Yray brings big-picture focus to FSU’s recruiting, portal efforts

The college football offseason has become almost non-existent. Except for a few weeks in July, after recruiting camps and before teams open preseason practice, the calendar is loaded for college coaches.

High school and transfer portal prospects expect frequent and direct communication from head coaches and assistants, which has also prompted the need for larger off-field staff to help in a variety of roles. But the biggest role is recruiting, the life blood of every program.

When asked about his role in a newly created job of general manager of personnel at Florida State, Darrick Yray’s goal is to coordinate and communicate with a big-picture view of the program’s current roster and future needs.

“To help and improve organization,” Yray said on Wednesday afternoon. “And just help everyone stay on the same page, and get the best player for Florida State to do so. As recruiting has evolved over the years, it’s an every-day experience now. It changes by the hour. So the more we can help communications to help everyone be more effective.”

Yray spent seven years at Oregon State, most recently as director of player personnel, before joining the FSU staff (he was formally announced on Feb. 7). In his time at Oregon State, Yray helped identify potential athletes through film review, scheduled visits with prospects and was a liason between the school and NFL teams. Yray has hit the ground running, watching all of FSU’s 2021 games to get a better feel for the returning players.

It’s also clear managing the transfer portal is a priority of programs looking to find prospects who can fill a need for a year or more. FSU coach Mike Norvell has placed a priority on evaluating prospects in the portal and bringing them to Tallahassee, where they have added leadership and production in his first two seasons. Norvell added 10 players via the portal in the 2022 class, following a 2021 group that featured Jermaine Johnson, Keir Thomas, Dillan Gibbons and Jammie Robinson.

“The transfer portal, because it’s so instantaneous as guys go in there, that can move on so quick,” Yray said. “So those evaluations and that process moving forward, just collecting as much information as we can to move forward and make those best decisions, that’s another reason for the expansion of personnel in general across college football.”

On-field coaching staffs are limited in size to one head coach and 10 assistant coaches. Head coaches have added analysts through the decades to help with film review and recruiting, but they have added more staff in building what at times resembles an NFL team’s front office. 

College football’s calendar has some recruiting dead periods, but December has become busier with the early signing window taking priority over the traditional National Signing Day and the transfer portal being active in November and December, after the January bowl games and following the conclusion of spring practices. The titles are similar from school to school but they reflect a growing need to build connections with recruits and portal prospects as well as high school and junior college coaches.

Miami coach Mario Cristobal lists a variety of personnel from chief of staff Ed Reed to senior football advisor Todd Stroud, who played at FSU, to director of player development Jorge Baez and director of recruiting David Cooney. New Florida coach Billy Napier hired Bird Sherrill, who was a scout with the Detroit Lions, as its director of college personnel and he will monitor the transfer portal and junior college options. 

“This game will chew you up and spit you out if you let it, and I think it’s important that we keep perspective here,” Napier told reporters, via the Tampa Bay Times. “And this infrastructure will allow us to do that.”

FSU has also expanded its staff under Norvell. Bruce Warwick moved from chief of staff to associate AD for football, while Yray is the GM. Not counting on-field staff, creative media teams and executive assistants, FSU has a off-field coaching staff / front-office staff of 21 in a variety of roles as analysts, grad assistants, directors of player development, personnel, high school relations and other roles. In the offseason, Norvell hired FSU alumni and 10-year NFL veteran Corey Fuller as Director of Football Relations as well as Keiwan Ratliff as assistant director of high school relations as well as other off-field hires. 

Yray tried to walk on at Fresno State but found the opportunity for him to play was not realistic. “I was lucky enough to be around great people that gave me that opportunity just to be a sponge and soak everything in at 18, 19 years old,” Yray recalled. He instead found various roles helping coaches and later was a graduate assistant for one season. When the Fresno State staff was dismissed, Yray jumped into football operations at Oregon State.

“I moved off the field and had an opportunity to do so and got promoted as full-time later,” Yray said. “At that point, making $900 a month to $25,000 a year sounded pretty good at my age so I stuck with it and I’m excited to do so. I love off the field. I love being behind the scenes and making sure that this is an implemented process and those things are working correctly.”

Yray said he met Norvell for the first time in 2016 at a mega recruiting camp, and he had previously worked at Fresno State with current FSU defensive backs coach Marcus Woodson. During his interview with the media, Yray frequently underscored the need for alignment in communication. And while he didn’t have the chance to play college football, Yray developed into a film junkie.

“If it was up to me, I could lock myself in a room for 20 hours a day,” Yray said. “I’m not kidding, just to be able to watch film and evaluate players. That is the best part, that is the favorite part of the job for me. That is what initially attracted me to that. I love turning the lights down low, turning the projector screen on. Now we do it all off computers and TVs, but I enjoy that part of the business.”

Yray said he enjoys evaluation and then at Oregon State had the chance to watch them grow. He’s looking to do the same at FSU.

“Evaluation is the favorite thing because at the end of the day,” Yray said, “we’re all judged on this type of player we’re gonna be able to bring in.”