A college-bound running back searches for a hole upfield at the 2018 All-America Game in the Xenith X2E+
For thousands of high-school football players across the country, playing college football is the next goal in their football career, with every talented athlete vying against one another for the chance to show their skills and shine on gameday. However, with only about 7% of high-school football players going on to play in college, and an even smaller 2.8% going on to play at the Division 1 level, standing out amongst the competition can be extremely difficult. Besides working to develop physically through the constant grind in the weight room and on the field, it’s important for athletes in the college recruitment process to market themselves effectively through a variety of strategies, highlighting not only their talent on the field, but also their character in the greater community.
Remember the recruitment journey is unique to each individual athlete, but the following tips and tools can help provide a checklist to ensure you put yourself in the best possible position for exposure to college coaches and programs.
Recruiting for, and ultimately receiving an offer from any program begins with a realistic evaluation of both your athletic and academic abilities. Not every athlete has the grades to play at an Ivy League school, the same way not every athlete has the athletic ability to play in a Power-5 Division 1 Conference. Most players will have a sense of the level of football program that may be right for them, but getting advice from your high school coach or college rep who may have reached out to you is a great place to start. Having a complete understanding of the best level of play and type of program for your personality and skillset is extremely valuable, helping you to narrow down on the programs that could be a great fit in the years to come.
For most players, rejection is a constant reality within the recruiting process. It’s the players who learn from rejection, taking advice to heart and using adversity as inspiration, who ultimately have the best chance in the recruiting process.
A wideout goes up and over the defender to make the catch in the 2018 All-American Bowl wearing Xenith Shadow
Taking ownership and holding yourself accountable during this time is key to ensuring there will be no regret when the process is over. Only you can earn that coveted offer to play college football, and as a result, only you are responsible for putting in the time, effort, and dedication to ensure that happens. Ultimately, the college football recruiting process takes consistent effort, perseverance, and the willingness to leave it all on the field to be the best prospect you can be.
The most important aspect to highlight here is in order to put together a highlight video, you have to consistently make plays during your seasons throughout high school. In the world of football, film can be a make or break for many players looking to take their skills to the next level. The film doesn't lie, and recruiters know that. A strong highlight video can single-handedly put you on the map with the school of your dreams.
With that being said, in the age of social media it can be hard to understand the best strategies when it comes to making a highlight video for your recruiting process. Although each coach has their own preferences, here are some tips to help your video stand out:
Keep the video short
- 3-5 minutes is the perfect length. No coach has the time or energy to watch a 10-minute highlight video.
Prioritize your best plays and highlight your skill-set
- Similar to a commercial, capture the attention of coaches with your best tackle, most impressive touchdown, or pancake block at the beginning of the film.
Skip the music and fancy transitions
- Coaches care about your skills on the football field, and straying away from that could create a distraction for the coaches you’re trying to impress.
When it comes to accomplishing your dream of playing college ball, it is important to know the first person a college coach will reach out to about your game is likely your high school coach.
Aside from their direct contact with college programs, high school coaches often have their own advice for players and may even have contacts of their own that could benefit you as you look to reach the next level. Most importantly, a strong relationship with your coach and the rest of the team elevates your opportunity to be a leader or captain on the team. Such an opportunity can help demonstrate your commitment to your team while also proving to college coaches you can be trusted in the years to come.
Players from the 2018 World Bowl huddle to discuss final strategy with their coach before taking the field
Narrowing down your targets from the hundreds of programs across each level of NCAA football can be a challenging process for every athlete. When narrowing this list, look for schools that are a proper fit for you personally. Including a few “safety” schools as well as a few “reach” schools is worthwhile, but the majority of your list should be comprised of teams that you believe are reflective of your ability. Know that not every school needs to be a big-name program or even Division 1. Instead, the college selection process should reflect the overall experience you want to gain. To understand what this might mean for you, it’s important to look at the athletics, academics, and social life of each school you consider to determine if it is a place you want to spend the next four years at.
One of the best ways to get on the radar of potential coaches is to take the time to reach out to them personally via email. To do so, it is important to research both the college and the football program, looking for specific details of the school and team that stick out to you to include in the email. This will show genuine interest to the coaching staff and make you stand out from the rest. Coaches know when they are receiving a mass email to many programs, and a lack of personal detail and expressed interest in their team can result in your email quickly being moved to the trash. In the email, be sure to include: Your personal information including: your name, current school, year of graduation, height/weight, positions, and any key football-related achievements that would be of interest.
- Your academic and team information including: GPA & test scores, as well as head coach name and contact information
- Your highlight video. Including your skills/highlight video within the email is a great way to quickly show coaches your skillset. If you use an online recruiting profile that includes your video and other important information, this is a great time to attach a link that the coach can explore further.
- Your reasons for interest in the program. As discussed above, it’s extremely important to email each coach individually after taking the time to research both the college and the football program.
A running back fights off defenders but maintains control of the ball in the 2018 World Bowl
Explore opportunities to boost your exposure or overall football skillset. Specifically, summer recruiting camps, often sponsored by outside development organizations or college programs themselves, serve as a great way to increase your exposure for college coaches. However, you should take the time to do ample research on the camp including its overall size, teaching format, location, and cost. This is a great time to cross-reference available camps with your list of prospective schools or schools that have already expressed their interest in you, as these camps likely offer the direct exposure to the recruiting decision makers you are trying to impress. At the same time, know that opting out of a camp is not a death-sentence in the recruiting process – players should only commit to a camp if they are confident it will help them over the long-term. With the widespread availability of high school tape as well as your own highlight video, it is completely possible to land an offer without ever attending a summer camp.
Camps that take place at big-name programs across the Big-10, PAC-12, and SEC can be valuable, but the prestige of the program often results in high numbers of campers with limited one-on-one instruction, evaluation, or exposure. Landing on the radar of these large programs, even after a successful camp session, can be extremely difficult without a previous relationship with the school or recruiting staff. Additionally, some camps are known to be “money-grabs,” providing limited instruction and poor exposure to the schools you are seeking out. The key to finding the right camp(s) is taking the time to research those that you are interested in, evaluating the development and exposure opportunities they provide. Ultimately, this process can help you find the camps which are right for you and that you are confident offer opportunities in line with the recruiting goals you have set.
No matter how talented you may be on the football field, without a commitment to academics, getting a college offer will be extremely difficult. If you don’t qualify academically for a particular school (schools’ academic requirements are varied), then there is no possible way to ever be recruited for said school. It’s that simple. Being forced to narrow down your prospective school list because of a lack of academic eligibility will severely limit your chances of landing a college offer.
Why else are academics so important? First, a strong GPA and test scores could qualify you for academic scholarships or tuition assistance, saving the limited money coaches have each year to allocate for athletic scholarships. Second, academic success in high school often signifies an ability to maintain the minimum required GPA to participate in athletics at the college level. If a coach is constantly worried that you may not be eligible as a result of your academics, the likelihood of them taking a chance on you greatly decreases. On the other end of the spectrum, particularly strong academics can be a key differentiator as the success indicates strong work ethic and perseverance which will be extremely valuable at the college level. When a coach knows they have a player with the determination to succeed on and off the field, the chance they will extend an offer rises.
Academics are also extremely valuable on a personal level, putting you in a position for success later in life. With only a tiny percentage of college football players going on to play pro football, and an even smaller amount who are able to maintain it as a career, having an academic backup is vital to prepare you for future success in life. Additionally, it is important to realize that the average athletic scholarship covers between 25-60% of tuition costs. Strong academics put you in a position to receive additional funding from the college outside your athletic scholarship while also allowing you to expand the list of schools that you have a chance of landing an offer with.
Social media has become a major aspect of college athletics, at both the team and individual level. Schools use social media as a means to promote their facilities and coaching philosophy, hoping to garner interest from prospective recruits as they research programs. At the same time, recruits use social media as a means of self-promotion, often linking their highlight video, posting relevant football content, and tracking college scholarship offers they may have received. All too often, however, social media accounts can be cause for controversy as countless news stories have emerged in recent years of recruits being dropped from colleges as a result of their poor social media behavior.
Monitoring potential recruits has become a full-time job on the campuses of high-level programs across the country. At Oklahoma State, football staff members track every current player and every potential recruit. At Clemson, there is an entire office whose sole purpose is to evaluate the social media of recruits. And at Nebraska, as Coach Scott Frost put it: “I’ll tell you this right now -- if there’s anything negative about women, if there’s anything racial or about sexuality, if there’s anything about guns or anything like that, we’re just not going to recruit you, period.” Overall, your social media has the potential to serve as the main judgement of character for coaches who may be interested in recruiting you. Do not let your social media become a distraction from your success on the field. Instead, see social media as an opportunity to increase your exposure and find out more about the colleges you may be interested in.
College football recruiting is naturally an up-and-down process. Rejection is a reality that many players are forced to deal with but maintaining a positive mindset can help to ensure you are in the best position to succeed. Maybe you feel that you have been slighted by a certain coach or program, or do not feel they ever gave you a fair chance to begin with. Instead of becoming bitter, use their doubt as a means of inspiration to prove people wrong. Work even harder to show those who passed you up that they made a mistake.
Also, know that college offers can come at nearly any time. Watching your teammates commit to schools and achieve their own goals can be difficult, but the only way to right the situation is to continue to put in the work to get better and land an offer of your own. Coaches love players that can face adversity head-on and have the mental strength to overcome it. Prove to yourself and the program’s recruiting you that you have the strength to continue to fight forward. The last thing you want is to look back on your recruiting experience and know that you could have done more to achieve your ultimate goal.
A wideout wearing Xenith Shadow beats his defender into the end-zone to score at the 2018 All-America Bowl
The long and arduous recruiting journey takes serious dedication from the football player themself, and ensuring your hard work is appreciated and recognized by college coaches is the ultimate goal for any player working towards a football scholarship. Although there's no secret formula to receiving a football scholarship, there are steps players can take to put themselves in the best possible position for exposure to college coaches. From creating a potential schools list, to uploading your highlight tape on to Hudl, to attending your first summer camp at your dream school, this list aims to give you the tools and tips to excel in the recruiting process and land a scholarship offer of your own.
Now what are you waiting for? You've got what it takes, go get that offer.