USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Jason Smith is a former NCAA DIII athlete and college coach at all three division levels. Jason is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
Youth sports are in a constant state of change and one of the areas undergoing some of the biggest changes has been the role of high school teams. For some sports, club and travel teams have taken center stage. For others, the high school team is still king, but it has become a big business to put together “super teams” at the high school level. Each family needs to make their own decision on how they want to leverage their high school in the recruiting process. Below I share some points to consider as you think about the role of a high school in your recruiting.
Being second best at the “perfect” school
It is tempting to think “if I was only at X High School, my recruiting would be different.” This is how most recruits think, because it is far more common to come from a lesser known school than one with a history of getting athletes recruited. While there are undeniable advantages to well-known high schools, the biggest problem becomes getting the minutes for your own team.
A 2017 DII football commit here at NCSA had a challenging recruiting journey, precisely because he was at a power high school. This recruit is a 6’3” QB with the skills to be an NCAA DI FCS / DII quarterback, but because he was at a power program with a 3-star DI recruit ahead of him and 4-star stud recruit behind him, he was never going to be a starter for his high school.
This recruit ended up being successful because he reached out to schools and found a coach who was willing to take a chance on him. While a similar situation can happen at any school, it is far more common to happen at a power school where you routinely have DI prospects. If you aren’t projected to be a DI prospect, it might be worth getting starting minutes at a smaller school than being a backup at a major school.
Being the best/only recruit at a small school
Most recruits come from schools without a tradition of getting athletes recruited, and it is tempting to wonder if the school is holding you back from getting the exposure you need. The truth is, very rarely is the high school team going to make or break an athlete’s recruiting. The recruiting process is a combination of your high school/club team, camps/combines and academics. Being from a small school is problematic if you don’t do anything else to get recruited. In a recent article, we covered how to get recruited if you are from a small school. Small schools will give you the playing time and film you need to show coaches, but you have to take extra steps to get noticed.
What to consider when choosing a high school
There is no perfect answer when choosing a high school. Before you make the financial and logistical sacrifices to go to the “perfect high school” here are a few things to consider:
- How important are high school teams for you sport? – If you compete in sports with well-established club systems, the high school might not matter as much. That said, you need to be getting 100% of what you need from your club program.
- Are you a multi-sport athlete? – Most recruits are multi-sport athletes and for many of them, they play each of their sports through their high school. If you plan on playing multiple sports, you should plan on playing high school sports.
- What division level are you going to play? – College coaches at the DI level are looking for film of their recruits against other potential DI recruits. Game footage against only small high schools may not show the level of competition coaches are looking for. However, most athletes are not DI recruits, and coaches at other division levels will get more value from your high school film.
- Does the high school support your recruiting goals? – Most high school programs don’t have the ability to focus resources on recruiting like club teams can. Some families experience friction with their high school teams when their recruiting expectations don’t match the reality of what their high school team can do. It is always a good idea to have that conversation with your coach before it could be an issue.
At the end of the day, high school sports are about much more than recruiting and it would be short sighted to evaluate a high school’s value on recruiting alone. In most cases, high school teams should always remain part of an athlete’s recruiting journey, but the amount of focus you put on it depends on your long-term goals.