Alex Rios’ journey is one of passion and perseverance.
Not many people have the opportunity to work at a prominent level for a storied football program at the age of 26, but Alex Rios happens to be one of the few.
At 26, Rios, the Director of Recruiting for the University of Southern California Trojan football team, finds himself in a position countless others of professionals could only dream of.
Although young by industry standards, the road for Rios hasn’t been an easy one.
Playing sports throughout his adolescence led him to the behind the scenes aspect of sports. A three-sport athlete in high school, Rios would carry his playing days with him into college.
“Looking back now at what I’ve learned, I wouldn’t recruit me either,” he joked.
While he would continue to play baseball at Cuesta College, after a year, he quickly realized he wanted to work in the business side of sports.
“I didn’t think playing baseball was meeting all the goals and expectations I had for myself.”
Upon making that decision, he started creating recruiting videos for his best friend, Jon Moscot, a fellow baseball player who ended up transferring to Pepperdine University.
Moscot, who was eventually drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 2012, made his major league debut in 2015.
It was through this experience and being present during Moscot’s recruiting process that Rios found an appreciation for the industry.
“I enjoyed watching the evaluation process of recruiting and how people market and brand athletes.”
After evaluating his options, Rios would not only transfer once, but twice before landing at USC. Wanting a school that would challenge him more, Rios still views the day he got into USC as the best day of his life.
“My mom always told me to be a trailblazer and be someone people follow. There are so many driven and competitive people at this university. I felt I could become something by going there,” he added. “The day I got in was the best day of my life, even to this day.”
The Flyer and the Journey
Rios’ journey with the USC football program started one day when he was studying in the library.
Pinned up on a board was a flyer that read, “If you like being a part of a team, working hard, getting free gear, traveling and eating with the football team, become a student manager.”
Rios interviewed, tried out and by the time he blinked was working for what at the time, was the number one team in the country and their head coach Ed Orgeron.
Rios credits much of his success to the guidance Orgeron, now the head coach at LSU, provided him with.
“He was one of the greatest teachers and coaches I’ve ever worked with. He helped change my life.”
The experience working for Orgeron was a tough but rewarding one as Rios would learn about discipline, what works, expectations and if they aren’t met what that means for the team.
“It got to the point where if we lost a game, I took it personally because I gave it my all,” he said. “I would look back and say, ‘maybe if I’d gotten this equipment out faster, maybe the team could’ve gotten an extra rep.’ I took my job so seriously and still do.”
After several head coaching changes, Rios earned his shot at working in recruiting after waiting outside of Coach Sark’s office for three hours to pitch his services to the new administration.
Even though the Sarkisian didn’t have a position open, he told Rios that he was the most energetic kid he’d ever met and introduced him to the recruiting coordinator, Peter Sirmon.
“Sirmon gave me the task of evaluating the top 100 linebackers in the country, which became my first task working in the recruiting office.”
Almost four years later, he finds himself in love with the team and his job.
“This team means a lot to me even more now because I’ve touched or influenced these players in one way or another to come to USC or had an impact in their recruitment. I’m selling a lifetime decision. I definitely have my dream job at 26.”
Beyond his day-to-day requirements of his job, his favorite part of his role is being able to show recruits and their families what USC has to offer athletically and academically.
“We have elite academics and elite athletics. It’s one of the few schools that is in the running for a national title every year. Another notable thing is that USC is not in a college town. We are in downtown Los Angeles. As a recruit, you can see yourself not only in Hollywood, but in Downtown LA, at the beach, getting internships and jobs because this is a major city and USC is just a part of it. When USC is good, the whole town comes together to root on its home favored USC Trojans.”
With all jobs, their comes a special set of challenges. With recruiting, it is no different.
“From staying on time with the compliance schedule to the spelling and pronunciation of the players and their guests’ names, everything matters when it comes to recruiting. It’s not just me, but our entire team.”
When he first got to USC, mail was the best way to get in touch with a player, now most of it is done digitally through social media.
To garner inspiration, Rios peruses Twitter to see how other schools interact with prospective players. He uses what he finds to help craft new and creative aspects for USC’s recruiting and social media.
While recruiting has evolved a tremendous amount in only the four years that Rios has been in the industry, the major changes have come due in part to NCAA compliance rules.
“We have to be careful with social media. There are some prospective players we can send a tweet to and others we can’t. There are specific rules for direct messaging a player on Twitter. We put our compliance personnel to work to make sure everything we’re doing is permissible so we can show a great track record. We want to make sure we maximize every rule to its potential.”
On top of balancing being a full-time student and a student manager for the football team, Rios had several internships in the media and entertainment industry during his college career. He was a production assistant for the season finale of American Idol’s 10th season along with being a talent assistant at Conan.
“The media/entertainment and the sport industry are the same in that everything needed to be done yesterday. You work with people on time constraints that need tasks done immediately and correctly. I thrive in constant pressure environments.”
In his job at Conan, his task was to welcome the special guests to the show and provide them with anything they needed. This job enhanced his hospitality skills, which helps tremendously in the recruiting business.
“My twitter handle is @TheUSCMayor, which I coined because I have met so many people and have given so many of my world-famous Alex Rios tours of USC that I know almost everyone.”
While it may look like he lives the life, it took an immense amount of work to get to where he is today.
His advice for those wanting to break into the recruiting industry?
Be persistent, go after what you want and do an extraordinary job at doing something ordinary.
“If you don’t know someone in the industry that can vouch for you, it is extremely hard to get in. If you get your foot in the door, make sure people remember you and impress as many people as possible. There’s a way to do things, but there’s also a way to do things right.”
From getting a smoothie for Beyoncé and giving musical guests on Conan tours of the Warner Bros. lot, to helping shape a Rose Bowl winning team he’s had a star-studded career so far.
Luckily for us, he’s just getting started.
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