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 athletes, 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.
There’s bad news and good news for student-athletes entering their senior year of high school without an athletic scholarship offer. The bad news—or should we say, the realistic news—is that for athletes especially with hopes of competing at the D1 level, the chances at this point are slim that an offer will be forthcoming. It does happen, but these choice programs look to have their recruiting completed by this point to lock in elite prospects.
The good news—or should we say, more hopeful news—is that it may not be too late for student-athletes to realize their dreams of competing in college. “There are scholarship opportunities in D2, NAIA and junior college,” offers NCSA recruiting coach Eric Vierneisel. “If you have been focusing on earning a D1 scholarship, consider other levels. D3 schools do not offer athletic scholarships, but academic scholarships are available. The main concern for many families is, ‘How do we pay for college?’ I don’t think they really care if it’s an athletic or academic scholarship; just as long as they are getting help to pay for college.”
Student-athletes must use these summer months to their best advantage to get on a college coach’s radar. Here’s how:
Get an objective evaluation
A third-party evaluation should be step one on the to-do list this summer, Vierneisel
emphasized. While basic measurables (size, height) are out of a student-athlete’s control, a high school coach or an organization such as NCSA can give an objective assessment of how they match up with scholarship-level athletes and offer things they can work on that will help lead to a scholarship offer. But don’t rely on parents, he stresses. “They aren’t going to be the most unbiased of evaluators.”
Related to evaluations, NCSA recruiting coach Renee Barrows recommends updating video and stats and circling back on schools with which student-athletes were previously in contact. “It doesn’t hurt to follow-up,” she says. “Coaching staff and rosters change. But they should not put all their eggs in one basket; this should be done when reaching out to other schools as well.”
Get out and be seen
Depending on the sport, student-athletes have this crucial summer to play in front of coaches.
“Attend camps and showcase events,” Barrows offers. “Many schools will attend these events to identify additional players. Try to find out in advance from the organization running the event what coaches have committed to attending so you can make sure they are schools that fit academically and then reach out to the coaches in advance of the event.
Get on the phone
“You need to get on the phone to any D1 or D2 coaches that you’ve been emailing,” Barrows urges. “Talk with them specifically about where they see you on their recruiting board. It’s okay to be direct and ask questions such as “When do you plan to wrap up offers for my recruiting class?” or “Am I being considered for a scholarship with your program?” Do not ask questions such as, “How much scholarship money do you have available to offer me?”
Get a wider net
Barrows encourages student-athletes who have yet to receive an athletic scholarship offer to broaden the scope of schools to consider. “Determine your non-negotiables, such as major, location, cost, etc., and be willing to look at other opportunities. This late in the process, most money is still money available at NAIA and junior college programs. If you have the grades, D3 is a great option as well (for an academic scholarship). But be realistic; waiting for stretch schools might cost you offers on your safety or back-up plan schools.”
Vierneisel also recommends considering the junior college route. “There are very competitive opportunities available and money still to be found,” he says. Junior college programs can help you grow as an athlete, boost your grades, save money on the front end and potentially open up more opportunities at four-year schools.”
Stay fully engaged in the recruiting process, Vierneisel urges student-athletes. Get to the gym and improve skill sets. Focus on grades (summer school may not be the most inviting prospect, but it can offer the opportunity to boost their GPA). Take the time to evaluate college rosters. Many D1 and D2 schools post their rosters, complete with student bios that list their stats and awards. For basketball, there is the website verbalcommits.com. These give a student-athlete a tangible sense of where they need to be as a scholarship-level player, and if they feel there is a good match, they should add that program to their list of target schools.
And don’t forget: “Student-athletes can contact the coach anytime,” Vierneisel emphasizes. “’Here’s my video, here’s my profile, these are my accomplishments.’ There is definitely still time this summer. Just make sure you have an honest evaluation at where you’re at so you’re not wasting time.”