As Tulane begins preparing for its first bowl game in 11 years, coach Curtis Johnson already has noticed the difference in recruiting.
Doors the Green Wave coaching staff had to barge through last year to create awareness about their program already are open when they arrive.
“A lot of good players are starting to call us,” Johnson said. “This is the first time we are getting calls since I’ve been here. Guys from Florida are really noticing what we’re doing. We have a bunch of coaches from the state of Florida calling, so it’s working out well for us.”
That’s the difference between going 2-10, which Tulane did in 2012, and 7-5 with an upcoming game in the New Orleans Bowl against Louisiana-Lafayette. The Green Wave averaged 3.4 wins from 2003 to 2011, leaving Johnson with an uphill battle when he arrived full-time in January of 2012.
The turnaround this year could be the start of something bigger.
“Winning is going to bring more attention,” Rivals.com southwest recruiting analyst Jason Howell said. “Instead of (recruits) going to play at Louisiana Tech or going to Houston, it’s going to keep some of that talent closer to home. New Orleans is a great city to be in, and it will be a draw for a guy that’s even out of state to come in and play.”
According to Rivals.com, Tulane’s 2014 commitment class is ranked 65th nationally. The school’s highest rated signing class since Rivals.com started in 2002 was last year at No. 78.
Ville Platte tight end Kendall Ardoin, a three-star recruit who committed to Tulane in June, said he felt even better about his decision after watching the Green Wave this season. When the coaches pursued him, they told him Tulane was on the verge of a big year.
“Obviously they did an excellent job with the team,” he said. “Even the games that they did lose, it’s not like they got blown out. … But to see a coaching staff tell you one thing and actually apply what they say really makes you consider going there because it’s not like they’re lying to you.”
Under Johnson, Tulane’s recruiting focus has been almost entirely on Louisiana and Florida. All but one of the Green Wave’s 22 commitments for 2014 is from those two places, including seven from the Sunshine State.
Jacksonville (Fla.) Mandarin High offensive lineman Tommy Boynton knew almost nothing about Tulane when the season started. By the time he attended the Green Wave’s game at Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton this November, Tulane was in first place in Conference USA West.
One day later, Boynton committed without ever visiting New Orleans.
“Even though Tulane lost, it showed me how they play and how they react to certain things,” he said. “I can definitely see them being very good in the future.”
The future has become the present.
“The more you win, the more playmakers will come,” said Mandeville quarterback Glen Cuiellette, who committed to Tulane last February. “Recruits are going to be more confident they can win now if they go to Tulane.”
Johnson made recruiting inroads almost immediately, convincing four-star Texas A&M commitment Darion Monroe to switch to Tulane before signing day in 2012 and attracting several other high-profile guys. That momentum, though, could have stalled if the Green Wave continued to lose.
Breaking that cycle in year No. 2 could prove critical.
“You’re really not known, and then all of a sudden they hear about us, they see us doing some good things, we got some national exposure,” Johnson said. “Those kids really want to be a part of it. They know this is a good place.”