10.5 Lessons I Learned About Recruiting This Week
Plus: The triple admissions process; How to not DM a coach; Why you're not as good as you think; Transfer portal reference checks; Randomness, timing and recruiting and more.
The recruiting game is in full swing with a lot more twisty turny upheaval than in years past.
A big part of what I do is on field work with high school, college and NFL specialists, but probably the harder job is the off field work on college recruiting.
There is painfully little education support for families and players going through this process, so I am hoping this section of my newsletter will provide some value and reduce your swelling migraines somewhat.
Lesson 1: You’re facing a double or even triple admissions process trying to be a college athlete.
As a former high school teacher for nine years, I can tell you first hand the college process absent any talk about college sports is already an acutely painful experience for parents, players, teachers and coaches.
American society holds up college as the ultimate rite of passage for not only students but also their parents - college and higher education, for better or for worse has become the embodiment of the American Dream. And, it’s the last place where you can fulfill your or your child’s potential.
Not only are you trying to get admitted to a school, but you are also trying to get admitted onto the sports team or football team in a second admissions process that runs parallel with the regular admissions process.
Except, unlike the regular admissions process, coaches are not incentivized to give every applicant or recruit the benefit of the doubt, in fact, they are incentivized to be extraordinarily cynical in their evaluation of talent.
Unlike high school where your coach probably won’t be fired if you lose them the game, a college coach may very well be (and also have to move their family in the process)
As a specialist, your experience being recruited is going to be entirely different than if you were any other position on a team.
You will probably end up your team’s highest point scorer every season, you will win or lose games for your program and your handful of plays per game will have a disproportional impact on the outcome of the game, but you will also be recruited last.
I’ve stopped staying up late at night starring at the ceiling about the illogic of de-prioritizing such an impactful position in the recruiting game - it just is what it is.
This means your timeline to get recruited is going to be much later, ambiguous and mentally taxing than probably any other position in your same class.
Lesson 2: College coaches are paid to be cynics, high school coaches are paid to be optimists.
In high school football, coaches are optimists because they can afford to be.
Outside of a few high pressure school districts, most coaches in high school are not going to be fired for you messing up. In fact, in K-12 education we encourage teachers and coaches to tell young players that they can achieve anything they put their minds to, and to worship their nearly unlimited potential.
And, while it is true that young players have unlimited potential in most aspects of their lives, and few people truly max out what they are capable of, college coaches recruit on mathematics. You will not play for Alabama unless you are a particular size, height, weight, and possess top 1% talent.
When evaluating your own ability, if your best personal record KO is 75 yards with some wind, a college coach will probably knock off at least 5-10 yards or so in evaluating what you can probably do in the pressure of a real game. If your max field goal is 55 yards, most college coaches won’t attempt a kick with you at 45 yards or even less.
Lesson 3: No one wants to watch your highlight tape.
Even DIII coaches are inundated with communications and highlight tapes all clamoring to be watched with multiple paragraph stories about how yet another recruit is being “slept on”.
Your best chance of getting your tape watched is to make it as digestible as possible:
Put your single best “holy sh*t!” clip at the start of the tape. This clip is the clip that makes a college coach spit their coffee out while watching.
For kickers, this is a KO that goes through the uprights, or a pressure game winning, game tying, or long ball FG.
For punters, this is a field flipping drive punt where you de-cleat the returner in the process.
This order will get your tape more readily watched:
Single best holy sh*t clip.
Single best KO clip
Single best FG clip
Single best P clip
5-8 of your best KO’s
5-8 of your best FG’s
5-8 of your best P’s
Any onsides, tackles, or some training tape at the end.
Some no-no’s on your tape:
No highlight circle.
No dead air between kicks.
Lesson 4: Make your highlight tape a single video file that you can pin to the top of your Twitter.
I like hudl tape, but it’s a pain to switch back and forth between platforms and apps to watch film. The more you can keep your film accessible and reduce wait time by having it running as your pinned tweet the better. Just keep your hudl link in your profile.
Lesson 5: No one wants to read your email or DM.
When was the last time you received a multiple paragraph text message from your mom or from your girlfriend and said to yourself, “Oh boy, this will be good!” and excitedly opened it up, devoured the message and then immediately called them back to follow up?
In fact, you probably rolled your eyes, figured you were in trouble and then either left the message unread or scanned it for a micro second ultimately deciding to either leave it on unread, or outright delete it.
Your messages to coaches should have all the information that they need to make a single decision about you in the first two lines:
Coach, my name is John Doe 22’ QB/K GPA 3.7 SAT 1350 Ht. 6’1 Wt. 190 NJ and I’d love to compete for you. Below is a link to my highlight tape and copy of my transcript.
This is all you need. Trust me, this is going to be read much more readily than your paragraph message.
Lesson 6: Don’t have your parents pose as you on Twitter or email.
Well-meaning parents can sabotage their child’s recruitment by thinking they are taking a load off of their child’s back by privately running their son’s Twitter account or running a “dummy” email address. It gets to be pretty fishy for college coaches when supposedly young Gen Z people start to respond to them in full, grammatically correct, and overly enthusiastic sentences!
The second college coaches begin to sniff “crazy” from the parents, they begin to back off. The most you can probably get away with is filling out the recruiting questionnaires that college teams have on their websites for their recruits, but even then, barring some extraneous circumstance, the recruit needs to be the one filling this stuff out.
I’ve never, in seven years of coaching specialists seen one who needed to be directed and forced by their parents successfully go to a dream school.
Parents who are afraid of being helicopter parents instead turn into concierge parents, always waiting on the phone, setting up deadlines, ruthlessly managing their child’s schedule for fear that “it’s all just too much for them and I want them to focus on school,” but what seems like help is really creating a maturity handicap.
Talking to some admissions counselors in college and professors, this concierge parenting has somehow trickled upwards to higher education where parents are emailing professors on their child’s behalf, doing work for them and ultimately extending childhood into college.
Parents struggle between wanting their kid to go for their dreams while also wanting them to have a firm footing in reality, but no one can want this college recruiting thing more than the child themselves.
I’ve never really seen a happy ending any other way.
Lesson 7: College coaches don’t stay forever.
While it counts for a lot to really connect with a coaching staff, the odds are strong that that same staff that recruited you will not be there in the same format when you graduate.
Assistants, and coordinators tend to move around a lot more than head coaches do - the guys doing the bulk of the recruiting legwork. This is why it’s really important to actually like the school you are considering and not to make a choice solely on who is recruiting you.
After covid with no football season last year for many, most staffs were able to stay intact one more year before a lot of coaching moves happened, but this year, there seems to be a bit more movement than in years past.
Lesson 8: Lead up with your high school coaches.
The level of support most high school coaches offer varies wildly in the college recruiting game. Some guys are all stars at it and some completely abdicate their responsibility to help their players (but don’t worry they will happily pose for a picture of you to be posted on the school’s social media account of you on your signing day to take credit for the work they didn’t do).
Most college coaches like to and are required to speak with your high school coach before putting forward a recommendation to the head coach to recruit you or not. Make sure your coach knows when a college coach may be college them. Most high school coaches would be happy to do so.
Lesson 9: It’s not personal.
You are going to feel like you’ve been disrespected, ghosted or wronged at some point in your recruiting process, but that’s because high school football makes you think that you’re special even when you might not be for the level you’re trying to play at.
Remember, high school coaches are paid to be optimists and give you a sense of fulfilling your potential. College coaches are paid to win period. That means if you’re too tall, too skinny, or too unathletic, they’re just not going to look at you.
Recruiting has so many twists, ebbs and flows that there is going to be a message, call or email that isn’t returned. That’s ok. Sometimes no response is a response in itself, and other times you might just need to reach out again.
While leg work is needed of you to run your own recruiting, you can ultimately tell when a team is interested in you when they are the ones driving the communication not you.
Lesson 10: You can do everything right and still fall short.
You can be everything and a bag of chips to your dream school, but if your position has been deemed not a need for that year, that’s it.
Randomness, timing and luck play a disproportionately large role in the outcome of all recruiting, much more so in the world of specialists.
When a highly ranked player is offered by Alabama it is easy to say that hard work and dedication make the offer possible for this particular player in hindsight. It sounds good, and helps reinforce a particularly American belief and especially in football that hard work equals success.
It is much harder to say that on a particularly lonely, and boring February morning while sitting in their car at 7:58am waiting for an 8:15am recruiting meeting at a local high school in the middle of nowhere, America an assistant coach flipped open their Twitter and randomly saw your Twitter profile and hit follow.
I don’t think you can control timing, luck or chance, but you can do things that will attract it in your favor: getting great grades, being brutally honest about your abilities, and self marketing.
Lesson 10.5: Levels versus labels.
The level of college football a recruit plays is too often conflated with their own sense of personal self worth. The higher the division level, the higher my self-respect and my self-status. But, really, what probably too many players and parents are after is achieving a label instead of achieving the right level of play, study, and social scene for themselves.
Right now, you are probably not playing for the single best team in your state, and even if it is, there is probably another HSFB team somewhere in the country that would smoke you. But, yet, somehow, you have enjoyed your time playing football enough on this less than ideal team to go down probably the single most difficult pathway to college - becoming a college kicker.
Why did you enjoy your time playing? Well, because you were actually playing! You were not only on the field, but you were contributing to help your team win, strived daily to push yourself in the weight room, and felt connected to your teammates and coaches.
Shoot for whatever level you want, but I’ve never seen a player have a bad college experience who immediately saw the field.
Bonus #1: Great players always want to be told the unvarnished and brutal truth, mediocre players want to be lied to.
A coach’s job with a subpar player is to help them see how good they might be. A coach’s job with a talented player is to help them see how good they’re not.
Bonus #2: Avoid the transfer portal when you can.
Multiple transfers on a recruits’ resume with no game tape is a red flag to many college coaches.
Contrary to popular belief the transfer portal is more of an agonizing purgatory than a thriving player market.
It’s too easy to transfer, and while there are many headline stories pumped through Football Twitter about so-and-so’s Power 5 offer after entering the transfer portal, that is probably not going to be 98% of the transfers’ stories.
So, when you do have more than one transfer, you need to have an air-tight story that isn’t going put off a coach.
Many college teams perform reference checks with previous coaching staffs similar to how an employer will call your list of references.
Bonus #3: Kick like a middle schooler!