MOUNT VERNON — The college recruiting process can be a strenuous task. Just ask anyone who has gone through it. From start to finish, the process can take months, if not years, to secure an athletic scholarship. It is a rewarding process, however.
The more time and effort that is put into the process, the more options an athlete will have. Many people think that the recruiting process is simply in the hands of college coaches. There is much more to it than that, however.
Athletes, their parents, their coaches and their teachers all play pivotal roles in determining whether or not a scholarship is earned. Recruiting for each sport can be different, but there are many common threads, starting with the experience itself.
“The whole recruiting process is real exciting,” said Mount Vernon boys volleyball coach Alan Cassell, who has been through it with both of his sons. “My oldest son went to a Division II school in North Carolina, and that was exciting. We learned a lot from that recruiting process. For instance, in boys volleyball, there are just not that many schools that offer it. The only school in Ohio that supports men’s volleyball as a varsity sport is Ohio State. You have to sell yourself and get your name out there if you want to play at the next level. You have to at least send out an information sheet to the schools. From there, they begin to look at you.
“The big thing is to play club volleyball in the winter; that’s the equivalent of AAU basketball. ... That’s where the college coaches come to watch kids play. It is interesting to see coaches that are interested in a player because they will keep coming back to watch your matches.”
In sports like football, there may not be opportunities to play in the offseason. There are other things players can do, however, to attract attention. It all starts with simply getting the information out.
“From my experience, most of the time colleges send out questionnaires to the coaches, asking if you have any kids you feel like could play at their level,” said longtime East Knox football coach Chet Looney. “Then, you send that back with their contact information, grade point average and their statistics. From there, the colleges narrow it down and get in touch with the student-athletes.”
“A lot of it is just gathering information, and trying to get as much information as you can on a number of things,” said Mount Vernon football coach Gary Keller. “A lot of this information is gathered through combines where these kids go to camps during the summer. They are tested, and in a lot of regards, it’s a lot buying a horse. They want to see the guy — what he can do, how high he can jump, how fast he can run, how much weight he can lift. A lot of this is done the summer prior to their senior year; that’s the first time a lot of kids work out for colleges. It is a place where coaches can get firsthand information on the kids. That’s when a lot of coaches decided whether or not they want the kid in their program.
“If a kid is interested in playing in college, I will sit down and talk to them about where they would like to play. I want to be realistic with my kids and what kind of opportunities are out there. There are a lot of opportunities, especially with Division III schools. We’ve sent kids to Division III schools, and some of our kids are now being looked at by scholarship schools. There are opportunities outside of Ohio State and the (Mid-American Conference) schools. There are all kinds of football schools out there, and all kinds of opportunities.”
Recruiting in most sports begins during the athlete’s sophomore year. In some exceptional cases such as that of basketball player O.J. Mayo, it can begin earlier. NCAA guidelines permit athlete recruitment starting with the ninth grade. Prior to the ninth grade, a prospective student-athlete can be recruited if a college gives them financial aid.
Most sports also have specific guidelines. No official visits are permitted until an athlete’s senior year has begun, and college coaches are not permitted to call prospects prior to their senior year. For the most part, however, student-athletes are recruited prior to the end of their senior year.
“Boys volleyball is different from other sports,” said Cassell. “There was a boy that went with (my son) Carter’s club team to Atlanta this year, and he got recruited while he was there. That was his first contact. He already had college plans to go somewhere else, but he got recruited there and tried the volleyball route. Typically, you start the recruiting process when you are 16 or so, getting the information out. The junior year is a really big year as far as playing goes. Coaches are really looking ahead at that point.”
“Big schools like Ohio State want to know about the sophomores; they want to know of any good sophomore that you have in your program,” Keller said. “People are starting to look at players in the 10th grade. They want to know if you have a kid starting as a sophomore. Those are the kind of guys they want to keep tabs on, especially if they have the size.
“They are trying to pinpoint these kids earlier and earlier in their careers. They might offer kids that are very early in their recruiting process; that’s usually only the ones that are outstanding. The other guys are looked at throughout the season. There are also a lot of college services that actually look at kids and try to evaluate the players much like the pro scouts do of the college players. That’s another form of service in the recruiting process.”
While it is the athlete that is pursuing a collegiate career, most coaches play an active role in the recruitment process. The exact amount and type of involvement varies from coach to coach, but all agree that is needs to be done.
“I think that this is part of the coach’s job,” said Looney. “If I really felt a certain student would be a good fit, I did all I could to help them. I’ve had kids that I thought could play at a certain college, and I made contact with that coach and spoke on their behalf. ... I talked to my players and asked them what their desires were as far as college is concerned. Then we went from there.”
“I don’t know if a coach has that big a role in the recruiting process because how can a coach sell someone on a kid? That’s the question,” Keller said. “If you do an injustice to the college, do you think those guys are ever going to come back to your school and recruit another player? College coaches want to see what they are actually getting, either through film or through workouts. Sure they want to learn about the kid from the coach in terms of what kind of person is he, what kind of competitor is he, what kind of attitude does he have, but the kid has to sell himself through doing the sorts of things I’ve talked about.”
“I think a lot of the recruiting process falls on the athlete and the parents,” Looney added. “There is so much that needs to be done as far as visitation. If you want to go Division III — they are not allowed to recruit the same way — you’ve got to set up the time to see the coach and do the visit. They’re not allowed to come out and talk to the kids. The kids have to really be proactive.
“Now, if they are going Division I or II, they will come out and watch the kids and really recruit them, but the kids still need to do their part.”
Getting a college scholarship is not easy. The actual athletic endeavor is only a small part of the requirements. Grades, test scores and overall student behavior also plays big parts.
“It is really tough because there are only so many scholarships out there,” said Looney. “If a school is really interested in you, it is not that difficult. It is just a matter of their interest and getting your name out there. ... What they see on film plays a big role in the recruiting. Also, I think — especially the bigger Division I and II schools - they tend to go with the bigger named players. Those are the athletes they focus on because they think the competition is better.
“A student-athlete at (the Division IV, V and VI) level really have to standout to be seen. They would have to dominate almost every game and have some outstanding statistics. They would also need to have team success.”
Keller said, “Not having good grades doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t play either. You might be able to go to a junior college and play. I get information all the time from junior colleges looking for players.”
For years, athletes played multiple sports throughout their high school careers. It was common for athletes to play three sports. Nowadays, however, athletes are specializing and focusing on just one or two sports, which might actually hurt their chances of nailing a scholarship.
“I think athletes that play multiple sports are more likely to be recruited,” said Looney. “That’s always one of the things colleges want to know. I think the more sports a kid is involved in, the more well rounded they are. It makes them a better athlete as far as footwork and things like that.”
Keller, who was a college football coach for over 20 years, sees the multiple-sport athlete as a double-edged sword. There are pluses and minuses to specializing.
“I think sometimes (playing multiple sports) does help, especially with your skilled athletes,” said Keller. “If you look for a skilled athlete as a college coach, a lot of times the first question you would ask would be, ‘How fast can you run?’ The typical answer would be a 4.5 or 4.6. The fact of the matter is that there are very few of those kids out there. Track speeds are going to be more realistic, and that’s why we looked for skilled athletes that ran track. We could verify his speed by what he did in track. The other thing you can tell a lot of times is if the guy is an explosive athlete by if he long jumps and high jumps.
“The other guys that we looked for are the bigger kids. I liked to recruit a kid that was involved in the lifting programs and the throwing programs. Those kind of kids are explosive kids too.”
Keller added, “In the other regard, kids that play three sports don’t get to strengthen themselves quite as much. They don’t get into the weight room as much, but competition is good. You can’t improvise that. It is a good thing for kids.”
Cassell also sees both sides of it, but in a sport like volleyball, athletes must do all they can to promote themselves.
“It is great if kids can play multiple sports, but a player, especially from the Mount Vernon area, that wants to continue at the next level needs to get out there and get some exposure,” said Cassell. “We’ve had a very successful volleyball program that last couple years, but Mount Vernon is not a place that a lot of college coaches are coming to. Playing winter club volleyball is probably the most important thing a volleyball can do to get that exposure. Coaches like to look at the awards from high school and the team’s success, but the most important thing is what they see in the club setting.”