Twenty Years Ago, Track Recruiting Looked Markedly Different

* Bianca Knight was the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2007. She picked Texas, and then was a star freshman

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

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By Cory Mull - MileSplit 

Bershawn Jackson was in his senior year at Miami Central High School in 2002. Bianca Knight was the undisputed top recruit in the country in 2007 out of Ridgeland High School in Mississippi. 

A nationally successful hurdler 21 years ago, Jackson was pursued by a host of NCAA Division I universities, including Florida, Southern California, Illinois, Baylor and Texas. So was Knight, who had her pick of the litter. 

But the state of collegiate track and field then was nothing like it is today. Neither was recruiting.

MileSplit reached out to Jackson and Knight, dual legends in the sport -- Knight was part of the U.S.'s world record 4x100 relay during the London Olympics in 2012, while Jackson was a four-time World champion and bronze medalist at the Olympics -- to explore their experience with recruiting and to ask them how today's landscape has changed.

Jackson is now the head coach of Saint Augustine's University, his alma mater, while Knight recently joined Queens University of Charlotte as an assistant coach. 

"Everything is a little more modern and top of the line," Jackson said of the recruiting efforts of programs today, "Steakhouses. Hotels. Everything is different now."

"I stayed in a Holiday Inn," Jackson said about his own official visit back in 2002. "Shawnti (my daughter) stayed at a JW Marriott (during her Texas visit). I got taken to TGI Fridays. She was taken to Flemings Steakhouse." 

Knight remembers flying to the University of Texas back in 2007, but she believes her mom paid for the ticket. 

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MileSplit has been covering high school track and field and cross country recruiting since 2017. You can find all of our previous coverage either over at our Inside Recruiting page, or at Recruiting Rundown landing spot. Our recruiting reporter, Tim Casey, finds and reports on in-depth news regarding high school recruiting over at IR, while MileSplit annually tracks the top 50 recruits in the nation and places those lists over at RR. We will have full coverage of the National Letter of Intent period, which opens on Nov. 8, 2023. 

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* Bershawn Jackson became the head coach of his alma mater, Saint Augustines College, in 2022

Photo Credit: CBS 17

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"We didn't have NIL back then," she said of the new Name, Image and Likeness laws that are allowing college athletes to make money in today's market. "I thought the money part was, 'You do it yourself.'" 

Universities certainly cover the costs of recruits nowadays, from long-distance flights and transportation, to dinners and entertainment. Twenty years ago, though, track programs did not have that spending power.

Some even doled out scholarships conservatively. 

Bershawn Jackson said schools -- major Division I universities, in fact -- tried giving him a partial scholarship over 20 years ago. He would later compete at the U.S. U20 World Championships and grow into one of the top prep hurdlers of all-time. 

But he signed with Saint Augustine's College, a Division II program and a Historically Black College and University. They gave him a full ride.

That decision would prove fruitful: Jackson would go on to win an NCAA Division II title, set a national record (that still stands today) in the 400mH and ultimately developed into an Olympian and a legendary hurdler at the international level. 

Knight had a different experience. She was pursued by nearly every school she coveted. Her final list came down to Texas, Southern California, Kentucky and LSU. No program did as much as the Trojans, who were creative enough to impress Knight with a marching band performance while she was on campus in Los Angeles. 

"It was everything down to the drum line," she said. "They brought them out to pretty much a serenade. That was dope." 

Knight, however, wasn't the type to get swept up by gimmicks.

In fact, what she preferred most was one-on-one coaching and an ability to get individual care. Coaches from major programs, like Texas A&M's Pat Henry, Texas' Beverly Kearney and USC's Ron Allice, showed up on her doorstep in Mississippi with the intention of learning more about her.

She saw other top female athletes group up and sign with other universities. Knight ended up choosing Texas because the signing class was smaller in scale. 

Today, the amount of scholarships programs yield is widely known. Women's teams at the NCAA Division I level can offer 18 total scholarships, while men's team have access to 12.6. 

But how coaches spend that money is crucial, too. Championships are largely won with stars. Today's stars often are wooed by various schools with full ride offers. Still, teams like Texas and Oregon and Georgia and Florida also need depth, which means many of those school's athletes are on partial scholarships. One superstar could win your program an individual NCAA title, but it might not move the needle toward a team one. 

Recruiting, by design, provides a pathway to championships.

A single experience on campus for a prospective recruit can thereby matter immensely, especially if it can lock-up an athlete who isn't 100-percent bought-in by a promise of a half-scholarship. 

Get enough top-end athletes on partial rides, the theory goes, and you might have the depth necessary to compete for an NCAA title. When Knight was on campus at Texas for her official visit, she said the coaching staff was mostly hands off, letting Knight spend time with the team on campus.

Jackson had partial offers to the biggest schools in the country, but he decided to sign with the program where he felt the most respected of his talent. 

Today's landscape changes for each recruit. Sometimes, official visits offer the final say. Other times, though, instincts take over. 

When Connor Burns, a high school senior at Southern Boone County in Missouri, visited Oregon in September on an unofficial visit, he was unsure of his next steps. He had taken officials to Tennessee, Stanford, Virginia, Duke and Washington. 

"I was pretty indecisive about where to go to college," Burns told MileSplit in October. 

Then he spent a few days in Eugene and took in the new Hayward Field, a state-of-the-area stadium taking up a near square-block in the heart of campus. 

"It kind of cleared it up for me," said Burns, who later signed with the Ducks as part of a major haul of long distance stars in the Class of 2023. 

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