Deryk Gilmore knew the idea had worked when he read that a recruit had referred to himself as “Bonecrusher” during an interview. Gilmore, then the director of player development at Oregon, had assigned each of the Ducks’ top recruiting targets for the class of 2004 with a superhero’s nickname. Each player got his own logo, and those logos adorned the mailings Oregon coaches sent each week.
Gilmore one-upped himself the following year. “Players want to be larger than life,” said Gilmore, who now uses his marketing savvy to help his clients as an agent for Priority Sports and Entertainment. “We had to find a way to make them larger than life.”
Gilmore enlisted Oregon students Brett Kautter, Heather Terry and Brian Merrell to create a one-of-a-kind recruiting tool that — while still adhering to NCAA rules — would make recruits think of Oregon as the nation’s coolest program.
So when Oregon coaches identified their top 20 prospects for the class of 2005, Gilmore and his staff designed custom comic books starring each recruit as the hero who leads the Ducks to a national title. Because NCAA rules at the time only allowed programs to send letter-sized, black-and-white pages to recruits, Gilmore sent each prospect one page a week. After a few months, the recruit had the full comic book. And when that recruit came to Eugene for an official visit, he would find the bound, full-color book sitting on a table, possibly alongside a fake Sports Illustrated cover — attached to a real copy of the magazine — featuring the prospect wearing an Oregon uniform and holding the Heisman Trophy.