Rule No. 1: Once you get that foot in the door, that foot better be the bomb diggity, the cat’s freaking pajamas. A decade before Scott Frost rolled out the Kanye West kicks, dude was rocking the socks.
“He was wearing dress shoes with low-cut ankle socks,” Carlos Anderson says of the chic Nebraska football coach. “They were black, low-cut ankle socks. I remember them specifically.”
Before there was Adrian Martinez, there was Anderson, the Missouri Class 6 co-Offensive Player of the Year in 2007 and a tailback at Blue Springs High School, one of Kansas City’s suburban powers and alma mater of Cornhuskers twins Carlos and Khalil Davis.
“[Frost] was the first coach that recruited me that walked into my house and took his shoes right off and put his feet up on my couch,” says the 5-foot-8 Anderson, one of Frost’s first serious gets as a first-time, full-time college assistant coach at the University of Northern Iowa 10 winters ago. “That was unusual for me.”
Pay attention, kids. This is how you recruit on the fly. How you steady a ship when the seas get choppy and sail it back to port in one piece. How to turn a potentially flailing class in late November into a top 25 haul over less than nine weeks.
You put your feet up.
You let ‘em see your socks.
You get real.
“He was just like — even if I didn’t like the head coach, and it wasn’t that I didn’t like [UNI coach Mark] Farley — I could see myself playing for this guy,” says Anderson, who wound up signing with Frost and the Panthers despite overtures from Air Force, SMU, Missouri State, South Dakota State, and a slew of locals. “Even though I knew he was the linebackers coach … Frost was just a super-cool dude.
“And that’s the other thing — I think that’s why I could really trust him so much. You had cheesy coaches show up, they would come in and [you’d] say, ‘Hey, it feels like this guy is probably putting on a show for me as a recruit.’ But for Frost, there was none of that. It was just genuine.”
‘Something that sold me was that he wasn’t a salesman’
Rule No. 2: When in doubt, cut the crapola. His athletic director might have been awestruck at first, but De’Andre Vandevender wasn’t.
The Trenton, Mo., running back/linebacker grew up a major Missouri Tigers fan, so The Flea Kicker — Frost’s desperation touchdown pass in Columbia that went from Shevin Wiggins’ foot to Matt Davison’s fingers to help preserve the Big Red’s 1997 national title march — had been seared into his childhood angst.
“I guess ‘bittersweet’ is the word to describe it. I’m like, ‘Man, this is the culprit of this, this is the cause of the pain, right here,’” laughs Vandevender, another standout Missouri prospect who was part of Frost’s recruiting territory in 2007 and 2008.
“Going through the whole recruiting process, I was interested in Missouri, just because it was in the home state. [But] just because of my size and my athletic ability, they were recruiting guys from a different talent pool. It’s business, and they were going to do what was best for them … I wasn’t resentful.
“I was actually excited, because at the end of the day, [Frost] was very down-to-earth. You can’t say it enough: He’s a great person, he’s a great guy. He speaks the truth. And a lot of coaches that I had interacted with at the Division I or Division II level, they weren’t as authentic as we was. He was just a really down-to-earth person. He was a straight shooter, and [I appreciated] the fact that he was just open and honest with me. He made you feel comfortable.”
Vandevender’s first face-to-face meeting with Frost actually came after a senior football campaign that saw him named Missouri’s Class 2A Offensive Player of the Year, during one of his varsity basketball games.
Trenton — a packing town of roughly 6,000 tucked into the northwest part of the state — doesn’t often get former Nebraska quarterbacks passing through, let alone ones with NFL pedigrees.
“It was kind of funny, because Trenton being a small town, a lot of local people were like, ‘Wow, Scott Frost is here, what’s going on?’” Vandevender recalls. “I remember that there were, at the time, several adults that were a little bit shocked that Scott Frost was in the building watching a basketball game. Especially because I wasn’t gifted in the basketball area at all.”
Hoops was a winter placeholder; Vandevender really excelled on the football field and in track, having run for 2,680 yards and 33 touchdowns while piling up 101 tackles and 4 picks in the fall of 2007.
Frost had told him he would swing by Trenton on his way back north to Cedar Falls. At 6-foot, Vandevender wasn’t crazy tall, but the kid could run and he could fly — having won the state title in the triple jump the spring of his sophomore year. He remembers dropping a pretty nice dunk that night, and that his family was sitting fairly close to Frost when he did.
“We managed to somehow scrape together a win,” says Vandevender, who’d recorded 10 state medals in track and field as a prep. “In a small town, [Frost] was definitely the center of attention. People aren’t used to that in a small town.”
Vandevender remembers a few fans — Trenton High’s AD, who bled Huskers red, being one of them — coming up to the former Cornhuskers signal caller after the contest, asking him to pose for a pictures and sign a few autographs.
“[Frost] didn’t have to, but he took the time to talk to local people and say, ‘Hey,’” Vandevender says. “He’s just an authentic guy. He understands that there are fans out there … that’s who he was. Just a genuine person.”
The two eventually talked for about 40 minutes or so after the game. The job interview after the job interview.
“There are games with other people,” says Vandevender, who signed with UNI over Southern Illinois, South Dakota State, and nearby Northwest Missouri State. “They’ve got an ulterior motive. They don’t always have everybody’s best intentions in mind.
“This guy, he really was a humble, modest person. He was open and honest about the whole process. He’d say, ‘Hey, we’re looking at another person at this time. We’ve already offered you, but we’ve also got to fill our recruiting class. Just know that this is the next person we’re taking.’ He was always communicating with me, always open and honest with the facts.
“Something that sold me was that he wasn’t a salesman. He was just a good person. He sold the program — he sold the program how it was … where I would fit in the program, what I could potentially do and what they were looking for from me. That he spoke to that was really cool … just forthright, open and genuine. That’s what really sold me. Just his personality and the person who he was. Just his core values and beliefs as a person. That’s something that just kind of shines through.
“And you can tell from here — he’s been to Oregon to Central Florida to Nebraska, and it’s something that hasn’t changed, I don’t believe. I haven’t talked to him in a while. I don’t believe he’s probably changed as a person. Everything you see about him is just so genuine, too. A perfect example is he wanted to coach that bowl game with UCF. He could’ve walked out the door and head right to Lincoln. He’s just a genuine person, [and] when he starts something, he finishes it. I think he just does things by the book and just does things the right way. [He’s] a great example for [young] coaches coming up: ‘This is how you should do things.’ I think he does a great job of being a very good example on and off the field for everybody.”
Vandevender says he never brought up Wiggins or Davison, or that the genuine, humble, modest celebrity visiting his hometown had once smashed his Tigers heart into tiny little pieces.
“That was a secret between me and myself, out of respect,” Vandevender laughs. “Because at that point, I was like, ‘I wouldn’t want to say anything to make [him] make me not to want to go there.’ So I kept my mouth shut.
“I didn’t completely forget. [But] once I got to college … I became the biggest UNI fan that I knew of. That’s all I cared about at the time: ‘Hey, we’re on the same ship and we’re going in the same direction.’”
‘He was trying to get the best people’
Rule No. 3: Talk about the games, but don’t play them. Steve Vandevender, De’Andre’s father, had been through the recruiting dance before; daughter Amber was a gifted basketball player who wound up signing at Northwest Missouri State.
“He wasn’t [meeting] us to blow smoke at us,” Steve says. “He was genuinely interested in the family and how [De’Andre] grew up.”
Frost was a different cat: A star who didn’t act like one. A guy in a sizzle profession with a sizzle resume, preaching only about the steak.
“I think that he really took value in the athlete, the recruit, probably as much, or more, than anybody we’d ever been around,” Steve recalls. “You could kind of see that he wasn’t trying to get the best athletes — he was trying to get the best people. And I was really impressed with that.”
Like Frost, De’Andre had come from coaching stock: His mother Susie is a former college basketball player who currently coaches girls hoops at Concordia, Mo., High School.
“That’s something he talked to my dad about, was molding young men. To prepare us not only for football games, but to prepare us for life.”
— Former UNI linebacker/fullback De’Andre Vandevender on Nebraska coach Scott Frost
“That’s something he could relate to her and talk to her on that same level,” De’Andre says. “[He told her], ‘He’s going to be safe. It’s a good place. This a good program. There are good people up there.’ That’s something she was sold on right away.
“[Frost] was never the type of coach that would scream and shout, never the type of coach who would foul-mouth. There were times that just stupid mistakes would be made, [and] he would just remain patient with them. [He] just explained things to people like adults. Not only trying to mold football players, [but] trying to mold young men.
“That’s something he talked to my dad about, was molding young men. To prepare us not only for football games, but to prepare us for life. That was something my parents were sold on. He was worried about us as people, just our day-to-day lives, and school … he said, ‘Hey, we’re not just here to produce football robots. We’re here to mold young men as well.’ My parents were definitely sold on that.”
He sold them on the people. On the staff. On the school. On the community.
“I think for the most part, it’s pretty easy to spot a fraud,” De’Andre says. “A lot of coaches people can sell stuff. He’s very different than a lot of coaches I’ve interacted with. A lot of coaches were more about the sales pitch, to sign and seal the deal.”
‘It’s hard to find somebody who doesn’t have a nice thing to say’
Rule No. 4: Shoes matter, but bridges matter more. Frost had only coached Vandevender and Anderson for roughly a year before heading to Oregon, a move that put him on college football’s coaching fast track.
But they never lost touch. And when the UNI track and field team visited Eugene for a regional meet in the spring of Anderson’s junior year, Frost drove over and met up with Anderson and Jarred Herring, another Panthers football player/sprinter. He then gave them quick a tour of some of the cutting edge toys the Ducks were playing with on the football side.
“He took us down to where the fields are, let us run around a little bit,” Anderson says. “And the locker room, and he showed us the [training] and medical facilities. [We] met [former Oregon tailback LaMichael James, too.”
You put your feet up.
You let ‘em see your socks.
You get real.
“I’m sure you know that from writing this story,” Anderson says, “that it’s hard to find somebody who doesn’t have a nice thing to say.
“If you’re a player, and Frost rubs you the wrong way, you should probably look in the mirror.”
Anderson has worked with four coaches that he says he would still run through a brick wall for, to this day, no questions asked. You can probably guess the guy pushing hardest for No. 1.