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February 24, 2013
Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.Hotel reward points are lost on Matt Rhule.
The new head coach at Temple took over the program on Dec. 4 after Steve Addazio accepted the same position at Boston College. Rhule had been on staff with Al Golden and Addazio before spending a year in the NFL with the New York Giants.
His idea of recruiting to Temple involves a lot less travel.
"We want to bring kids in that are within a tank of gas," he said. "The years that I was here as an assistant there weren't many nights I wasn't sleeping in my own bed, and I think that is the right way to build this program.
"We are close enough to draw from Harrisburg, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey or New York City, so why do we need to go elsewhere for talent? There is plenty right there."
His first class signed mirrored his belief.
His 21-man class had nine players signed from New Jersey, seven from Pennsylvania, three from New York and two from Virginia.
All three of his highest-rated players are from New Jersey: running back Zaire Williams of Sicklerville (N.J.) Timber Creek, linebacker Jarred Alwan from Cherry Hill (N.J.) Camden Catholic and linebacker Buddy Brown, who came from Williamstown (N.J.) High.
It is a stronghold that Rhule believes can be capitalized on. It is an area he still has to commute through because the 38-year-old spends his weeks in Philadelphia and his weekends in New Jersey with his family. Rhule never sold the house in Philadelphia that he purchased as an assistant coach.
The drive gives him plenty of time to think about the direction he wants to take the program.
"The way I see it," Rhule said, "we have nothing but opportunity here.
"We recruit kids with the message of that opportunity. You can play football at a very high level in the Big East, you can go to school in one of the best cities on the East Coast -- a huge media market and job market -- and you have the chance to make the NFL."
Rhule said he sees the process of getting players on campus as one that will only be easier this time.
His first year at Temple the team went 1-11, while his last season ended with a bowl victory and a 9-4 record.
The growing pains of moving to the Big East were felt this year with a 4-7 record while Rhule was with the Giants, but he said that kids want to come and help the program now more than ever.
"It is exciting to have seen both ends of the spectrum here," Rhule said. "We have so many more doors open to us right now and that helps, but that doesn't mean we can take it easy and start to rest. There is work to be done.
"This is a place that I love and I wouldn't have left the Giants if I didn't, because that was a special organization as well, but there is something about Temple that I wanted to get back and keep working toward what we started."
Rhule said the success that Temple alumnus Bernard Pierce has had on the NFL level -- winning a Super Bowl with the Ravens last season -- will aid in showing players that coming to Temple can help get them to the next level.
He added that Temple must continue to unearth players like Pierce, who was a two-star prospect out of Concorde Mills (Pa.) Glen Mills. Rhule won a recruiting battle for the running back against FCS program James Madison, and Pierce went on to set numerous Temple records before moving to the professional level.
"It is easy for coaches and you guys at Rivals to spot the four- and five-star players, really," Rhule said. "Those guys stand out in a crowd, but for Temple football to get better we have to be good at evaluating the three- and two-star players.
"No one knows how a player's journey will go. There are five-star busts and two-stars who become first-round picks in the NFL. We look at those rankings as a guideline, but they relate more to what a player has done and not what a kid can become in the right system."
Temple has improved its recruiting in each of the last three classes.
Its class of 2013 contained seven players ranked as three-stars. It is up from five in 2012 and four in 2011.
The process must continue if Rhule wants to move the program to the next level of being a consistent threat to win the conference title.
"I tell my assistants to trust their eyes," he said. "If a kid is big enough and fast enough, we can mold him," he said. "We don't want to have set minimums for height, weight, speed, but can they play? We need to make sure they have the requisite skills.
"Temple football is looking for smart, competitive players. On offense, we want explosive players who have at least one attribute that can be a game changer for us. On defense, we want guys who fit our system. They need to be in more of a mold so that we have like players in each position. If someone goes down, we have someone similar to step in.
"We don't measure kids on if they can run a 4.4 in the 40. We need them to be able to move laterally and play the game. We don't need combine guys; we need football players."