Even though he’d never set foot on a Friday night football field before last fall, Theo Rich satisfied his college recruiters’ top two requirements. As a result, the senior at Portal High in Bulloch County will sign a football scholarship with North Carolina State University on Wednesday.
“The first two questions you get are how big is he and how are his grades?” Darby Chaney, an analyst with the National Prep Network, a service that helps promote high school players to colleges.
Since he didn’t play until his senior year — by that time most top prospects already have scholarship offers in hand — Rich wasn’t highly recruited. But he’d been steered in the right direction by a teammate’s parent and had a highlight tape to send to college coaches.
Just as importantly, Rich, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound defensive end, was also academically qualified before his senior season, eliminating any concerns that he would meet a suitor’s admission standards. These days, it’s not enough for a high school player to shine between the lines.
Athletes, especially those who aren’t doggedly pursued by high-level Division-I schools, are advised to be proactive in seeking college scholarship opportunities. That includes maintaining proper grades, achieving the necessary test scores, securing letters of recommendation (preferably from the coach and guidance counselor), and then putting together a highlight reel of live game action.
On top of that, any player hoping to make the transition from high school to college needs to be clear about where they fit. There’s only a select number of spots available at the major Division-I colleges across the country. But if a player is willing to settle for a smaller school, far away from the limelight of national television, there’s often a spot and possibly scholarship money available, too.
“Coaches want character kids,” said Lee Peterson, the Northeast Georgia director for the National Scouting Report, a service designed to help match athletes with college athletic scholarships. “A lot of kids may not believe they are big enough, strong enough or fast enough, but there’s probably still a place for them to play in college.
“However, that dream school just may not be realistic.”
Data provided by the National Scouting Report shows that a college football career is realistic for a small percentage of high school players. Of the 983,600 high school players in the most recent analysis, 56,500 of those (5.8 percent) went on to sign a scholarship with a college program to play football. However, that percentage is higher than in men’s basketball (2.9 percent), women’s basketball (3.1), baseball (5.5), and slightly ahead of men’s soccer (5.7).
“The bottom line is that if you’re a good football player, then there’s a place for you to play in college,” Scout.com recruiting analyst Chad Simmons said.
Simmons said two keys to getting recruited as a football player are attending camps where college coaches can see you in live action against other college prospects, and sending out videotape, which can be done in a matter of minutes, but is often used as the primary determinant of a player’s talent level.
Highlight tapes can be put together by an athlete, coach, parents or a recruiting service, and can be put into the hands of college coaches quickly.
“We do highlight tapes of literally thousands of kids each year,” Chaney said.
However, grades can sometimes be the biggest hurdle for players to overcome. After not taking school seriously in the first years of high school, some players have trouble getting back on track academically once they find out that they have the talent to play at the next level.
Some must attend prep school after graduation. These schools allow athletes to get back into proper academic standing while playing high-level football, and do not cut into the number of years players are eligible at the college level.
According to Simmons, the emphasis on grades and test scores resonates with players once they see the difficult road poor academic standing has created for other players.
“Colleges are looking at the total package with the players they choose to sign,” Simmons said. “I think coaches and guidance counselors are really preaching the importance of making good grades to the kids.”
For those hoping to play in college, the National Scouting Report also stresses the importance of registering with the NCAA Eligibility Center. It spells out in detail every step that athletes must take to be academically eligible for college.
The National Scouting Report’s Web site also points out the ways for athletes to know if a college is actually pursuing them as a prospect, including: follow-up phone calls from a coach to a prospect’s home, having a coach attend a game in person to see the athlete play, and an invitation for an official visit to their campus.
It also advises not to confuse information from a college admissions office for that of interest from the athletic program. Most of that information is sent out in mass for the purpose of simply recruiting new students to campus.