Every year, the top recruited and most sought-after high school football players–some of which are not even old enough to vote–are exposed to the media and scrutiny of making a life-changing decision while the country watches and hopes these players will choose their school on or before National Signing Day. Don’t necessarily feel bad for these student athletes. Many of them will tell you that the recruitment process was really quite simple and a fun experience. However, there are athletes who struggle to get noticed and rely solely on their high school coaches’ efforts. There are also those unfortunate few who make a big commitment to a nationally recognized program too early and then face backlash from fans and coaches after de-committing and signing elsewhere. Still, as a fan of the game, its fun to see it all unfold year after year.
So, with today being national signing day we ask: what’s it really like for these players? And more importantly, what’s it like to be a coach who is recruiting fickle, barely-legal kids and knowing that his job, livelihood and the success of his program depends largely on the strength of the incoming recruiting class? Many factors can turn a dream opportunity for a coach into a nightmare of an off-season and lead top recruits into the locker room of a rival team, jeopardizing years spent building a program. Everything from legal trouble to coaches with alleged sex scandals, players entering the NFL draft early, and even coaching moves or retirements can change the course of a program for several years to come.
Even with that said, by and large, the main factor that comes into play, whether you are doing the recruiting or being recruited: is popularity, or name recognition. As a player, if you are ranked amongst the top national high-school players and on the ESPNU Top 100 Athletes list, or named to the PARADE, Rivals High, or Under Armour All-American Teams, you can pretty much sit back and let the coaches come to you and roll-out the red carpet as they try to convince you of why you need to sign with their school. The same is true for colleges who have “down” years, but still attract top recruits because of the national prestige associated with the schools’ football programs. This includes schools such as Ohio State University, Notre Dame, University of Southern California, University of Alabama, Florida State University, Oklahoma University, and University of Florida, to name a few.
Florida State University sophomore defensive back, Terrence Brooks, said “College coaches will find prospects and talent anywhere. Whether its at camps or events, they’ll find the players they want – even from small towns like my hometown, and get offers to their top recruits. From that initial letter of interest, to a scholarship it’s surprising to talk to different schools and hear what they each have to offer.”
Lesser known players and colleges don’t have it quite so easy. Some high-school athletes have to decide if college is the best fit for them or if they are willing to go to a school in which they may never start. While other athletes just want the opportunity to continue playing football, regardless of whether the school is Division 1 or is even competitive. Many of these players rely heavily on the support of their coaches, family and community to help them attract scouts and coaches to games. This can also, become very labor intensive for a college coach who is competing to attract local and regional talent to their football program. In fact, the offensive coordinator at a smaller Division 1 school said, “You have to get to know everybody who touches this kid’s life – his entire support system and anyone who may impact this player’s decision about where and if he should sign. It gets tough as a coach because you spend so much time, money visiting players and their families and exert effort trying to bring them in, but you can lose them in a heartbeat.”
The process can become grueling as coaches travel city to city and take prospects to dinner, while meeting and interviewing players, high-school coaches and family members. For several of these coaches and players, the weeks leading up to National Signing Day is unique combination of anxiety and optimism. Players are hopefully that they’ll get a scholarship to continue playing ball or a partial offer that will keep their dreams alive. Coaches are replaying each visit and hoping that they’ve done and said enough to seal the deal with their top recruits. Both are glad when it’s all over and the next phase, training camp, can begin.
“If I could give advice to a player going through the recruiting process now, I’d tell them to take their time, don’t feel pressured into making a decision and make sure the college is a good fit based on the academic programs, college atmosphere and their personality,” Brooks added.
Top national high-school recruits will begin making their official announcements at 9 a.m. today, Wednesday, February 1. WheretoWatch.com will provide updates during the day via Twitter (@Where_To_Watch) so you can follow along and track players’ commitments.
By: Nicole Kasak