Want planes? Train in automobiles

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MIAMI -- Oscar Rodriguez saw the tweet and just shook his head.

Driving north on Interstate 95 in a white, grime-covered van with a broken air conditioner and a special odor that comes only from leftover fast-food wrappers, Rodriguez saw Utah State coach Matt Wells' post about hitting the recruiting trail that included a picture of a private jet.

"Utah State has a private jet?" Rodriguez, the recruiting coordinator for Garden City (Kan.) Community College, asked to nobody in particular. "Wouldn't it be nice to recruit in that bad boy?"

For most major college coaches, private or commercial flights are the only way to go on the recruiting trail. It's nothing for a coach to get on a private jet, skip from town to town and be in his own bed that night.

Comfort and efficiency are the expectation when you have a recruiting budget that's six or seven figures. But for the rest of the college football world -- the FCS, Division II, Division III, NAIA and junior college programs -- the bulk of recruiting is done in December and January through lengthy road trips. A handful of lower-level programs are lucky enough to afford commercial flights and rental cars on those trips, but a vast majority of coaches use their own cars or school-owned vehicles like what Rodriguez and Garden City C.C. defensive coordinator Jeff Kelly have been traveling in for the past two weeks.
"Of course, we all want to get on chartered planes and do that whole deal," Rodriguez said. "But you have to do what you have to do to take your program to the next level."

For Rodriguez and Kelly, it meant getting in the van 45 minutes after losing 47-21 to Tyler Junior College in the Football Capital of Kansas Bowl and embarking on a 34-hour, 1,500-mile trip that would take them from Pittsburg, Kan., to Miami with a budget of only $2,500.

Along the way, they ate dinner with coaching friends at the University of Arkansas, and one of the Razorbacks coaches shared a story about how he recruited at a smaller college with a school vehicle that had a broken steering wheel. There was a pit stop at a gas station in Conway, Ark., where Kelly passed along his business card to a man who said his cousin on the team at Navy was looking for a place to transfer. The coaches paused to sleep for four hours at the Ramada Inn in West Memphis, Ark., where the front desk clerk bragged about the great breakfast buffet. The coaches woke to find cold cereal and soggy scrambled eggs in a slow cooker.

Fifteen-minute breaks for lunch at Popeye's in Montgomery, Ala., and dinner at Wendy's in Gainesville, Fla., and a number of stops at gas stations for coffee and energy drinks provided the fuel for the coaches to drive more than 1,000 miles in one day. By the time they arrived at the hotel in Miami -- a place booked through a budget-friendly online booking service -- it was 4 a.m. and they planned to visit their first high school less than four hours later.

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