The coronavirus pandemic has put almost the entire sports world on pause the past five months. But one thing that hasn't stopped for Arkansas State University is recruiting.
The Red Wolves have been hot on the recruiting trail during the pandemic, landing 14 recruits since April 16. And over the last eight days, ASU has landed six commitments, including a span of five in row between July 14-18. This has ASU with the second best class in the Sun Belt Conference behind Appalachian State, according to 247Sports.
With the NCAA putting on-campus visits on hold during the pandemic, one would assume recruiting would become more difficult -- especially for a Group of 5 school. But Arkansas State has flipped the narrative.
"It was just the love they showed," said Michael Lunz, a 6-3, 230-pound linebacker commit from Radcliff, Ky. "I get a guaranteed call from [assistant] Coach [David] Duggan at least twice a week. It's not even about recruiting, either. It's just a check-in call. Stuff like that matters to me. Those are the intangibles that you look for in a college."
Coach Blake Anderson said in some ways the pandemic has worked in favor of the Red Wolves.
"I think it's probably to some degree allowed more of the top-level recruits, at least that are at the top of our list, to see campus even though it's virtually," Anderson said. "Typically these guys would be waiting on opportunities to get here physically. When they took that off the table and they realized they weren't going to get here physically, we were able to get multiple virtual tours and meetings done on a daily basis. That might have taken a couple more months in the past. I think it puts guys in positions where they're ready to make decisions."
Most of Arkansas State's current commitments have yet to see the school's campus or facilities. This has left it up to the coaching staff to do their best in giving virtual tours.
For many recruits, the virtual tours are currently the only way for them to see their potential new home.
"It's been very difficult knowing that you can't go to these schools," said Omari Walker, a three-star wide receiver commit from McKinney, Texas. "Now you're just going based on the relationships you're gaining with each coach that you're talking to because you can't go see the campus. You have to go with your gut."
For Walker, who has offers from SMU, Illinois State and others, his ASU virtual tour was far and away better than any others.
"It was wonderful," said Walker, who committed on July 14. "The way they talked about the facilities and campus made it feel like home. They showed more than other schools. Other schools would tell me I had to wait to see some things until I came on campus. Arkansas State didn't hold back. They showed me everything."
Lunz added that he had a similar experience, saying "It was definitely the best virtual tour I had. No doubt. There were some others that were good, but they didn't compare to Arkansas State's."
Ranked the seventh best prospect in Kentucky by 247Sports, Lunz visited the University of Arkansas and earned an offer from the Razorbacks on Feb. 26. It wasn't until ASU offered him on April 2 that he seriously considered the Red Wolves. Lunz, who committed on May 15, said the relationship he built with defensive coordinator David Duggan was the difference.
"At the time, I was real hype on Arkansas, an SEC school, because they had just offered me," Lunz said. "But after I sat down and thought about it and got to know coach Duggan, I knew what I wanted to do. Even when bigger schools started offering me, like Michigan State and Arkansas, coach Duggan stayed true to me the whole time. He stayed true to his intentions. He never lied to me.
"And I just felt like all the fans [in Jonesboro] will always be there to love and support me. It felt like a really great place to go and make an impact early."
Most of the commits shared three common themes when discussing why they chose Arkansas State: the relationships with coaches, the facilities seen on virtual tours and the academics.
"The biggest thing for me was they made me feel wanted. And they talked about how they have a lot of programs in place that I think will help me. Not even football-wise, but life-wise," said Eli Blakey, a safety commit from Louisville, Kentucky. "They told my mom about how they would help me get a job and get me ready for life after football."
Anderson credits the Red Wolves' recent success to his staff "bridging the gap" with technology and recruits. He also added they have no intentions of slowing down.
As for the players, they intend to visit campus as soon as they can. But for now, they have only one question: Who's next?
"As you can see, we're hot right now. I mean, the last week or so speaks for itself," Blakey said. "I think Red Wolves fans should expect a great 2021 class."