College football programs all over America come rejoicing this week, bringing in the sheaves. They will sign ballplayers who eventually will determine whether they’re bowling in Pasadena or Shreveport or not at all. It’s all a great mystery, this recruiting roundup that gets everyone in a lather. The quality of the talent collection is more abstract than French art. We must depend on the kindness of strangers to determine whether Billy Joe from Pine Bluff is better than Jim Bob from Burkburnett. But 25 years ago this week, I got to peek behind the curtain. In February 1985, then-OU recruiting coordinator Scott Hill invited me along on a five-day recruiting trip with an itinerary straight out of the Amazing Race. Fly to Dallas on a Monday afternoon. Fly to Indianapolis on Tuesday morning. Fly to Newark, N.J., on Wednesday morning. Fly to Seattle on Thursday morning. Fly to Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon. Fly home on Friday morning. A 7,000-mile trip. Six recruits visited. Three sets of parents met. Innumerable impressions formed. Recruiting has changed in a quarter century, starting with, no way is someone letting me — or anyone else — ride shotgun on a recruiting trip. Bob Stoops would sooner turn over his game plan to Mack Brown on OU-Texas Friday than allow a tag-along make a home visit on Jackson Jeffcoat or Blake Bell. But times then were a little simpler. A little more trust. A little less paranoia. A little less media. I’ll leave it to others to decide which way is best. I just know that I learned a lot that week. Rules change and kids change and tactics change. But universal truths remain. Some kids are better equipped than others to handle the pressures of recruiting. Same with parents. Recruiters have to tailor their message to the audience. They must be chameleons, adapting to the environment. That’s not an indictment. That’s what good communicators do. Hill that week visited six players. They included players who never will be forgotten (Jamelle Holieway) and players who never were remembered (Mark White). Players who had strong home bases and players who obviously lived on the brink of oblivion. Hill, then as now, had a winning personality. He eventually would be fired by then-OU president David Swank for NCAA violations, most pertaining to allowing players to call home using university phones. Then Hill spent three months in federal prison after pleading guilty to felony drug charges. But before those troubles, Hill was a dynamic recruiter who related well to players and parents. Long on charm, short on BS. Before the scandals that rocked Hill and the Sooner program in the late ’80s, he seemed destined to be Barry Switzer’s successor. Those qualities were on display on the trip. We went to Lonnie Finch’s middle-class home in Irving, Texas. Finch was a quiet guy who clearly wanted to be a Sooner. His mother was not so sure. Finch and his father sat silent while Finch’s mother grilled Hill. Demanded to know all about OU’s academics and didn’t settle for stock answers. Asked Hill why she shouldn’t assume Oklahoma was all about football and nothing else. I’ve never seen Hill on the defensive like that, before or since, even during his later troubles. But he scrambled to recover. Provided the answers and assurances Finch’s mother sought. By the time we left that house in Irving, she had consented to letting her son sign with the Sooners. The next night, in a dilapidated Indianapolis neighborhood, the tone was completely different. Ken McMichel sat with his family, and Hill held court. No interrogation. No doubt. If Hill had told the McMichel family he was taking their son to the jungles of Nicaragua to join Oliver North’s freedom fighters, they would have nodded with a smile. They didn’t ask questions, I told Hill leaving that home. Sad thing is, he said, they didn’t know what to ask. Lesson learned: some parents are heavily involved, others are not, even when present. Recruiters must adequately judge parents’ influence. The next day, amid the snow of New Jersey, I saw up close recruiting’s gut-punch side. Hill went to visit safety Kenny Sally, a Parade all-American who was solidly in OU’s camp. But Sally’s coach was waiting on Hill to tell him Sally instead was going to South Carolina. The coach said he knew nothing about Oklahoma but knew that Gamecock coach Joe Morrison would take care of Sally. Hill was frustrated, mystified, angry. When he finally got to talk to Sally, the kid averted his eyes. Didn’t want to look at Hill. Talked almost so softly you couldn’t hear. I couldn’t figure out if Sally was just trying to please his high school coach or really did want to go to South Carolina but didn’t want to disappoint Hill. The effect was the same. Hill left the high school and drove to Sally’s ramshackle home in government projects. Sally’s grandmother was there and offered no insight on what was going on with her son. Hill drove off and never saw Kenny Sally again. Lesson learned: parents aren’t always the biggest sway on a kid, and recruiters must ascertain who exactly they must recruit. Thursday was a monitor day. Fly across country to Seattle, check in on all-American safety Scott Thompson, then fly to LA and touch base with Holieway, quarterback extraordinaire. Both were committed to OU, and neither reneged. Thompson’s parents didn’t even live in Washington, having moved away while he lived with a coach to finish out his senior year. Hill basically said hello, how are you, good-bye. Then it was back to the airport to hook up for a late-night dinner with Holieway. He wasn’t wearing a fur coat, like he would in his later Sooner days, but you could tell there was something different about the optioneer who 11 months later would quarterback the Sooners to the national championship. He was savvy. Street smart. Unsheltered. Holieway was his own man, even as a high school senior. Hollywood cool. Slick. Smooth. Obviously had seen and done things never imagined by Lonnie Finch or Kenny McMichel or their mothers. We ate lobster in a West LA restaurant and talked about how the wishbone would return to Norman and how Holieway could lead it. It wasn’t hype. It came to pass. As did myriad troubles for Holieway in his post-OU life. I saw him as recently as last summer. Still street smart. Still ultra-cool. Still unsheltered. I never met Holieway’s mother, but it seems likely she wasn’t anything like Lonnie Finch’s mom. Lesson learned: Most kids don’t fool you. You generally get exactly the kind of people you think you’re getting. Twenty-five recruiting classes of college football have come and gone since February 1985. I don’t really pay attention to the institution anymore. Call me when they suit up on campus. But one week in a winter long ago, thanks to Scott Hill, I peeked behind the curtain and learned a lot about how they bring in the sheaves. Berry Tramel: 405-760-8080; Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.