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. Jaimie Duffek was one of the top 50 high school softball players in Illinois who went onto play outfield for Drake University. Jaimie 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.
Every year we hear stories of senior athletes who got a late start in the recruitment process. With only months or weeks before signing day, they end up finding opportunities to play in college. While a big part of finding a last-minute opportunity is luck, there are specific things you can do to increase your chances.
Disclaimer: Before we jump into the details, remember:
- You should begin the recruiting process much earlier, ideally in 8th or 9th grade so you aren’t scrambling your senior year.
- The scenarios detailed below can help increase the chance you’ll find an opportunity, but they are still a long shot.
- You must have all your information together and give it to a coach immediately: a resume (ideally online), highlight and/or game film online, official transcripts and test scores.
- This isn’t about finding an opportunity at your dream school; this is for athletes willing to go almost anywhere to keep competing.
- For many athletes, the realization they can’t play where they want means they’ll hang up their cleats and attend college as a regular student. And that is perfectly okay.
Look for coaching changes
When a college team makes a coaching change, the new coaches are faced with the task of building a recruiting class in a period of months to weeks. As a recruit searching for an opportunity, you want to make yourself known to that coach immediately. Reach out to them with your online resume, video and transcripts so they have everything they need to make a quick initial evaluation. If you are prepared to move quickly on a decision, you can secure a roster spot.
TIP: Coaching changes at a program come with a lot of baggage. There will be turnover of the current roster, coaches might be pulling offers from recruits of the old coach, and most likely, the team wasn’t very good in the past few years. All of these factors aside, if you are someone who likes the idea of building a program, this could be a great opportunity for you.
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Identify schools who don’t have a full recruiting class
Once the official signing period begins, the game of scholarship musical chairs begins. As the top recruits commit to schools, college teams scramble to update their recruiting boards and determine what athletes are still available. If you are an unsigned senior with limited or no recruiting interest, here are the steps you need to follow:
- Send out your online resume, video and transcripts via personal emails to a wide range of colleges you might be interested in. Don’t expect a lot of communication back; you are just making an introduction.
- As the signing period begins, watch the school’s website (and recruiting sites if there are any in your sport) to see how many athletes are signing. After the first few days or a week, write follow-up emails to the schools, congratulating them on their signings and letting them know you are still interested.
- Continue to follow up with schools until you hear back from the coaches or see they have signed a complete recruiting class. If you have emailed a program 4+ times and not heard anything back, you should move on.
- Be prepared to move quickly. Best case scenario you are going to hear back from a coach and they are going to be asking for a commitment very quickly. You will feel a lot of pressure and there is no way you can be 100% sure this is the right choice. But given your prospects as an unsigned senior, this is the best case scenario, and you need to be prepared to jump on any opportunity given.
Identify new college programs
This takes more research on your end, but if you can find a school just starting a program in your sport, this could be a great opportunity for you. The typical recruiting class is between 5%-20% of a current roster. For coaches starting a new program, they need to find the whole team. Oftentimes, they are getting a late start in the recruiting process.
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New teams can be a very rewarding experience. You get to be part of the organization as it sets and shapes its culture. There is also a lot of uncertainty as the school is pulling together the facilities and infrastructure to support the team as it shows up. But again, for the right recruit looking for a last-minute opportunity, this can be a blessing.
In the above scenarios, the likelihood of getting recruited—let alone a scholarship—are still very small. You won’t be getting your pick of schools, which means you need to be open to going to school almost anywhere just to play your sport. For many athletes who are unrecruited late into the senior year, the reality that they would rather just go to college and not play sports sinks in. If not playing your sport isn’t an option, these last-minute opportunities could be right for you.