The Coach's Last Word
The ten steps every college football prospect should take for successful recruiting outcomes
In this final section, we lay out ten steps you can take to set yourself up for a successful recruiting process. While there is no ideal time every athlete should start the process, there are things that serious athletes can do as early as freshman year that will help them later on in the recruiting process. That said, some of the steps we lay out here are steps you’d take once you have varsity film.
1. Define Your Goals
To start the process, you should ask yourself some key questions. What are your goals for college? Are you interested in going to college? Would you like to play varsity football in college? Or are intramurals or club football more your speed?
As far as your choice of college goes, is playing football at the highest level possible your primary goal? Do you aspire to play in the NFL? Or is it more important to you to attend an academically strong school and football is a secondary consideration? Would you like to go to a college close to home, or are you open to schools further away?
There are financial questions as well, and these require an open discussion between an athlete and his parents. Do you and your family have the means to pay the full cost of attending college? The cost of college has steadily increased for decades. You can expect to pay $20,000 or more per year for a typical state school in your home state, and up to $70,000 per year for a private school or state school in another state? Multiply those numbers by four years to get a rough idea of the cost of a degree.
Do you have outstanding grades and SAT scores? Some schools offer merit aid for applicants with top academic stats. Many more offer need-based financial aid to students who otherwise could not afford the college. To get a pretty good idea of what a particular school will charge you, you can enter a few data points about your family’s financial situation into the school’s financial aid estimator (which every school in the US is required by law to make available on their website), and it will spit out an estimated cost of attendance specific to your situation.
Pursuing an athletic scholarship is another option to make college more affordable. NCAA Divisions I and II as well as NAIA schools offer scholarships to football players recruited to play for their teams. Scholarships come with a commitment to play football and generally train with the team more or less year-round, while also attending school as a full-time student - no small feat!
There are no correct answers to these questions. Each athlete’s goals are unique. Thinking through these questions and clarifying your goals will help you enter the recruiting process with a clear purpose and improve the chances of generating a result you will be happy with.
2. Optimize Your Hudl Account
Hudl is your biggest exposure vehicle. College coaches use Hudl to access all the data and film they need to evaluate, track and follow athletes. It is the largest hub of data on high school football players.
Your first step with Hudl is to create your profile. Fill in relevant information if it hasn’t yet been automatically filled in by your school. As a bare minimum, make sure your height and weight are listed, no matter how much you feel they might not represent who you are as a player. You cannot hide from height and weight.
Beyond that, be judicious about what physical stats you include in your profile. The general rule of thumb is, if you have impressive numbers, include them. If you don’t, leave them out. Most young athletes don’t have impressive numbers. If your physical stats don’t shine, let the coaches fall in love with your film instead. At the end of the day, the most important metric a coach cares about is film. Period.
Make sure your highlight tape is “pinned” to the top of your profile. Whether a college coach searches your high school to watch film or searches your name specifically because it was passed to him as someone to look at, you can be sure of one thing: he has very limited time. Don’t waste his time by making him search your profile for your highlight film. Pinning your video will make it the first video anyone who visits your profile will see.
3. Optimize Your Highlight Tape
Hudl has terrific tools to enable athletes to make professional-quality highlight tapes on their own. Use them. Watch your games regularly. Save plays that showcase your strengths. Assemble them into a highlight tape.
Here are a few tips on creating a highlight tape that can do the heavy lifting for you.
Length - A good length is 3-5 minutes. Most coaches will not watch more than 5 minutes, so make that your maximum. If you’re at 5 minutes and you have another great play you want to add, take a play out. If you don’t have enough great plays to get to 5 minutes, don’t pad with mediocre plays. Make this your best highlights.
Play Order - Make sure your best play is first on the tape. Your best five plays should be the first five. A coach or manager who’s screening hundreds or thousands of athletes’ film has very little time to watch any one athlete. If you haven’t convinced him in the first five plays that he needs to take a closer look at you, he’s on to the next player. I can not tell you how many times we see the best plays are buried in the middle.
Camera Angles - If your school records games from multiple camera angles, then ensure you have the best camera angle for your highlight. Generally speaking, for QB, RB, WR, LB, the ideal angle is sideline view camera angle. For OL, DL, K, P, LS, the back view camera angle usually works best.
Camera Angles: Rear view (top image) is best forOL, DL, K, P, LS. Sideline view (bottom image) works best for QB, RB, WR, LB.
Mix of Plays - Our advice here is pretty simple: get your biggest WOW plays in there. You might be thinking you want a mix of pass vs run plays, or blocking vs running. Yes, versatility is nice. But if you have to drop a bigger WOW play in order to show your versatility, don’t do it.
Multiple Positions - If you play multiple positions, the same logic applies. Don’t worry too much about showing an equal number of clips for each position, or two minutes of position A before showing position B. Get your best clips in there and get the very best up front. Period. The coaches want to see what you can do. Show them.
4. Refresh Your Hudl Profile Regularly
Keep your highlight video up to day! By all means, do not wait until the end of the season to make your highlight tape. Coaches check highlight tape regularly throughout season. Grab the best clips from each new game and get them in your highlight reel, replacing less impressive plays. Reorganize whenever necessary to keep your top five plays up front.
We sometimes hear from athletes that their coach does not want them making highlight tapes during season because it allows other teams to see their plays. First of all, this policy hurts you as a player - college coaches want to see your very latest highlights. Second, since schools share Hudl tape with each other all the time, its highly unlikely anything is truly hidden.
It’s also important to keep your physical stats updated as well. Have you gained ten pounds in the last couple months? Update your profile and make sure coaches have your latest stats.
5. Take a Mature Approach to Social Media
College coaches use social media as a tool to get a glimpse of you as a person. Employers do the same as they evaluate prospective employees. Many of us are on social media every day, talking with friends and sharing our opinions. And all of it is out in the public for anyone - including college coaches - to see.
Needless to say, don't ruin opportunities with you behavior on social media. One poor decision can cost you a scholarship.
Think about how your behavior on social media conveys about you? Would you be a good teammate. A positive influence on the team? Do you show leadership qualities?
Keep your Twitter profile simple and professional. Include your real name, as it would appear on transcripts, either in the player’s @ or in the Twitter name. If you have a nickname, put it in the bio. Your goal is to make it as easy as possible for coaches to find it - they aren’t going to take a lot of time searching for you. Other things to include - your class year, position, location, and a link to your highlight tape.
If you have been offered a scholarship, pin a tweet that states the offer. It communicates to coaches that you can play at the next level and they should take a look at you
6. Get an Objective Evaluation
One of the most important things you can do to improve your chances of playing at the next level is to get an objective evaluation from a third party, ideally an experienced college coach. This is something that was next to impossible just a few years ago, but now with virtually all games filmed digitally, highlight tapes easily created, and video easily shared, it’s become quite doable.
What makes this so valuable is that it gives you a kind of peak behind closed doors of the college athletic department. It allows you to get a very good idea of what college coaches who you might want to play for are likely to think of your game, what your strengths and weaknesses are. It helps you calibrate your target school list to the right level of play.
The insights that come out of a high quality evaluation arm an athlete with a wealth of knowledge about what college level of play they’re most likely to have the greatest success targeting, where (and how) they can improve their game to increase their chances of getting recruited at the target level. Ultimately this saves the athlete and their family time and money by helping them avoid spending hundreds of dollars attending the wrong camps or wasting dozens of hours on outreach activities mismatched to the athlete’s abilities.
7. Create an Outreach List
A professional coach’s evaluation of where you stand based on your film and stats, when mapped to your personal college goals (discussed in step 1 above), begins to shed light on where your opportunities to play lay.
If you are looking to play football at the highest level possible, your evaluation will give you a sense of what that level might be. At AthleticOutlook, we give most players a suggested target range based on their evaluation, such as high D-II to low D-1 FCS, and we give our athletes an idea of specific things they can do in training to move up through that range, and in some cases beyond it.
On the other hand, you have the grades and aspire to attend a top academic school, you might look at the Ivy League (D1 FCS) or one of the D-III conferences known for top academic schools and highly competitive football programs, like the NESCAC, UAA, or Centennial Conference.
We usually suggest building out a fairly broad list, and working backward from there as you start having dialogs with coaches. As you build that list, in addition to level of play and academic quality, think about what else is important to you about your college experience. Is it important to you to be close to home, or are you open to attending college further from home?
Many big name BCS schools, such as Stanford, Notre Dame, Duke, and USC, recruit nationally. This is also
the case with academically highly regarded colleges such as those in the Ivy League, NESCAC, UAA, and Centennial conferences. However, the vast majority of colleges across all levels of the NCAA do most of their recruiting relatively close to home.
Do you want a big state school, or a smaller private school? Ohio State has 42,000 undergraduate students, while Notre Dame has 8,500 and Amherst has 1,800. Do you like the idea of being in an urban area, like UCLA or Portland State, or small college town, like University of Michigan or UC Davis?
There are many excellent books and websites available for researching colleges. Barrons Profiles of American Colleges provides basic data on virtually every school in the country. Princeton Review Best 382 Colleges offers data along with student reviews. An exceptionally helpful online resource rich with data and student reviews is Niche.com.
As you work through the targeting, the goal is to narrow the aperture of options to a small set that fits the level of play suggested by an objective evaluation, your football and academic goals, and your financial situation. At AthleticOutlook, our coaches work with our athletes and families to pull these inputs together into a target list of schools and a personal recruiting roadmap. However you do it, your end goal here is a narrowed list and an actionable plan.
This will save time and money, and allow you to focus more effort on the schools where you’re most likely to have a successful outcome - a self-reinforcing effect.
8. Get Your Coach Involved
Your high-school coach knows you well. If you’re thinking about playing in college, he most likely has a high opinion of your abilities. You should leverage that.
Talk to your coach about your goals. You might be surprised to hear how eager he is to help you. You might not have realized he has college coaches he has relationships with and whose programs he thinks you are a good fit for. Many coaches would be happy to contact a coach they know on a player’s behalf.
In such a case, he’s usually doing two people a favor you (by introducing you to a potential college coach), and his friend the coach (by introducing him to a prospect that could benefit his team). And if your coach puts in a good word for you, that is better than you approaching that coach cold.
Ask your coach if he would be willing to be a reference for you. Many college coaches don’t just want to know how you play, but are also interested in what kind of teammate you are. Are you a hard worker? Are you a natural leader? What are you like on the bench? Are you respected by your teammates? Are you coachable? It can help a great deal to have your coach be able to provide this kind of background to prospective college coaches.
Your high school coach is an important asset in your recruiting journey. But don’t make the mistake of over-relying on him. It is not his job to get you a scholarship. That is up to you
9. Email College Coaches
Coaches get a lot of email from high school athletes. A typical D-I FCS college position coach can get dozens of emails a day from athletes, and this number can spike to a couple hundred a day in the run-up to a camp. The deluge is even worse for FBS schools. It can be a challenge for even the best intentioned coaches to read through that kind of email volume.
Your goal is to get the coach to watch your highlight film. And you want to make it as easy as possible for the coach to get the information that will make him want to watch that film.
Make it personal. Introduce yourself. Give some of the basic information - your high school, graduation year, position, height, weight, GPA. Include your Include a couple of your most impressive individual and/or team accomplishments. If others school are recruiting you, it usually helps to mention that. Don’t go overboard though. You are selling yourself, but you don’t want to cross the line and list every little accomplishment. Keep it brief and impactful.
Avoid anything that might make your email look like SPAM. Things like photos in the emails, or a paid service emailing the coach on your behalf can look like SPAM to a coach scanning hundreds of emails in his inbox. Make it easy by directing coaches to your Hudl profile and not other websites; nearly all coaches are familiar with Hudl and use it for evaluating and tracking athletes.
See the example email to the left. You may choose to emphasise different accomplishments. You may decide your combine numbers are stellar and belong in here. If your dad or sibling went to Cornell, mention that. Or you may have some other genuine special interest in the school worth mentioning.
Note the academic info is toward the bottom. This is intentional. As a coach I am first and foremost interested in you as a football player, and if I like what I see, I will check to see if the academics are in the range. This is true all the way to the Ivy League.
Once you have your email composed, have a teacher, friend or parent read over it prior to sending. You want to put your best foot forward. Once you have the email the way you want it, you can use it as a baseline, and just make minor changes to send to other schools on your target list.
It’s important to find out which coach at the school is the one you should be emailing. Many schools delegate recruiting to one or more coaches, and larger programs will divide up the recruiting responsibilities by region of the country. You can find out who you should be emailing on the website of the school’s football program. In the Brown University example below, if I lived in Nevada, I would send my email to Coach Michael Kelleher.
It’s important to go get this contact info yourself as opposed to relying on third-party sources. This information changes often - college coaching has a very high job turnover rate. With Google, it only takes a few minutes to find the current coach on the school’s website.
Once you start a dialog with a coach, stay in touch. Keep him informed of changes - a GPA change, a new SAT score, an all-state honor, etc. When we work with athletes, we help them put together a table of their target schools, listing the coach and his email for each school, and have them use this to track dialogs with each school, remind them to send updates, etc.
10. Improve Your Game
Here we have probably the most important step of all. Be the best player you can be. And get your best play on tape.
One thing we often hear from athletes who want to play in college is, “can you help me get more exposure?” What they really should be asking is, “Can you help me get better?”
Whether you’re a freshman trying to make the team, or a senior heading into your final high school season, your primary concern through the recruiting process should be improving your game. Take advantage of whatever resources you have available. Seek the advice of great coaches. Work hard. Train smart.
We created AthleticOutlook because while there were dozens of college recruiting exposure services out there, none of them was taking a holistic approach to recruiting or giving athletes what they really needed, which meant families were targeting the wrong schools and spending on the wrong things. We knew that to help athletes succeed at getting to play at the next level, they need sound guidance, an objective evaluation to know where they stand, and expert coaching to help them understand what they can do to get better.
We hope you’ve found this guide valuable. As we said at the outset, we recognize that every athlete’s and family’s situation is unique, and you may have additional questions. We would love to hear from you. Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line at info@AthleticOutlook.com. We respond to all inquiries!
Best of luck in your athletic endeavors!
The AthleticOutlook Coaches
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