Recruits get creative announcing college choice

Credit: Courtesy of Kristian Zachary

Credit: Courtesy of Kristian Zachary

Videos, news conferences, social media provide many outlets previously not available

When Khristian Zachary set out to publicize which college he would attend to continue his football career, he decided to make a Hollywood production out of it.

The Class of 2021 3-star defensive end for Carrollton had 20 offers, including from perennial Power 5 contenders Alabama, Georgia and Oklahoma, and came from a family with a performing-arts background. His parents, Kevin, who graduated from the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, and Susan Zachary, once lived in Los Angeles, where they had careers acting and singing. His older brother, also named Kevin, is a film director and music producer.

Listen: Adam Krohn talks about the different ways prospects announce their college decision and how recruiting analysts track the recruitment of high school football players in the latest episode of The Class 2A Blogcast.

So when it came time for Zachary to announce his decision, he set out to make a series of videos unprecedented in the world of high school football recruiting.

“We had a vision for it,” Zachary said. “It came from my head. My brother and I have been actors since a young age, and I’ve always loved movies and TV shows. We were raised into show business. I wanted to be like director Michael Bay, and I loved Lord of the Rings and that movie came to mind.”

The video, shot on location at Kennesaw Mountain and at the Zachary family home, utilized CGI, drone and professional-grade cameras, the acting abilities of the Zachary family and a martial-arts expert, with the rap music of Khristian Zachary serving as the soundtrack.

Zachary released the video through Rivals on Oct. 15, previously hyping it as where he’d announce his decision. However, at the end of the 4-minute, 30-second clip, he instead said he was “committed to the 7”, a reference to his “Reverend 7” brand, which was based in his Christian faith messaging. He then punted his announcement date to later in the month.

The lack of a college announcement created a polarizing reaction in the recruiting world.

“(Zachary’s finalists) thought he was going to announce,” Kevin Zachary said. “They didn’t know what to think of it, and one of the (finalists) stopped talking to him because of it.”

Added Khristian, “Everyone was like, ‘Bro, what are you doing? Just commit.’ But this is my journey and I have to take the path God has given me.”

Zachary eventually announced his commitment to Liberty University, a private evangelical Christian school in Lynchburg, Va., through Rivals on Oct. 26.

Zachary’s announcement strategy was unique, but there are other, more conventional ways in which recruits publicize their decision. Bleckley County senior 5-star offensive tackle Amarius Mims, rated the country’s No. 2 overall player, announced his commitment to Georgia on Oct. 14 during a news conference hosted by his school and streamed live on YouTube.

At Camden County, Class of ’21 4-star offensive tackle Micah Morris announced his decision to commit to Georgia through a video produced by 247Sports and released in April.

Morris had been silently committed to Georgia since August 2019, but delayed publicizing his choice after Bulldogs assistant Sam Pittman left to become Arkansas' head coach. He needed time to form a relationship with new Bulldogs offensive line coach Matt Luke, Pittman’s replacement.

For Morris, publishing the video was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“I closed my eyes, really thought about what I was about to do, and I knew it was the right thing to do, so I hit ‘post,’” he said. “I wanted to do something meaningful and memorable so I could look back 20 years from now and cry thinking about what it meant to me at that time. That was my mindset going into making the video.”

Rusty Mansell, a recruiting analyst for 247Sports, made a nine-hour round-trip commute to Camden County to film Morris' video in February, two months before it was released. Mansell shoots from 2-4 commitment videos a year, and they’re produced by 247Sports video editor Colin Bell.

For the videos of high-profile recruits, Mansell gets the budget approved by 247Sports' parent company, CBS, which sometimes sends its production crew to shoot the video — like in the case of when he flew to Miami for James Cook’s announcement to Georgia in 2017.

Mansell, who has seen a number of different announcements during his 12 years in the industry — D’Andre Swift’s announcement in 2016 sticks out to him — said the key to making a video is its length, not how creative it is.

“People won’t watch past the 1-minute, 30-second mark,” he said. “Regardless of who you are. I always tell recruits to keep it under two minutes.”

Mansell also advises recruits to make their decision announcement count — however they choose to publicize it.

“I tell these kids all the time that the Golden Rule is that their grandkids are going to see this one day,” he said. “So how do you want them to look at you when you were 18? This is your moment, and it will be yours forever.”