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.
If you’ve ever watched movies about college recruiting, there’s almost always a scene with college coaches huddled in a war room around a giant list of recruits, moving them up and down the wall based on the coaches’ interest or player availability. Usually, these meetings are kept hush-hush, blinds down, invite-only. And this isn’t too far from how college athletic recruiting boards work.
While every program handles recruiting a little differently, coaches usually have some form of a recruiting board where they rank and keep track of athletes they’re interested in. To better understand how coaches recruit players and decide who gets an offer, athletes should brush up on how recruiting boards work. I talked to Mike Thrower, director of coach product for FrontRush, to get an insider’s perspective on how coaches use recruiting boards. FrontRush provides athletic management software—including digital recruiting boards—to 9,500+ teams at over 850 schools.
Many college coaches—especially for larger team sports—use recruiting boards
Simply put, a recruiting board is a huge, ranked list of recruits the coach is interested in. The higher priority athletes will be toward the top, and the prospects they still aren’t sure about will be toward the bottom. Thrower points out that, the larger the roster size, the more important a recruiting board will be. For example, in football, recruiting boards are incredibly helpful, as coaches might be seriously recruiting 10-20 quarterbacks, dozens of linemen, and so on.
The key times when coaches begin to shuffle athletes around on their recruiting board
As I mentioned earlier, every program will handle recruiting differently. But, Thrower points out that there are a few general times throughout the year when big shifts in recruiting boards tend to happen:
- Sophomore year/the summer before junior year: For many sports, the summer before an athlete’s junior year is when coaches really start to actively evaluate talent and extend their initial outreach. Coaches are going to camps, showcases and tournaments to watch a large number of recruits at one time. Then, they’ll send out recruiting questionnaires or initial information to a large group of athletes. Usually, coaches will add the 100 or so athletes who respond to the initial communications to their recruiting board. Once an athlete makes it onto the recruiting board, it means they are on the coach’s radar. Good incentive to fill out those recruiting questionnaires!
- Evaluation periods during junior year: Evaluation periods usually occur before or after your sport’s season. During this time, coaches can visit athletes at their school, watch practices, talk to athletes’ coaches, discuss grades with athletes’ guidance counselors and more. A lot of shifts occur during this time, as coaches learn even more about their recruits’ character, grades and work ethic.
- Summer before senior year: It’s crunch time now! At this point, coaches are taking a hard look at who they want to extend offers to. Coaches will likely be hosting camps on their campus to do a final, in-person evaluation of their top recruits. Staff members might be going to prominent club events, depending on the sport.
- Senior year: Coaches are extending offers! Inevitably, some of their top athletes will commit to other schools, while other athletes might lose their academic eligibility or get injured. So, coaches have to do a lot of shifting and maneuvering to make sure they lock down commitments from enough athletes to round out their rosters.
Thrower also emphasizes that a recruit’s grades can make a big impact on their position on a coach’s recruiting board. In most cases, coaches just don’t want to take a chance on an athlete who’s a poor student in high school, because they run the risk that the athlete won’t be able to stay academically eligible in college. He also says, “All else being equal, every college will recruit the kid with the better grades! The better your grades the better your offers.”
How coaches might communicate where you’re at on their recruiting board
Having a general idea of where you’re at on a coach’s recruiting board will help you understand where you stand with that coach so you can shift your recruiting activities accordingly. It can prevent you from spending too much time and effort on a school that’s just not very interested in you. And it can help you narrow down your target list of schools.
To figure out your spot on a recruiting board, Thrower recommends taking a good look at your communications with that coach. Have you been getting more contact from the coach lately? Have they started calling you when you used to communicate only via email? All of these are indicators that you’ve moved up on a coach’s recruiting board. If coaches start making the effort to watch your games, contact your coach, visit you at school, invite you on an official visit or extend an offer, you have certainly moved up on their recruiting board. Keep communicating with that coach, asking questions and sending updated video if possible.
On the flipside, a decrease in communications can signify that you’ve moved down the list. Maybe you used to exchange emails every week, but you’ve noticed that the coach hasn’t gotten back to you in over a month. Or, previously, the coach called you up every month or so, but now they only send sporadic emails. These indicate that you might have been overtaken on the list by another promising recruit. If you have your heart set on that school, ask the coach what you should work on to be a more attractive recruit. Then, get to work and keep the coach updated about your improvements.
While these are all good, general rules for how recruiting boards work, remember: every school is different! Thrower says, “This is how the average recruiting board works, but some programs out there will be offering 8th graders. Some programs know that they are a second-tier team, so they wait for the top-tier schools to finish their recruiting and see which kids didn’t get picked up.” Use these general guidelines to better inform your recruiting journey, so you can get the results you want.