COLUMBUS — It’s been a pretty busy nine months for Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley.
His return to college football after years in the NFL meant finding a new home, moving his family and learning his way around a new city. It also meant that Hafley needed to reacclimate himself to life on the road as a college football recruiter.
So far, so good.
Hafley is ranked as the country’s fourth-best recruiter according to 247Sports.com. He’s been the primary recruiter on a handful of the Buckeyes highest-ranked recruits, including guys from California and New Jersey. Hafley is making his impact felt everywhere in-between as well. Not bad for a guy who suggested he wasn’t sure what to do when he returned to college football after spending the last seven years working in the NFL.
“To be honest with you, I had no clue what to expect when I came back recruiting,” Hafley said. “I didn’t have much expectation. I knew I had a job to do and then with the support people we had, and recruiting for this place, I just went out and tried the best that I could.
“Hopefully some good things continue to happen.”
Good things have had a way of following Hafley around on the recruiting trail. He had earned a reputation as one of the country’s elite recruiters before he took off to the NFL while coaching at Rutgers and Pitt.
Yes, Rutgers and Pitt.
“Jeff has always been a tremendous recruiter,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “People ask me if he can recruit, and I think that is one of the best things that he does. Now, because he was in the NFL for I think seven years, people don’t know that. But when he was at Pitt, when he was at Rutgers, he was one of the best recruiters in the entire country.
“He was recruiting some of the best players to those schools. I knew that about him from a long time ago, and when we worked together at the 49ers, I told him that he was going to be an unbelievable head football coach someday. I believed in him from the get-go.”
There are no real secrets to being a good recruiter, though it certainly helps to have Ohio State on the shirt when a coach walks into a room. But Hafley hasn’t needed that before, and it’s not what makes him a successful recruiter now. The world of college football recruiting is ruled by comfort, relationships and energy, which is what Hafley brings to the table anytime he’s meeting with the media, his players or recruits and their families.
“I did it for years. I did it for ten years,” Hafley said. “I just kind of got right back into it. You just be yourself, be honest. Keep it real and show them what you can do for them, show what the university can do for them.
“Don’t lie to them and don’t sell them on things that aren’t true. And at the end of the day, if they want to come here, let’s go. And if they don’t? Then hey, you know, go somewhere else.”
Not a lot of guys are going anywhere else if Hafley is involved in their recruitment. He’s enjoying himself and the Buckeyes are enjoying the results.
“I have a blast. It’s been great. The guys that we get a chance to recruit and talk to? It’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “I’m just doing everything as hard as I can. Whatever they tell me to do. Hopefully, things work out well.”
Things are working out so far. And the bar is already being raised to see what Jeff Hafley can do when he actually has a full recruiting cycle under his belt.