Five Recruiting Misconceptions
As a community of coaches with combined coaching experience of over a hundred years, we have seen a wide range of mistakes athletes and parents make as they find their way through the labyrinth of college football recruiting. Sometimes they result in wasted money. Other times they can cost an athlete a scholarship, or result in a missed opportunity to play at a first choice school. In the worst case scenarios, a promising, scholarship-worthy recruit winds up with no offer to play college ball.
Many of these mistakes fall into patterns, spawned by a few misconceptions of how the college recruiting process really works. Here are our top five misconceptions. In each case, we provide more detail and advice later in the guide.
Misconception #1: The recruiting process starts freshman year
We normally see recruiting services pushing their “exposure” services to parents and athletes freshman year or earlier.
The truth is, that is simply not helpful in football.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t educate yourself. It’s never too early to start learning how the process works. The smarter you are going into the process, the better the outcomes will be - guaranteed.
But we see thousands of parents sending their freshman or sophomore sons to Florida, Ohio State, and Stanford camps - for several hundred dollars, or more if there are travel expenses - with the belief that this is necessity. It is not.
The reality is college coaches only care about varsity film. This means the football recruiting process almost always starts in the athlete’s junior year.
The advice we give freshmen and sophomores is simple: learn how the process works, and focus on being the best you can be. Invest your time in improving your personal performance. If you do this, when the time comes, your film will speak for itself.
When we work with high school freshman and sophomores who want to get better faster than the next guy, we emphasize three things. The first is dedication. If you’re not committed to getting better or put in the time and effort required of pushing your performance, you don’t have what it takes to play at the college level.
But dedication alone is not enough. We want our younger athletes to have an objective picture of their strengths and weaknesses, so they have some idea of where they stand against a national standard. Sometimes, just identifying those strengths and weaknesses is enough to unlock a performance breakthrough. The third, and usually most important, piece is great coaching. Coaching is an accelerator to development. When an athlete gets high-level one-on-one coaching, they learn the little things they need to do differently to get better faster. Coaching from a high-caliber coach who has dedicated his life to developing high-performance athletes and teams - can bring a raw talent to a whole new level. It can take a average talent and compete with great talent by leveraging strengths and compensating for weaknesses.
Misconception #2: If I’m good enough, my grades won’t matter
The truth is, grades are nearly always very important. In many cases, they are the difference between getting a scholarship and not.
Athletes need to care as much about their performance in the classroom as their performance on the field. Coaches are not interested in athletes who don’t show hard work in the classroom. And they frankly don’t have time to manage the issues that come up with athletes who aren’t prepared to succeed with the academic workload in college.
In most cases, you should aim for a 3.0 or higher if you want to play in college, and the higher it is, the more options you are likely to have. A high GPA can open up academic merit scholarships to supplement any athletic scholarship money. Since at Division-III level there are not athletic scholarships, an academic merit scholarship, enabled by a strong GPA, could mean the difference between getting to play varsity ball at your choice of college or not.
Misconception #3: If I don't get a scholarship, I can't play in college
One option many athletes overlook - or don't consider altogether - is joining a collegiate team as a "walk-on".
A walk-on is a player is not offered a scholarship up front, but is given a chance to prove that they deserve a spot on the roster spot through an extended try-out. This is usually a formal walk-on tryout during pre-season, but it could also include participation off-season weightlifting and conditioning with the team.
Many schools designate some players "preferred walk-ons". These players are guaranteed a roster spot going into camp, just without a scholarship to accompany it. For athletes who can afford to attend the college, or have other scholarships such as academic or service scholarships, this can be a terrific way to continue to enjoy playing competitive football during college.
And the bonus is, a walk-on can still earn a partial- or full-ride scholarship by proving himself on the field through hard work, dedication, and performance. There are countless stories and many great YouTube videos of walk-ons being awarded scholarships in front of their teams and families.
The key point here is this: not getting a scholarship is rarely a good reason to miss out on the opportunity to play college football. Try out. You might find out you’re good enough to play for the team after all. And may even earn a scholarship.
Misconception #4: If I can’t play D1, it’s not worth playing college football
We often see athletes and even some parents brush aside thoughts of playing at the D2 or D3 level, but this is a big mistake.
Sure, we all know the big name football schools - Michigan, Notre Dame, Stanford, USC, Ohio State, Alabama, and so on. We’d be kidding ourselves if we said we haven’t dreamt of playing for one of these teams.
The fact is there are numerous outstanding football programs at all levels of the NCAA.
In all, there are some 670 college football programs across the NCAA divisions, and more in the NAIA.
D1 (FBS) - 129 schools
D1 (FCS) - 125 schools
D2 - 169 schools
D3 - 249 schools
There are competitive conferences, traditional rivalries, and exciting post-season national tournaments in each division.
Many of the NFL’s greats over the years have come out of lesser known programs in the lower divisions of the NCAA. Ben Rothlisberger played for Miami of Ohio before anyone had heard of it, Damon Harrison played for the little-known William Penn Statesmen (DII), and Tony Romo played for Eastern Illinois before going on to become the all-time leading passer for the Dallas Cowboys.
Not everyone will land on an FBS team. If you truly love the game and want to continue to enjoy playing at a high level, you should consider all your options. It could be a lower NCAA division is the best place to help you develop to be your best, or allow you to get the most enjoyment out of your college football experience.
Misconception #5: I can play; it’s exposure with college coaches that I need
This has to be the single biggest misconception we see with high school athletes and their families. And perhaps the single biggest area of misplaced investment of time and resources. This issue is so big, we devote an entire chapter of this recruiting guide to exposure.
Three points we’ll make right here.
One of the best things an athlete can do to get their recruiting process started on the right foot is to get an evaluation by an objective third party. At AthleticOutlook, when we work with our athletes, we use that evaluation to generate a targeted list of schools based on academic interests or geographic location or both, and then give the athlete film-based football coaching to improve elements of their game they may not be aware can make the difference.