Let's pretend you are a freshman in high school with aspirations of becoming a collegiate athlete (we can also pretend that universities haven't started offering kids in middle school while we're at it). Being recruited to play football in college involves a difficult and complex decision-making process that will make an impact on you for the rest of your life. No pressure though.
For the average prospect, serious recruiting won't start until spring football of your freshman year. College coaches are exposed to you for the first time, and while they aren't allowed to communicate with you directly, they are able to contact you through your high school coaches. You will likely receive your first invite to camps for the summer. These camps provide an opportunity to glimpse the campus and facilities. You show off your relative abilities to the coaches against other top athletes in the nation who were invited to the camp. Most of the exciting stuff doesn't occur until later though, so don't get your hopes up yet.
Your sophomore and junior years of high school are the most pivotal years for you as a prospect in terms of garnering attention from recruiters. If you do well your sophomore year, this attention will intensify. You participate in unofficial visits to different schools with complimentary game tickets. Now the real excitement begins. You thought that crowd of 500 people at your hometown game was loud? You have no idea what is in store for you with a crowd of thousands of fans yelling at the top of their lungs. The drive from home to whatever campus you wish to visit will be completely worth it. You'll probably have your first highlight tape made during your sophomore year and will feel compelled to send this tape to whoever you want to watch it. With a bit of luck they actually will, and you will have to fill out surveys for any school with mutual interest. These surveys will ask you for a number of things, including:
- your height (add a few inches),
- weight (add or subtract as necessary),
- time in the forty yard dash (you ran it in five seconds? 4.8 sounds right),
- bench and squat (definitely add weight on this one),
- schools you are interested in (make sure you list the school that sent you the survey as well as its biggest in-conference competitors), and finally
- desired major (you don't actually need to fudge this one and most schools only put this on here for your parents).
The spring of your sophomore year will often bring the first trickle of offers. Congratulations, some school wants you to play football for them. Let the games begin. This is also the start of independent recruiting websites calling you for interviews, so try to brush up on your interviewing skills and try not to say anything that will be taken out of context (good luck with this). If you have any form of social media, be prepared for friend or follow requests from people you've never met in your life.
Now it's your junior year and recruiting activity is really taking off. You had three sacks in one game? That school you really liked already knew about them before the game was over and you'll hear about it. You now have mail pouring in and more offers as well. You thought the interviews were hard before? Get ready for about eight different websites to call you in a given week. Those four or five follows you got from hopeful fans last year will turn into hundreds. Be prepared for your social media accounts to become obnoxious. In fact, it's best if you just ignore them in high school and focus on your grades and your scores on the SAT and ACT. You can also expect more chances for unofficial visits which you will undoubtedly want to take.
It's time to start making decisions. The spring of your junior year will have countless coaches coming through your high school. You are asked to attend junior days which will get you a V.I.P. tour of the campuses you choose to visit. You'll see everything from the stadium, to academic facilities, to student housing. It's a lot of information to process but as a junior in high school, you won't be too overwhelmed. If you haven't been offered by that school you really wanted to offer you, attend their camp and show them what you can do. Expect coaches to pressure you into commitment at this time and definitely expect to hear horror stories about other schools along with a handshake and an extremely creepy wink. Some examples include:
- That school already has five defensive backs committed, why are they even on your list? They just don't want you to come here.
- Have you ever been that far north in the winter? Trust me, you don't want to. They can't find the fire hydrants when it snows and it snows all the time.
- It is impossible for you to win more than six games at that school, let alone a championship.
- You'd be better off academically if you didn't go to college than going there.
Now it is your senior year and everything you've been told will be amplified. Those reporters calling you? That will be daily now. That kid who you're not sure how he even got an offer? It turns out that offer wasn't for real. It is getting down to the end of your high school career and schools are getting more desperate. This is also when you will start taking official visits, also known as the greatest time of your life. You get a hotel room to yourself, tickets to a football game, and a couple of nights out in a college town that will have the best atmosphere you have ever experienced. Be smart and be safe. By now if you haven't committed, you're either one of the signing day kids or you'll commit at an all-star game. Those followers on social media will call you a drama queen for waiting until the last second, never mind the fact that their kid hasn't decided on a school yet.
National Signing Day is the first taste of what will feel like national fame (you aren't that famous but yes, that was your name on ESPN). Now that you've signed, you may think the hard part is over but it has just begun. You will want to take those workout recommendations seriously or plan on emptying the contents of your stomach when you finally get to campus. Even if you do think you're prepared for workouts, trust me, you aren't.
So class was easy in high school and you didn't need to study? This is college and the professors do not care if you think you're the second coming of Tom Brady, sit down and shut your mouth. Enjoy your summer!
Now you've finished summer workouts and you think you're ready for your first fall camp. You aren't. Everyone seems to know where they are going so you follow the crowd, except the pace is unlike anything you've ever experienced. You're getting yelled at by everyone who isn't wearing a jersey along with most of the people who are. If you thought fall camp was hard, just wait for your first fall semester as a football player. You have no idea what is in store for you, but congratulations, you're officially a college football player. Get ready for any mistake you make to be put under a microscope. Welcome to the most fun you'll never want to have again!