"He was at our place last year, and now he's playing for a national championship," Kelly said as Whyte's eyes grew bigger and bigger. "That could be you, too."
They also aren't shy about selling their staff's coaching pedigree, highlighted by head coach Matt Miller's experience as an assistant for 10 years at Kansas State and his NFL connections thanks to his father's work in the front offices of the Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers. Kelly, a former Garden City player himself who went on to become an All-American linebacker for K-State and an NFL player with the Atlanta Falcons, is also a big draw.
"At the end of the day, we're doing the same things the big guys are," Rodriguez said. "We're developing young men just like they do. We're building relationships just like they do. We're trying to help these kids get a degree and change their lives just like the big guys do."
There is one difference, though.
Convincing a prospect to come to a junior college is one of the most difficult jobs coaches face on the recruiting trail. It's hard because recruits envision themselves playing on national TV or running out of a tunnel in front of 100,000 screaming fans. But suddenly they have to come to grips with the fact those dreams have to be delayed because they may not qualify academically.
Rodriguez and Kelly talked to a number of players over the past two weeks who were still struggling with that realization. Some bought in quickly and understood the opportunity the coaches from Garden City presented them. Others listened attentively but made it clear juco would be a last resort. Others won't even talk to the coaches.
"At junior college, you have to convince a kid to do something he doesn't really want to do," Kelly said. "He's usually down because he didn't make grades. People are probably in his ear, calling him a failure and are really down on him. Now he has to choose a different route. We have to do things a lot of coaches don't have to do because we're their backup plan.
"We have to sell the kid on the dream. It doesn't die just because you don't qualify coming out of high school. We have to show them there's a way to still achieve everything he's ever dreamed of, but you're going to have to do it a different way."
Rodriguez and Kelly say they're not jealous of their colleagues in Division I. Sure, it would be nice to not have to drive a school van across the country to recruit, and who wouldn't turn down an opportunity to fly around in a private jet? But they both know if they recruit well for Garden City then other opportunities could present themselves.
"There's going to be a day where maybe I'm supposed to be on a private plane," Rodriguez said. "If you're in this business for all the wrong reasons, you won't last. You'll think it's work. But recruiting isn't work for most coaches at smaller schools. If you do your job, and work your job that you have, there's a good possibility you'll probably be a guy on a plane one day."