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. Kyle Winters was a standout high school pitcher who tossed seven scoreless innings in a major tournament during his senior year. That performance against some heavy-hitting future MLB draft picks helped Kyle earn a full-ride scholarship to the University of New Mexico. However, Kyle opted to play professional baseball and was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the fifth round and played seven seasons for various minor league teams.
Kyle 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.
The National Signing Day scramble is nearly here. Beginning Wednesday, November 14, college coaches will be making their final pitches to blue-chip recruits and doing everything in their power to get them to sign the National Letter of Intent (NLI) with their program. And this year, thanks to an NCAA rule change, the signing season craze could be even greater than usual. Learn what National Signing Day means for today’s student-athletes and check out our updated recruiting game plan for seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen.
What’s different about National Signing Day 2018?
In the past, NCAA sports typically all had split signing periods. If student-athletes didn’t sign their NLI with a school during the early signing period, they had to wait several months for the regular period to begin. For instance, recruits who didn’t sign last November had to wait until April to sign. Five months feels like an eternity when you’re in the middle of the college recruiting process.
But with the new NCAA rule going into effect, early signing day is a thing of the past for most D1 and D2 sports. Basketball and football still observe early signing periods (November 14-21, 2018 for basketball, December 19-21, 2018 for football) followed by longer regular signing periods. However, every other D1 and D2 sport will now have one extended period from November 14 to August 1, 2019.
What does National Signing Day mean for high school seniors?
National Signing Day is the first opportunity for seniors to sign their NLI and lock down a scholarship offer. While student-athletes often agree to verbal offers from college coaches during their junior year, nothing is binding until they sign the NLI. Once the floodgates open, college coaches will be looking to square away their 2019 recruiting classes as soon as possible. For seniors receiving serious recruiting attention from a school on their target list, the start of signing period is a chance to make a commitment and complete their recruiting journey.
Keep in mind, National Signing Day is just the beginning of the signing period. Many D1 and D2 programs won’t wrap up their recruiting classes for months. Here are several things for your student-athlete to achieve during their senior year:
- Take the ACT/SAT and submit scores to the NCAA Eligibility Center (use the NCAA Eligibility Center Code9999 to send your scores directly to the Eligibility Center from the testing agency.)
- Fill out the FAFSA—many schools award financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis
- Request final amateurism certification
- Upload transcript to the NCAA Eligibility Center
- Schedule official and unofficial campus visits
- Register with the NAIA Eligibility Center if you’re considering NAIA programs
What does National Signing Day mean for high school juniors?
While student-athletes can’t sign an NLI until senior year, recruiting really starts to heat up during junior year. Starting September 1, D1 coaches can call, email, text or DM recruits on social media. Also beginning September 1, D1 coaches can begin inviting juniors on official campus visits and meet with them during unofficial visits. Getting an official visit invite means you’re at the top of a coach’s recruiting list—but it doesn’t mean your spot is a sure thing. Complete the following during junior year:
- Take the ACT/SAT and submit your scores to the NCAA Eligibility Center (use the NCAA Eligibility Center Code 9999 to send your scores directly to the Eligibility Center from the testing agency.)
- Create an NCAA Eligibility Center Account–if you are getting serious interest from D1 and D2 schools, you’ll need an account for official visits
- Go on official and unofficial visits—The NCAA allows 5 total visits to D1 and D2 schools (one official visit per school)
- Compile your list of questions to ask coaches on campus visits
- Prepare with your parents for the possibility of getting an offer on a visit
- Continue updating your highlight video with junior season clips
What does National Signing Day mean for high school sophomores?
Sophomore season is a great opportunity for student-athletes to ramp up their recruiting efforts and get on the radar of college coaches. While sophomores are still a couple years away from being able to sign an NLI, they should keep a close eye on athletes signing with their target schools. This can provide insight on the types of recruits prized by the coach and reveal how well stocked the roster will be at their preferred position. Sophomores should focus on refining their list of target schools and reaching out to college coaches from these athletic programs. Here are several keys to an effective sophomore game plan:
- Register with the NCAA Eligibility Center (You can start with a free profile page)
- Finalize your target list of schools and continue reaching out to coaches
- Start scheduling unofficial visits—get a feel for campus life and attend a game
- Update your highlight video—frontload last year’s video with your best plays
- Attend local camps and showcases to get exposure to college coaches
- Get permission to list high school/club coaches as references on your NCSA profile
What does National Signing Day mean for high school freshmen?
A successful recruiting process begins with a framework of well-defined goals. The first year of high school is a chance for student-athletes to test the waters and evaluate the possibility of playing college sports. The top D1 programs recruit early. To get ahead of the game, use freshman year to gauge interest and start researching athletic and academic programs. Ways to prepare during freshman year:
- Join a club or travel team for off-season training and competition
- Review NCAA Eligibility Center Core Course Requirements to keep your academics on track
- Discuss your athletic goals with your coaches
- Fill out college recruiting questionnaires
- Create your online recruiting profile
- Add a highlight video to your NCSA profile after your season ends
- Attend a sports camp to obtain a third-party evaluation of your skills
- Follow target colleges, athletic programs and coaches on social media
- Start sending introduction emails to college coaches