USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the recruiting process. This isn’t about where just the top five-star athletes are headed but rather a guide to the process and the pitfalls for student-athletes nationwide from Fred Bastie, the owner and founder of Playced.com. Playced.com identifies appropriate colleges for potential recruits and delivers an online DIY college planning experience for student athletes of all talent levels and ages.
The college recruiting process works the same for all sports, both male and female. Whether you play women’s volleyball or men’s soccer you have to (1) be an exceptional athlete, (2) pursue the right colleges, (3) get noticed and (4) close the deal. Here is the story of an exceptional baseball player who may have had the absolute worst recruiting process in the history of mankind. We should all learn from his mistakes.
From the time he was in kindergarten Travis always dreamed of playing Major League baseball. He loved the game and his parents supported him 100 percent. By the time sixth grade rolled around he knew that playing college baseball was a realistic possibility. Whenever he pitched, he dominated and he led the league in batting average. Surely Augie Garrido at the University of Texas had already noticed him. By the time he was a freshman in high school, he was poised to be the next Mickey Mantle.
Here is how his college recruiting process progressed from freshman to senior year.
As a freshman Travis and his parents had high hopes he would be a starter on the varsity team in spite of the fact that he attended a very large, extremely competitive high school in Houston, Texas. To begin the season he traveled with the varsity team for a few tournaments, but didn’t play and spent the rest of the season on the junior varsity roster.
Travis was perhaps the best player on JV (just ask his parents), and since he was just a freshman he didn’t feel the need to do anything related to his college recruiting process, so he didn’t. He was confident he would get his chance as a sophomore and the college coaches would “find” him. In the classroom Travis really didn’t apply himself. He just didn’t understand how important academics are in the college recruiting process. Good grades open recruiting doors and poor grades can close them.
The summer between his freshman and sophomore year Travis waited until the last minute to find a summer team. He settled on a team where he was by far the best player. The good news was that he got to see plenty of playing time. He was having fun and his parents were happy, but unfortunately the team didn’t play quality competition. For that reason, he didn’t improve much that summer. The coach loved him and promised to help him find a college, but Travis didn’t realize that the coach really didn’t know how to deliver on that promise.
When school started in the fall, Travis’ grades continued to slip. He wasn’t failing any classes, but he certainly wasn’t helping his Core Course GPA. Although he was convinced his summer coach had his recruiting needs taken care of, he did sign up for an online athletic profile and waited for the college coaches to start calling. He also sent 3 introductory emails (yes, just 3) to college coaches. Here’s how the emails read:
Hi Coach Smith:
My name is Travis Wellingtonberg and I want to play collige (yes, that’s how he spelled it) baseball. I am a sophomore at Brinker Senior High School and I think I will make the varsity team this year. When do you start handing out scholarships?
Needless to say, he didn’t get any responses and he certainly wasn’t added to any prospect lists.
In the spring of his sophomore year Travis made the varsity roster and actually got his fair share of playing time. After his high school season he looked into some different summer teams, but stayed with the one he played on previously. He was comfortable on that team. He liked the coach, he knew playing time wouldn’t be an issue and he believed college recruiting was part of the package. Again, he didn’t improve much and he didn’t get noticed by any colleges.
Travis knew this year was critical if he wanted to play in college. After the summer season he started to realize that his coach hadn’t helped much with recruiting, so he committed to doing anything necessary to find the right college fit.
Unfortunately, the fall started out with a thud. His girlfriend broke up with him right before Homecoming and he retaliated… on social media. After a few inappropriate posts, his high school coach stepped in and put an end to the foolishness, but the potential damage was done. To this day, Travis has no idea how many college coaches actually saw the posts, but he is convinced it was more than just one.
Travis’ grades finally stabilized and while he wasn’t in the running for valedictorian, his grades were average. That limited the number of colleges he could consider, but the bigger problem was that he continued to procrastinate on taking the SAT or the ACT. In the spring he finally sat for the ACT and scored a 22. Not bad considering the national average is 21, but there certainly was room for improvement. Again, Travis didn’t realize that his grades and test scores were limiting his college options.
When the high school season began, he was a starter and actually set to hit fifth in the order. He never missed a practice, but he really never put in any additional work. He had a pretty good season and was voted second team All-District which was probably about right.
When the playoffs were over, Travis went to his high school coach and asked him to contact some colleges on his behalf. When he asked, Travis mentioned schools like Vanderbilt, Oregon and the University of Texas. What do you think went through his coach’s head? Marginal grades, inappropriate behavior on social media, not a hard worker and probably an under-achiever. The coach agreed to call some colleges, but not until Travis decided to be more realistic.
The summer between his junior and senior year, Travis changed to a new, more competitive summer team and it helped, a little. He was noticed by a few coaches, but not coaches from the colleges he was interested in. When he got back to school many of his teammates already had options and for that reason, both he and his parents went into PANIC MODE. They pulled out the checkbook and signed up with a recruiting service. The first piece of advice from the recruiting service was excellent. Travis was told to send an email to 50-100 college coaches. He did, but without any guidance on the level of colleges to contact, his emails were not well received.
In the spring Travis finally realized that he should consider some Division II and NAIA schools. He was fine with that approach, but it was getting late in the recruiting game. Travis played well in his senior season and caught the eye of a few college coaches. With his parent’s help he sent out the 50+ emails to colleges, filled out a number of recruiting questionnaires on school websites and his high school coach stepped up to the plate and contacted some colleges to vouch for his abilities. Unfortunately, the colleges that actually showed interest were either too expensive for his family budget (even with a partial scholarship) or he wasn’t interested in the school. Travis had never discussed the family college fund with his parents and he never researched the colleges he was talking with.
In the end, Travis decided to walk on at a small Division I college in Texas. His coach made a few phone calls and he received “preferred walk-on” status. Making the team as a walk-on is difficult, but at least he has his chance.
All of us know players who made some of the same mistakes as Travis, but surely no recruit ever really made this many recruiting errors. The Travis Wellingtonberg story is obviously fictional…or is it?