Hauser recalls. “‘We can give him more money.’ And I said, ‘No. I think this is what he needs to do and I can’t tell him not to take this opportunity.’”

His show at Syracuse isn’t quite Arkansas’ but it is climbing.

Instead of being worlds behind Southeastern Conference teams, the Orange’s class is only 21 places behind the 35th-ranked Razorback class.

Those are just numbers, of course, but White is a reminder that so is age.

“Whether you’re 40 or 21,” McDonald said, “every organization in the country is just trying to get the most talented person.”

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