Luke Walerius was sitting in class at the University of Kentucky with no clear path to fulfilling his dream of a career in football just a few years ago when a phone call changed the course of his life.
Walerius’ playing career had just ended after two seasons at a pair of small colleges due to concussions. He hoped to coach but needed one of those elusive breaks that can launch a career in college athletics.
That opportunity arrived when his cell phone rang that day in the spring of 2013.
Former Kentucky coach Joker Phillips heard of Walerius’ plight through his wife at the time. Leslie Stamatis is a professor at Georgetown College, where Walerius finished his career. Phillips offered Walerius the opportunity to work a football camp with him.
“Looking back, it was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Walerius said.
The connections Walerius built at that camp helped him work his way into the recruiting industry and find a home at North Texas.
UNT coach Seth Littrell has made a series of critical moves since arriving at the school before the 2016 season, including revamping the program’s recruiting staff. Hiring a pair of people who took the long route to working in college football ranks among the best.
Littrell hired Walerius as his director of football in January of 2018 and added Shelby McIntyre, a former track athlete at Boise State, as his coordinator of football recruiting operations a few months later.
The pair has played a key role in UNT recruiting at an unprecedented level the last two years. The Mean Green signed the fourth ranked recruiting class among Conference USA schools in 247Sports’ rankings in 2019 and are in contention to land the league’s top class for 2020.
The efforts of Walerius and McIntyre are a big reason UNT is expected to play in a bowl game for a fourth straight season this fall and continue its rise in the seasons to come.
“Luke has been huge for our program,” Littrell said. “Recruiting is the lifeblood of our program. He has done a great job with our staff and me. He keeps us organized and makes sure we target the right kids.”
That’s where McIntyre comes in.
One of the newest members of UNT’s staff handles the details of campus visits and events that help the program’s coaches convince recruits to continue their careers with the Mean Green.
“There is a certain culture we want recruits to see when they step on campus,” Littrell said. “It’s not just about football. It’s also about development, culture and making sure recruits understand we are going to do everything necessary to give them the resources to be successful.
“Shelby understands our culture and who we are. She has done a great job.”
Turning the tide in recruiting
UNT’s program was coming off a tough 1-11 campaign when Littrell arrived at UNT ahead of the 2016 season.
The Mean Green’s program had several issues to address. Recruiting was among the most glaring and took the most time to sort through.
UNT didn’t finish higher than sixth in 247Sports’ rankings of C-USA’s recruiting classes in the three seasons before Littrell’s arrival. The Mean Green didn’t fare any better in his first two seasons, landing at eighth and 11th.
Littrell brought on Walerius and McIntyre to help change UNT’s fortunes.
Littrell stresses the importance of culture in every aspect of his program and has seen a change in the way UNT approaches recruiting.
“The hardest thing about recruiting is when spring practice and the season get going,” Littrell said. “It’s easy to be all about ball. You need someone to hold everyone accountable in recruiting as well.
“Luke has done a great job of that.”
McIntyre also plays a role. She guides players and their families on campus tours throughout the year and organizes barbecues and other functions.
Littrell says both Walerius and McIntyre have a passion for what they do and are a great fit for UNT’s program.
Littrell valued Walerius so highly that he gave him the title chief of staff in the offseason.
That move and the comfort level both Walerius and McIntyre have found at UNT has helped keep them in place.
Littrell said he had to fend off multiple programs that tried to hire Walerius in the offseason.
“It’s a cool culture,” McIntyre said of the allure of working for UNT. “Everyone comes to work with the same goal – to win games and sign the best recruiting class we can. We have a great time together every day. It’s a fun place to be.”
The long journey to UNT
Both Walerius and McIntyre bring a unique perspective to UNT’s football program because of their backgrounds.
Walerius played at Thomas More and Georgetown before giving up football and enrolling at Kentucky. The former offensive lineman paid his dues over the course of years just to have a chance to work in college football. His experience working a camp with Phillips at the age of 19 was just one step in the process.
Walerius met Kyle Krantz at the camp. Krantz, who is now an assistant at South Carolina, had a friend who worked in Kentucky’s recruiting office and helped Walerius secure an interview for a volunteer position. Walerius landed the job that was far from glamorous.
“The first five or six months all I did was stuff envelopes, sort through transcripts and take care of the work no one else wanted to do,” Walerius said. “I kept getting more and more responsibilities after proving I could do things quickly and efficiently.”
Walerius’ work ethic caught the eye of Tommy Mainord. UNT’s associate head coach was an assistant at Kentucky at the time and recruited four areas of the country – Texas, the Carolinas, South Florida and a large swath of the East Coast.
“Tommy took me under his wing,” Walerius said. “I helped him recruit and was a student coach for him working with wide receivers.”
Mainord joined Littrell’s staff when he took over at UNT and recommended his new boss hire Walerius a few months later.
McIntyre also has an extensive background in athletics. She’s the daughter of a high school football coach.
“I loved athletics growing up and played a lot of different sports,” McIntyre said. “I was best at track but loved being around football.”
McIntyre ran the distance events in track and competed in cross country at Boise State. Like Walerius, her college career was cut short. A pair of stress fractures forced her to give up running by early in her junior season.
McIntyre explored a few avenues to work in the athletic department at Boise State. She ended up in the football team’s recruiting office and fell in love with the work.
McInyre applied for jobs at Boise and UNT when she graduated and was offered both.
“I felt like this was a better fit,” McIntyre said of UNT. “I was at Boise for six years and thought I would grow seeing a different program. Boise was all I knew. It was a great decision.”
The task at hand
Walerius and McIntyre have helped solidify UNT’s approach to recruiting during their short time at the school.
All programs have parameters of what they are looking for in players when it comes to talent and academic prowess.
Walerius spends his time making sure the athletes UNT pursues also fit the cultural values Littrell has established. UNT’s coach wants his players to be selfless, tough and disciplined.
Walerius wants players who are good teammates and love the game as well. He sees plenty of players who enjoy being recruited more than the work that goes into being a great player.
UNT’s coaches are upfront about their expectations.
“What our staff does a great job of is being honest with kids,” Walerius said. “That helps you to avoid taking kids who don’t pan out. If you are honest with a kid and they still respect you, then you are going to be able to coach them hard.”
Walerius often sits in his office deep into the night watching film and researching players to find ones who fit UNT’s tight parameters.
That work paid off in the days leading up to signing day in 2018. Atascocita safety Alex Morris was offered a scholarship by several prominent programs early in his recruiting process, including Louisville and Indiana.
Walerius discovered the Morris hadn’t committed to anyone just days before national signing day and worked quickly to put UNT in the race to sign him. Morris committed to UNT and was the top-rated player in the Mean Green’s 2018 signing class.
“It’s crazy how many good players there are in Texas and how many of them get overlooked,” Walerius said. “When it gets to the end, you can find kids who had offers and didn’t commit anywhere. A lot of times the schools that offered them filled their scholarships. You never close the door on a kid.”
McIntyre excels at closing the deal when UNT does find a player the staff wants. She studied what the university has to offer after joining the staff and spends her days extolling those virtues to recruits and their parents.
UNT’s size as an institution is a big part of McIntyre’s pitch. She hasn’t spent time with a single recruit who was interested in an academic program UNT doesn’t offer. Being a female also helps her connect with recruits’ mothers.
“I like being around people and talking to families,” McIntyre said. “We have a great thing going with coach Littrell here. It’s easy to sit in front of a family and tell them that we are going to take care of their kids and that we have a great culture. I enjoy making people excited about football and UNT.”
Responding to UNT message
Several of the recruits who have committed to UNT over the last two years have said Walerius and McIntyre played a role in their decision.
Offensive lineman Dane Jackson has known Walerius since his days as an assistant at Kentucky, where his older brother, Drake Jackson, was a star player.
That relationship helped UNT land Jackson.
“He’s young and energetic,” Jackson said of Walerius. “He has worked his way up in college football and is a great person. He’s a people person who is easy to talk to.”
Walerius is also connecting to players he recently met, including Jamal Ligon, a defensive lineman from Tyler who committed to UNT in March.
“Coach Walerius is so upbeat,” Ligon said. “He’s the type of person who can get you going. He’s also the type of guy you can have an instant connection with.”
UNT’s recruits have also enjoyed their interactions with McIntyre.
“She took us around campus, which was awesome,” said Jett Duncan, an offensive lineman from The Woodlands who committed to UNT in April.
Landing a player like Duncan is the most rewarding aspect of working in recruiting for Walerius and McIntyre.
Both traveled a long road to become important contributors to UNT’s success in recruiting that bodes well for the future.
“You don’t really judge a class until two or three years down the road, but we are competing for kids,” Walerius said. “We’re not backing down. Most of the time when other schools want your kids they are probably pretty good.”