About 10 years ago Mount Union’s Larry Kehres gave a 23-year-old assistant coach a school credit card and sent him to Florida with one directive — bring back some recruits.
Jason Candle delivered.
“Holy cow, it was almost like he was picking strawberries he was doing so good,” Kehres, the retired legendary coach, said.
Candle, who is entering his third season as University of Toledo’s offensive coordinator, still enjoys fruitful trips to the Sunshine State, along with virtually anywhere else he steps foot on the recruiting trail. Last week Toledo signed five from Florida whom Candle coaxed into venturing north and 10 players overall fleeced by the coaching staff’s top salesman.
“I learned from Larry Kehres if you’re going to be a great recruiter you really have to work at it,” Candle said. “He made it very clear to us as young coaches if you couldn’t recruit you wouldn’t survive very long in this business.”
Cutting his coaching teeth at his alma mater, Candle flew to Florida each year for recruiting fairs, meeting with college hopefuls passed over by Division I programs. Mount Union, which won the D-III national title six of seven seasons, had to that point not tapped into Florida’s vast pipelines. Candle corralled undiscovered Miami-area talents like Pierre Garcon, now a star receiver with the NFL’s Washington Redskins. He struck relationships with high school coaches like Plant’s Robert Weiner, who in the past year sent Candle and Toledo two of his own — quarterback Phillip Ely and cornerback Bernard Rogers.
Candle was the point man in acquiring 26 of Toledo’s 74 additions the past three years, a staggering bite that does not even address the level of talent he’s attracting. Half of his recruits — 13 — received three stars by Rivals.com.
His penchant for closing deals belies his reserved nature, dispelling the myth that only bombastic, sweet talkers are left standing amid the heat of an intense battle. Sincerity is Candle’s best quality, said Kehres, who added, “sincerity doesn’t have to be loud or smooth.”
“He might not blow you away walking through the door, but as he continues to build a relationship it’s something kids appreciate,” said Weiner, whose Plant team has won four state titles in eight years. “There’s some depth there.”
Candle, who coached receivers the past five seasons, is transitioning to quarterbacks coach, a shake-up the university is soon expected to announce. Former Wyoming receivers coach Derek Sage has been hired to fit the same role at Toledo, allowing Candle to focus his game day efforts on one player instead of four or five.
Along the way Candle has made inroads in western Pennsylvania, where he grabbed six recruits in 2012, as well as the talent-rich Washington D.C. area that spawned Alonzo Russell, a budding star receiver.
Seven of Toledo’s top nine recruits this year are Candle kids, including three-star Lima Central Catholic receiver Mykale Rogers, whom Rivals gave a class-best 5.6 rating. Candle’s 11th hour delivering of Lakes Wales, Fla. teammates Dav’ion Riley and Dedric Brinson infused the class with two BCS-caliber players.
Other notable Rockets he procured include Bernard Reedy, Dwight Macon, Treyvon Hester, Damion Jones-Moore, and Allen Covington.
“He’s a guy that does three things really well,” Toledo coach Matt Campbell said. “He does a great job developing relationships. Guys love playing for Jason, guys like being around Jason. He’s also extremely thorough. And he has a history of success.”
Campbell joked on signing day that Candle “finally recruited himself a fiance.” Candle found Nicole Hackbarth in California and convinced her to move to Ohio. Their signing day is in June.
“She didn’t know what a Level 3 snow emergency was,” Candle said. “But she certainly found out.”
Kehres soon will meet Candle’s prized acquisition.
“I don’t know if she can outrank Garcon in my book,” he said.