Kitty Granato did not expect to receive any recruiting letters. Possibly because Kitty is a cat.
More specifically, Kitty is J.T. Granato’s cat, a 3-star quarterback, according to 247Sports and one of the better pro-style QBs from the state of Texas.
But Rice had other plans, and the football coaches sent Kitty a personalized recruiting note—urging her to “Paw me in case you have any questions” while trying to convince her owner to commit to the school.
Strange? Oh, undeniably. Extreme? Without question. Effective? Very much so.
Shortly after the letter arrived, Granato verbally committed to Rice. His father shared the news on Twitter, which included a shot of both Granatos—J.T. and Kitty.
“Cat receives recruiting letter” is a headline you’d expect to find in The Onion; it’s also the latest in a long line of recruiting pitches that is solar systems beyond your run-of-the-mill handwritten letters and cellular device checkups.
In everyday life, the weird will get you thrown out of public places. It will have others casting long, disapproving gazes. It will undo a lot of good.
The weird is not only accepted in recruiting, but in many ways, it’s encouraged. It will get you noticed. It is now customary. And it is now an enormous part of college football’s sport within the sport.
For Rice, the weird came in sending a recruit’s cat a handwritten letter and some catchy cat lingo. With Granato holding offers from programs around Texas and interest stretching from the SEC to the Ivy League, the coaching staff at Rice had to make a statement.
“I mean it was really funny honestly,” Granato told ESPN.com on the letter. “It was just so crazy how hard they recruited me.”
Just think, for a moment, about a contingent of gruff football people sitting around a table—spit cups nearby, perhaps—mustering up the fuzziest cat puns possible for a letter to Kitty Granato.
Welcome to 2014. Meow.
“Being a college recruiter these days is a lot like being a single guy on Match.com,” JC Shurburtt, National Recruiting Director for 247Sports said. “You have to do something to get the attention of the ones you want to break the ice with. These are icebreakers.
“They stick in the mind of a player, just like your witty one-liner on Match would for a single lady. And both are being bombarded with attractive options on a daily basis.”
Cat letters are the latest out-of-the-box (or should I say bag?) tactic, but there is ample company in this arena. Before there were meow mailings, there was the now-familiar procedure of stuffing a recruit’s mailbox with enough letters in one day to fill a Jacuzzi.
Sure, you can ignore one letter, but you can’t ignore 182. Kentucky tested this theory with Matt Elam last year, the No. 3 defensive tackle in the class, according to 247Sports.
Guess what? It worked. Or at the very least, this mass mail drop-off didn’t get in the way. Elam committed to Kentucky, choosing the Wildcats over the recruiting machine that is Alabama. Other recruits have been given this barrage of literature before, floored by the power of mass from schools across the country.
Georgia, meanwhile, is testing out a more centered tactic. The Bulldogs aren’t busting mailboxes, but rather decorating them with one-of-a-kind art.
Mark Richt’s staff has been sending recruits hand-drawn portraits of the players they’re courting. Here is the one they sent to 2015 defensive end D'Andre Walker, one of the top players in the state of Georgia this year.
Lorenzo Carter, the prized commit of the Bulldogs 2014 class, got one. So did Raekwon McMillan, another in-state star that eventually decided to take his talents to Ohio State instead.
“I looked good in (the portrait), compared to how I look in real life,” Carter told Michael Carvell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Raekwon’s picture didn’t look good. It was ugly. He didn’t like it. That’s probably why he didn’t come to UGA (and signed with Ohio State).”
As Raekwon McMillan proves—and as you are well aware already—not all of these tactics will be effective, nor can you possibly expect them to be. Their purpose is not to generate an immediate commitment.
Receiving 182 letters in one day or opening up an envelope addressed to your cat won’t (and shouldn't) guarantee anything. The recruiting process has far too much depth, and these surface-level pitches are only a small portion of the process. Things like coaching, fit, campus and classes loom far larger than an assistant coach’s penmanship or mass mailers.
But they do get you noticed, and that’s precisely what the weird is intended to do. Perhaps, just maybe, it will result in a visit. Or maybe two visits. Or maybe a recruit will suddenly open up to a place (or staff) that he had passed on previously.
“Because top-shelf, elite-level recruits are bombarded with mail, calls, emails and social media messages from top programs across the country, the challenge for staffs is building relationships,” Shurburtt said. “Most recruiting decisions are based on comfort, which is achieved through the building of relationships and ultimately how the prospect and his family feel during their visits to campus.”
Get those visits; that's the goal. And let the important things that matter—the things a school can truly sell once they have your full attention—take over.
It’s brilliant, really: a simple plan and break from the calculated football itinerary, the ones coaches usually choose not to abandon. These personal, cost-effective attempts at forming relationships will only continue to evolve, embracing the weird one personalized contact at a time.
It’s not a question of if these wild approaches will continue, because they will. Instead, the focus will be on doing something that hasn't been done yet, something so unique that you'll be forced to pay attention.
Just ask Kitty Granato.
Adam Kramer is the College Football National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.