Pantoni The Hidden Hero of OSU Recruiting
By Patrick Murphy
Urban Meyer believes recruiting is the lifeblood of any program. His coaching staff travels the country talking to high school kids, but the man behind the curtain is Mark Pantoni, Ohio State’s Director of Player Personnel.
Like recruiting is the lifeblood of the program, Pantoni is the life blood of the Buckeyes’ recruiting effort. He scouts, contacts, and forms relationships with the players then works hard to bring them to Ohio State.
Pantoni is key to the OSU’s three-straight top five recruiting classes.
“I don't know how to quantify it,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “He's invaluable. He's worth whatever they're paying him. He's worth that times two.”
Fans may recognize his name from his Twitter account, but he his job is much more than that.
“He does a phenomenal job of not only the things that you guys see – the fun stuff on Twitter, the 'Boom', the 'Swaggernaut', all of that cool stuff,” Herman said. “But what he does is he picks up a lot of the slack from us during the season because we're so immersed in the season and coaching our guys and getting ready to play games on Saturdays.”
Pantoni is typically the point man for recruits, the first person they come in contact with from Ohio State. He reaches out to the players to begin to form a bond that will hopefully lead them to Columbus.
“I would probably describe it as an everyday relentless battle of building relationships,” Pantoni described his job.
“As Coach Meyer says, it’s the most important thing in this whole process. With some of these kids it’s an everyday deal of reaching out and selling Ohio State and selling yourself and building that trust amongst myself, and the coaching staff, and the program.”
This is not something in which anyone can excel. Pantoni is required to communicate and relate to 16 to 18-year olds, which is not easy to do. He describes himself as 32 going on 21 and that he has to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and cultures in order to create the best relationships.
This is how he got involved in Twitter, realizing that social media was important to kids and it would be a great tool for recruiting.
“That’s the best way of communicating with the kids these days,” he said. “A lot of kids hate talking on the phone, as we get to learn, so it’s easier for them to talk on social media. You have to use and be good at it.”
The social media aspect is one part of his job, but there’s much more. Before beginning communication with a player, Pantoni has to do his homework, scouting players for their strengths and weaknesses.
“Myself and my staff will [watch a] minimum two to 10 games on every single kid on our board for the coaches to evaluate,” he said of the process.
“That way we’re not just watching a two-minute highlight tape where of course it’s going to be all good plays, we’re making good and bad play cuts so that way the coaches can have a true evaluation of the player.”
Pantoni uses any resource he can to help find a player. He and his staff will use recruiting services, high school coaches’ suggestions, who other schools are offering, even Twitter to find players. Anyway he can find the next recruit.
How does someone get into this field? Recruiting was a hobby for Pantoni while in school and he got a lucky break.
“I ended up getting my foot in the door at Florida as a volunteer and really loved it and it was a passion of mine. I took it as an opportunity and worked as hard as I could,” he said. “Coaches started respecting how hard I worked and because I was there because I love what I do and it paid off over time.”
“That’s what I pride myself on is my work ethic, that’s why I’m sitting here today and what Coach Meyer’s learned about me from my time down and Florida.”
Pantoni, who was working to become a doctor, never asked for anything during his days volunteering. He just had a passion for what he was doing and he made it into a career.
With a job this demanding, an incredible work ethic and passion are the only way to succeed.
“It’s a seven a.m. until even when I leave here and go lay in bed, it’s still on my phone, working until my head hits that pillow,” he said. “It’s an everyday deal.”
Pantoni said that there’s rarely a moment when he isn’t wired through his phone or computer because if he isn’t recruiting a kid, someone else might be. It’s that paranoia that keeps him driven, but something that can drive his wife crazy.
“Obviously my family is the most important thing and keeping my wife happy,” he said. “But she understands the job and what it takes and knows I’m driven and want to be the best at what I do, so she gets it.”
On national signing day, Pantoni stared at the fax machine, waiting to receive all of the letters of intent. Once they arrived he can exhale.
“It’s exciting. It’s about two years’ worth of time and effort.”
In a normal job, this would be a time to take a break, but not in this industry. Not if you want to be the best.
"No, there’s no catching our breath,” Pantoni said.
“Tomorrow’s straight going, no days off. We’ve got to get going and get this next class ready.”