By Brian Robin
It's 8 a.m. and George Kuntz's phone is buzzing. He could see what this is about, but he knows already. Or it's 10 p.m. and his e-mail in-box just pinged with another incoming message. One he won't even have to open up to know what it's about.
Never mind that Kuntz, who just wrapped up his fifth season as Cal State Fullerton's head men's soccer coach, doesn't have his e-mail on the CSF website. He knows too many people from a 30-year career coaching youth and collegiate soccer to be incommunicado and those people know where the soccer gems that somehow eluded Kuntz's ever-present eyes are hiding.
And they're anything but shy in advertising the fact.
"There's never a time when you're not recruiting. I'll get a call at 8 a.m. or at 10 p.m., or a message through social media, text, e-mail, phone — you name it," he said. "People contact us from everywhere and everyone has someone for us. The recruiting never stops. You're either recruiting for this year or next year.
"There's a tournament every weekend in Southern California, a high school game, an academy. There's something going on all the time."
Recruiting is the choose-your-cliche: lifeblood, mother's milk, oxygen of every college program. But outside of the main revenue sports of football and men's basketball — or at CSUF, baseball — it is often a misunderstood process that is taken for granted.
Yes, Kuntz looks for the four elements every soccer coach seeks: tactical ability, mental fortitude, sheer physical ability, in terms of strength, speed, size, etc. and technical ability. But he also looks for character: how will that player subvert their ego for the common good.
"Character makes a big difference now," he said.
By every measure, Kuntz has been successful navigating the club tournaments, academies and endless calls/e-mails/texts/social media shout-outs that define his recruiting life. In a 24-year career in the conference: 19 at UC Irvine, the last five at CSUF, Kuntz has won five Big West regular season titles and seven conference tournaments, including three of the last five. He is a three-time Big West Coach of the Year and a two-time NSCAA/Adidas Far West Region Coach of the Year.
Even with that resume, Kuntz acknowledges recruiting is also a process that is byzantine and frustrating by its very nature, where the ones who got away tend to hit you more than the ones you corral and where the process these days often involves more what-can-you-give-me than thank-you-for-helping-me-get-an-education. At the same time, he sees it as not only more necessary element than necessary evil, but as a life-changing element not only for him, but the recruits who successfully navigate the gauntlet from unheralded soccer player to Division I athlete.
Players like Nicolo D'Amato, who was headed to a Division II school. Everyone told Kuntz that D'Amato was too slow and too small to play Division I soccer, especially playing a physically demanding position like holding midfielder. Kuntz ignored the conventional wisdom, brought D'Amato to Fullerton and watched as D'Amato started by his sophomore year, donned the captain's armband his junior year and led the Titans to three Big West Conference titles in his four years.
Oh, and he was the first CSUF athlete to win the Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award in back-to-back years (2016 and 2017) and the Big West Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2017.
Kuntz doesn't even have to look to Germany for another story. He merely needs to look into the next office, where assistant coach George Reyes serves as a reminder of what persistence and an emphasis on character can produce. Reyes wasn't going to college before heading to Yavapai JC in Arizona, before hurting his knee and returning to California, where Kuntz discovered him working in food service at UC Irvine.
Reyes walked on at UCI and became a starter. This led to a master's at CSUF, where he parlayed a volunteer coaching job into a full-time assistant's gig.
"I could talk to you for 10 hours about stories like this," Kuntz said. "We used to go into Santa Ana, to Willard Junior High, which is 96 percent Hispanic and I'd ask if anyone has been to Irvine. They knew where it was, but none of them had been there. Our outreach is for kids to know they have an opportunity get out and use soccer as a vehicle to an education and a better life.
"That's what's rewarding. I don't know what brings more goosebumps: winning a Big West Championship or watching someone you recruited graduate. Then, they write you a note and you have to close the door because you start to tear up."