Deciding Factors: College

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In talking with hundreds of college and professional athletes over the years, STACK has discerned certain themes that come into play when choosing where to continue your athletic career and education post-high school. The most popular include a mix of location, educational opportunities, exposure and playing time, and team compatibility.  Here, some of the country's top athletes dish on how they made their choice.

Dwyane Wade: A standout athlete at Richards High School in Chicago, D-Wade had a self described "low" recruiting year. Not many schools were interested, since he didn't do well on his ACTs. So when it came time to choose among Marquette, DePaul and Illinois State, Wade said it came down to "picking the best university…the one that wasn't too far away and the school that wanted me. And Marquette really wanted me."

They also needed him. According to former Richards HS basketball coach Jack Fitzgerald, during the time Wade was being recruited, Marquette was in a rebuilding phase, and they both knew he would get playing time if he signed. "We were asked to go to a game… Marquette versus Wisconsin at Marquette…when Dwayne was a junior." Fitzgerald says, "Marquette scored 10 points in the first half, and [Dwyane] says to me, 'I can play here.'"

And so the story goes. Wade went on to lead the Golden Eagles to the Final Four in 2003 and was drafted by the Miami Heat later that year.

Marcellus Wiley: Wiley was heavily recruited by some of the top football schools in his home state of California, including UCLA and Cal, but he ended up heading to the East Coast. He chose to play at Columbia, a school known more for its Ivy-League status than its winning football team. "I knew they didn't have a top-notch football program, but I also knew that it was going to be a great education. And I knew that if you were talented, the scouts would come and find you no matter where you went to school."

He was right. After earning first-team All-American and All-Ivy League honors, Wiley was drafted in the second round in 1997. After 10 years in the NFL, the Pro Bowler says he's still happy with the decision he made. "Football fields are the same whether you're at UCLA, USC or Columbia. That's a hundred-yard football field, so that didn't matter to me. I wanted to maximize my educational experience."

Shawn Horcoff: The Canadian-born son of two teachers, Horcoff had two things embedded in his DNA: education and hockey. When it came time to choose a college, he knew he needed a good education, but he also wanted a program that would further his career on the ice. After only two official visits, he knew hockey powerhouse Michigan State was the school for him. "I wanted a school that was going give me the best chance of making it to the NHL, yet have a chance to get a degree at a good university."

He succeeded at both. After his sophomore year, the Edmonton Oilers drafted him 99 overall. Despite receiving the exposure he'd hoped for, he stayed at MSU and continued to dominate on the ice and in the classroom, becoming a two-time member of the CCHA All-Academic Team, a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, and the CCHA Player of the Year for the '99-'00 season. He continues to rule the ice today, having represented Canada three times internationally (winning gold twice) and being named to the 2008 All-Star team.

Vernon Gholston: Growing up a football player in Michigan, the rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State is well known. The intensity extends to recruiting, too. Gholston learned that first-hand. "Being from Detroit, [the University of] Michigan was one of the primary top dogs in the state of Michigan," says the former high school all-state cornerback. "And [then] Ohio State kind of snuck in to play."

So what swayed his decision? "The biggest thing I saw from Ohio State was the type of person Coach Tressel was. [His] sincerity, [his] honesty and just the way he led the program." But Gholston says the decision was not an easy one. "As recruiting got tough, you just had to look at schools for what they really [were]…and through doing that I thought Ohio State was the best school for me….just somewhere I could have a strong bond with the coaches, a similar thought process and a place I really wanted to play for."

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