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. Joe Leccesi is a former college-athlete and coach at the NAIA level, where he earned an NAIA National Championship. Joe 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.
“How do Division I coaches find recruits?” is one of the most common questions we get. Before I launch into some of the key ways DI coaches identify top talent, understand that each coach, sport and even individual program approaches recruiting a little differently. Sports that make a lot of money for the school tend to have more resources to spend on recruiting and they often start out with a larger pool of recruits. On the other side, for some sports, coaches have a limited amount of resources and must be more targeted in their searches, because they are not able to go through all the various channels.
To get more insight into how Division I coaches find recruits, I talked to Ben Weiss of Zcruit. Weiss started his career working in recruiting for Northwestern Football. Since, he has created an analytical tool for college coaches to help them better understand how likely it is that a recruit will commit to their school. This technology is used by a growing number of DI football programs, most of which are the Power Five conferences. In other words, Weiss knows Division I recruiting backward and forwards.
6 universal ways Division I programs search for recruits
In talking to Weiss, we identified a few ways that Division I coaches find athletes. This list leans more toward how FBS football coaches seek out talented athletes, but most can be applied across other sports as well.
- Recommendations from high school/club coaches – Weiss pointed out that athlete recommendations from high school coaches go a long way with DI coaches. He explains that if a high school or club coach takes the time to point out a specific player to a recruiting staff, they will probably take a look at that athlete’s highlight video. Additionally, when coaches travel to high schools to watch a player they are recruiting, the coaches will also notice other standout recruits. Always play like a college coach is watching!
Insider tip: Make sure that you develop a strong relationship with your high school/club coaches. Your current coach can be a huge asset in your recruiting process—so always stay on good terms!
- University-run camps and showcases – Sports programs will often host their own camps and invite recruits to evaluate their talent in person against other college-bound athletes. Weiss points out that this is one of the key ways that coaches find talent. Before you start signing up for every camp in the country, bear in mind that coaches tend to invite a lot of athletes to their camps, which means that they probably won’t have time to notice recruits they aren’t already looking at.
Insider tip: To maximize your time and travel budget, try to attend camps hosted by coaches you’ve already had some type of communication. To really get “discovered” at a camp, you need to make sure the coach is looking for you.
- Talent identifying services – Coaches use services like National Preps or Scouting Ohio, which identify and rate top talent. “Coaches will receive a list of players that are weighted based on talent level,” Weiss points out. “They will get a jump start on getting names of players coming in their freshman or sophomore year to get out in front on recruiting these kids.” Many coaches prefer services that focus on the local geographic area (i.e., a Texas coach may use a Texas-specific scouting service), while others prefer nationwide talent services.
- Searching Twitter for athletes who’ve received offers from rival schools – This is a strange one, but Weiss explains that DI coaches often hire interns who track offers given out by other colleges and universities. Coaches will also keep an eye on scouting sites’—like Rivals—Twitter feeds, as they share an athlete’s offer tweet.
Insider tip: If you receive an offer, you may want to mention it on Twitter. “If a recruit reports an offer, another school may see that and be interested,” Weiss says, “If you have an offer, it could help to put your name out there and to get other schools to look at you, or it can incentivize other schools to increase their offer.” However, do not, under any circumstances invent an offer that you don’t have. Schools still watch film and do their research on recruits, so reporting false offers could wind up hurting you more than helping you. Always be humble and honest!
- General tools like Rivals, 247Sports and NCSA – “Some schools will go name-by-name and check out players on larger sites to see if they are a fit for that school,” Weiss explains. Other times, a coach will look up a recruit who they’ve heard about elsewhere on a general recruiting tool.
- Communications from athletes – DI coaches receive thousands of emails from recruits, but the good news is, they do use their inbox as a way to find athletes! Create your most eye-catching subject line
Inside tip: Try this subject line formula and tweak it as you get more comfortable emailing coaches: [First and last name] [grad year] Grad [your position] [height/weight if relevant] [unique information about you]. For example, if you’re a football player: John Smith 2020 Grad S/CB 4.56 40-yd dash Highlight Video Included.
Bonus: Never burn a bridge
Thousands of athletes dream of competing at the Division I level every year, and the reality is only a small percentage makes it there. However, this doesn’t mean you won’t compete in college, and it doesn’t mean you can be rude to DI coaches who don’t extend an offer. Why? When Division I schools have filled their rosters, many coaches reach out to Division II, Division III or NAIA schools to recommend recruits who just missed the cut. In other words, stay humble, put it all on the line every game and every practice, and explore all your options.