If you’re a high school athlete (or parent of an athlete), and your goal is to play sports in college, this article is for you. While much of what you’ll read below is written based on football, the bulk of the information applies to athletes in other sports as well.
Plenty of high school athletes have visions about competing in college. Some of those visions come to fruition and just as often, some don’t. And if you think you’re ready to make the transition from high school to college athletics, consider the following:
Don’t Believe Everything A College Coach Tells You
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and excitement of an official visit. Coaches may tell you that you’ll get plenty of playing time as a freshman and maybe even earn a starting spot. They’ll tell you about how you can step right in, make an impact, and make your mark on the program immediately. More than likely, they’re telling you, and every other recruit, what you want to hear. And only in rare cases will any of it turn out to be true.
Let’s face facts. When you walk into a college athletic program as a 17-or 18-year old high school graduate, you’ll suddenly be on the same field with players who may have gone to prep school, redshirted, and have worked in the program’s strength and conditioning program for four or five years. Which is to say, you’re an 18-year old freshman suddenly competing with 23 or 24-year old senior
While the age gap may not be significant, the development gap will be enormous. Those seniors are bigger, faster, and likely meaner than anyone you’ve ever played against. Don’t forget, there are also juniors and sophomores already in the program ahead of you and they’re also gunning for that big senior’s starting spot. Add it all up, and your odds of walking into a Division I program and starting immediately are long.
Be Ready To Redshirt
Since there are larger, more athletic players ahead of you on the depth chart, your coach may redshirt you to allow time for you to grow and learn the system without losing a year of eligibility. That means lots of practice time on the scout team, long meetings (with no cell phones allowed), coaches who are focused on your performance as a player, and exactly zero playing time. And, depending on your size and ability, you may even get to use your redshirt year to adjust to a new position. You might have been a top running back in high school, but if your college coaches see you as a defensive back, that’s where you’ll go, like it or not. And even when you do all that, you may not even see the field until your junior season. That is assuming, one of the 25 or so recruits coming in behind you doesn’t jump ahead of you on the depth chart.
Learn To Budget Your Time
You know the image some people have of being a college student with plenty of free time for exploration and social activities? You can forget all that if you’re competing at the Division I level. Consider that, for a DI football player, an average day during the season includes four to five hours in meetings, two hours on the practice field, 90 minutes in the weight room, and five hours in class. That’s 13 hours. Now, if you want to get eight hours of sleep, that effectively leaves you with three hours for homework, showers, meals, and maybe even some time for a girlfriend.
That’s just during the week. Remember that weekends are for games, travel, film, and more meetings. At the end of the semester, you’ll also need time to study for finals, because if you don’t make grades, you don’t play. In the spring, you’ll have spring football and more workouts. Want to go home during the summer? Well, your coaches may want you to stick around for more meetings, workouts, and evaluations.
Long story short, if you’re going to compete at the DI level, expect that to be your primary focus all the time. Don’t expect to enjoy the free time of a typical, care-free college student. Your goal may be to get a college degree in the classroom, but your job is to compete on the field.
Everything Can Change Overnight
That coach who recruited you? He could jump to another school or to the NFL tomorrow. And that will mean you get to prove yourself all over again to a new coach or staff while also having to learn a new system and adjust to a new coaching style. If you’re not happy with the new situation, you can always use your one-time transfer exception and try your lot at another school without losing any eligibility. Of course, you could wind up back at the drawing board at a new school too, so look before you leap.
You Have Other Options
If you’re not being recruited as an elite athlete by DI schools, consider a year at a college prep school or junior college. Doing so may give you some game experience and the time to grow, bulk up, and get accustomed to college life, without the immediate demands of Division I. That extra year of growth and experience might also make you more attractive to DI coaches looking for players who’ve proven they can step in and perform.
Finally, a year at a prep school or junior college can give you more clarity on what you want out of college. You may still want to pursue DI athletics, but you may also discover the advantages of playing at the DII, DIII, or even the NAIA level. College athletics are not one-size-fits-all. Make sure you find the school, the program, and the lifestyle that fits you.