Football recruiting: What sets it apart from other sports?

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 Leccesi 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.

College football is big. College football recruiting features high stakes and even higher budgets. Around half of the 65 Power Five schools spend over $1 million per year on men’s sports recruiting, with the vast majority of those dollars supporting their football programs. Out of 1,066,469 high school football players across the US, only 2.6% go on to compete for a NCAA Division 1 school. To help your student-athlete get discovered by college football coaches and ultimately get a scholarship offer and make the roster, a little education goes a long way.

Here are five things to know about today’s football recruiting landscape.

Football recruiting is all about regional hotbeds

While your student-athlete’s accomplishments on the field should speak for themselves, you may have to work harder to get recruited if you’re not from a hotbed region. In 2018, 54 percent of all blue chip recruits hailed from four states—Texas, Florida, California and Georgia. Since these regions have a reputation for producing top-tier football talent, college coaches from top D1 programs focus most of their recruiting efforts there and will often visit several high schools on one trip.

How do you get recruited if you’re not from a hotbed region? Your student-athlete’s highlight video can help level the playing field. Start collecting footage early and keep updating it as they improve their skills and play in more games. Think of a highlight video as a football resume. Include stats, measurables, GPA and SAT/ACT scores. In addition, many football coaches like to see athletes compete before they offer scholarships. If college coaches can’t come to you, consider traveling to a football camp or combine to get on their radar. Many high school football players also use recruiting tools like NCSA to find schools and interested coaches.

Finally, classroom performance can be the secret weapon that gives your student-athlete an edge. If a coach is evaluating two comparable recruits to fill a roster spot, they will offer a scholarship to the athlete with better grades and test scores 99 times out of 100. For coaches, the risk of losing a player to academic ineligibility is simply not worth it.

Read more: What to do if you’re not from a recruiting hotbed

Football coaches offer scholarships by the dozen

Now, more than ever, D1 college football coaches are extending scholarship offers early and often. Coaches race against each other to identify blue chip recruits at a young age and convince them to consider their school. Even if a coach’s chance of landing a blue chip recruit is a longshot, making an offer can generate media buzz and help attract other recruits. This year, Southern Miss leads the way with a whopping 430 scholarship offers to 2019 recruits. As a conference, the SEC tops the charts with 285 offers on average. With an athletic scholarship limit of 85 for D1 FBS teams—of which the majority are upperclassmen already on the team—just a fraction of these offers will come to fruition.

So how can college football coaches extend hundreds of offers when they typically only have a couple dozen spots to fill? Verbal offers and verbal commitments aren’t official and nothing is a sure thing until you sign the National Letter of Intent. Keep in mind—if your student-athlete waits too long to respond to a scholarship offer, coaches are quick to move on and offer their spot to another player at the same position. If your dream school makes an offer, and it is a good academic and athletic fit, you should consider accepting right away!

Read more: A scholarship offer is not a guarantee, so what is it?

New rule offers redshirts more playing time

In the past, redshirt football players couldn’t take the field for even one snap without burning a season of eligibility. Not anymore. Starting with the 2018-2019 season, Division 1 FBS and FCS football players can compete in up to four games without forfeiting their redshirt status. With over half of D1 football players redshirting their freshman year, this NCAA rule change could give your student-athlete the chance to see meaningful playing time during their first year of college. As you communicate with college coaches, be sure to ask about playing opportunities for redshirt freshmen.

Read more: Why the new redshirt rule is good news for coaches, athletes

Football combines and camps can put you on the map

Testing well at a combine can instantly put your student-athlete on a college football coach’s recruiting list. Football combines are typically open to all high school football players, and while coaches usually won’t be in there in person, they are very interested in the verified stats your student-athlete posts. From the 40-yard dash to the vertical jump, combine results are a huge factor in determining college potential. I recommend student-athletes test themselves at a football combine right after the season ends.

On the other hand, college coaches often attend football camps to scout recruits and meet them in person. Common types of football camps include: invite-only showcase camps for elite recruits, specialist camps for kickers, punters and long snappers and skill-building camps for underclassmen and 7-on-7 camps that emphasize skill development. Coaches want to watch your student-athlete compete and see their intangibles.

Read more: Football camps, combines and showcases

Social media can be your best friend—or your worst enemy

Many college football coaches are extremely active on Twitter and other social media. While coaches used to woo recruits with handwritten letters and phone calls, the best way to reach many of today’s student-athletes is via direct message. In 2016, the NCAA allowed college coaches to like, favorite, share or retweet posts by recruits. And while coaches have to wait until September 1 of an athlete’s junior year to send DMs, many are also turning to social media to screen recruits based on personality and character. According to college coaches surveyed by Cornerstone Reputation, 85 percent search athlete profiles on social media during the recruiting process.

While drug and alcohol references, off-color jokes and profanity are obvious red flags to avoid, your student-athlete isn’t doing himself any favors if his profile is missing information or is impossible for college coaches to find. To stand out and get recruited, make sure to set your accounts to public and include your graduating class year, position, location, professional profile photo, a football-related background photo and a link to your highlight video. If a college football coach follows you, be sure to follow them back.

Remember—social media best practices apply to your student-athlete’s friends as well. Getting tagged in a photo from a party or having an inappropriate meme shared to your wall can undo years of hard work on the field and in the classroom. Setting up Facebook Timeline Review will let your athlete check and choose which posts will appear on their wall.

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