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 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.
High school can be a trying time. Especially for late bloomers, those kids whose bodies just haven’t hit their stride yet. And then, of course, there are the early bloomers—they tower inches above the rest of their class. Put them on the field together and it looks like a 10-year-old is playing a 20-year-old.
It’s completely unrealistic to expect high schoolers to go through the same physical development, and college coaches know that. It’s why they evaluate potential and track progress throughout a recruit’s high school career.
But how does the high school athlete evaluate their own potential? What if you’re a freshman or sophomore, for example, and you have absolutely no idea what your physical stature and athletic ability will look like in two years—what do you do?
I turned to Jeff Smith, Recruiting Coach at NCSA, to learn the steps underclassmen can take to gauge their talent level and better understand where they’ll be as an upperclassman.
Look at the college team’s roster
One the of quickest ways to understand your college potential is by researching the team’s roster. This is especially true for timed sports, such as swimming, and track and field, where you can easily compare your stats to a college-athlete’s. Visit the athletic program’s website and take a look at the measureables listed next to each athlete. Height, weight, and position-specific stats can be really telling of what the college coach is looking for in a recruit. In other words, you probably won’t be on the coach’s radar until you’re within range of these numbers.
Insider tip: A roster can also tell you if the coach is recruiting in your region and your position. Before you start contacting coaches, I always recommend checking out the roster first to get all the intel you can on a program. Read more about what to look for in a team’s roster.
“If you’re looking at these stats as an underclassmen and you don’t have those times yet, it’s not to say you can’t consider that school. Use these measurements as goals you should be shooting for,” Smith says.
Knowing how you stack up against athletes at the schools you’re interested in will give you an idea of what you should work toward as you develop athletically. While some high school students do all their growing in one year, others plateau early. Either way, having the right expectation will help you create a realistic list of target schools. And that brings me to my next point: expand your target list.
Expand your target list
The general rule of thumb you should follow when building your college list is to include a variety of schools. That means you should have “reach schools” (the ones that are just out of your skill set range), “target schools” (the ones that match your ability), and “safety schools” (the ones you know for sure where you could compete).
So ideally, you would have a mix of division levels, especially if you’re an underclassman. This is to ensure that you’re maximizing your college opportunities and accounting for every situation. For example, what if—a couple year’s down the road—you change your mind about what you want in a college experience? Or are injured? Or, don’t score as well as you thought you would on the ACT or SAT? Don’t limit yourself right from the get-go by having tunnel vision.
Also, keep in mind that your college potential isn’t only measured by athletics. Academics are just as important. In fact, coaches most likely won’t recruit athletes that won’t be accepted into their university. That’s why you need to factor in academics on a reach, target and safety spectrum, too. You can do this by researching the school’s average ACT/SAT test scores as well as the average GPA of incoming freshman. There are a lot of online tools to help you do that, such as Niche’s website.
See how you compare nationally
Now that you know how college-athletes are performing, it’s just as important to understand the competition within your graduate class. National ranking services and third-party evaluators, such as NCSA, can provide this perspective, as the competition level varies across states. For example, being a state-qualifier from a recruiting hotbed may automatically make you a D1 prospect, while it can mean a totally different thing in another state.
Your achievements are extremely valuable and can help you get recruited, but with several college coaches recruiting out of state, you should understand where you stand on a national level. Again, this can help you gauge your potential and set expectations when creating your target list.
Keep updating your recruiting game plan as you develop
You don’t want to make your target list once and never look back. Just like you don’t want to be evaluated only once. You will develop academically and athletically, and at the very minimum, you should be re-evaluated every season to see how you’re improving and if new opportunities have become available. Then, from there, you can re-define your target list to help you discover the best possible college fit.
Just because you’re a late bloomer doesn’t mean your college options are limited. If you do the legwork and continue managing your recruiting, you will have a realistic college list and be able to tackle your recruiting in the most efficient way possible. If anything, you will be a step ahead of your competition!