The Rigors of Recruiting
By BJ Bennett
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Being recruited is a dream very few get to live. For those who can't yet purchase a $2 scratch-off ticket, the pursuit can still be quite nerve-racking.
While college football's biggest and brightest stage is the BCS National Championship Game, its most awkward has, in some ways, become National Signing Day. A made for media event, the first Wednesday in February now comes with more bells and whistles than the third Saturday in October, the "Million Dollar Band" and "Pride of the Southland" included. After months of deep deliberation, high-profile high school seniors take pen to paper amidst parents and peers, family and friendly, questions and concerns.
The growing spotlight on National Signing Day continues to follow the unrelenting demand the public has to learn all it can about the next wave of college football celebrities. Today, the peak of a players branding may come before he ever signs a letter of intent. Inherently, recruiting coverage offers rewarding, viable options. Recognition can elevate an athlete's profile, thus attracting the attention of college coaches, and fans are given their off-season fix. For some prep stars, the interview requests that come with recruiting can serve as a transition period, a veritable adolescent stage, into the pop culture challenges major college football presents.
With more attention, however, come more opinions. Young athletes once going through a process once reserved largely for loved ones are now doing so with the whims of fans sometimes clouding their view. The game is one certainly played by some high school seniors, understandably struck by flattery for the first time. Others simply struggle with the pressure. As you might expect, influences come from all over.
"Coming from a place like Waycross, Georgia, it is almost like you are committing a sin if you don't commit to Georgia," recalled former UGA defensive tackle Gerald Anderson. "I had my family, my mom was kind of adamant about me going to Georgia Tech and she let it be known. I had people from teachers to those in the public telling me 'hey you need to go to Georgia, not Tech'. It was my decision and one I had to deal with for the next four or five years of my life."
Even if advice given is genuine in nature, the sheer number of suggestions can give 17 year old absolute information overload.
"All in all I knew everyone had my best interest at heart. At the time I didn't know which way to think or which way to go. It's scary, a big-time process" Anderson, who switched his verbal from the Yellow Jackets to the Bulldogs after Mark Richt was hired, continued. "Like I said, it is a decision you have to deal with for the rest of your life so you have to make sure you make the right one."
For all of the local dynamics recruits deal with, regional and national expansions are the most eye-opening. Sometimes in a span as short as a summer break, players can go from relative unknowns to the must-have targets of the heralded football programs of hallowed colleges and universities. Fielding the pitches of coaches at the next level and tempering the excitement that come with school visits are challenges all their own. Especially during recruiting's mad dash to the finish, college football rolls out the red carpet for those deemed the best of the best.
"Going through the process of being a high-profile recruit, you really go from being a high school football player to being a seriously highly-sought after commodity. Whatever recruiters have to say or do to get you they are more than willing to do because their jobs depend on it," stated former University of Florida first-team All-American tight end Ben Troupe. "They really do their research on you and know everything about you and your family."
Managing one's emotions during the process can prove extremely difficult.
"I can remember my high school coach telling me that the last school I visited would be the school I chose because every time I went on an official visit I fell in love with the school. Tech was my third visit or so and I absolutely fell in love with the coaches and the players and being in Atlanta, but I didn't look at everything as a whole," Anderson acknowledged, before explaining how a new UGA staff proved to be the difference. "Georgia got me back up on a visit to get me back in the loop and I knew that's where I wanted to be."
Due to the influx of mainstream media coverage, much less online and social outlets, the recruiting process is now completely different than it was even a decade ago. It's a transformation that is currently shaping college football's future. Having the right physical abilities remain critical towards an athlete's ability to make the leap from high school. That said, players today must be more well-rounded, properly educated, pro-active and better prepared for the non-stop grind that the build-up to National Signing Day can be. Oftentimes, the right outlook is the difference between success and failure.
Former NFL running back Joe Burns is among those explaining to prospects exactly what they are getting into. Burns, founder of RisingSeniors.com, has created a free leadership education program in Atlanta rooted in multi-faceted teachings. Rising Seniors has support from the NFL and NFLPA and works in conjunction with various non-football organizations to accentuate off-the-field opportunities for young student-athletes.
"The biggest thing I learned in the transition from high school to college is time management. You don't have that much time so you need to spend it wisely. You have all of the tutoring you need. You have everything you need to be successful there. How are you going to spend your time? Are you going to hang out all of the time because it is the first time you are out of the house and you have that freedom, or are you going to stay focused like you did in high school trying to get there, get the best out of it and take advantage of it?" he asked.
The Georgia Junior Bowl is held every December in metro Atlanta. Per Burns, that's just the beginning of the work he and his partners do. Using both athletes who have taken the straight and narrow to prominence, and those who haven't, Rising Seniors focuses on athletic, academic and social growth.
"The game is the bait to get them there," Burns detailed. "They come for the game, but when we get them there that is our opportunity to change their lives."
Being recruited to play college football is a dream very few get to live and a rare chance the vast majority of players take full advantage of; you'll be hard-pressed to find an athlete who will tell you otherwise. For individuals who can't yet purchase a $2 scratch-off ticket or legally buy a pass to "Silver Linings Playbook", the pursuit can still be quite nerve-racking. Decisions made shape the rest of one's life. Considering most high school students haven't yet truly embarked on that grand adventure, it's a responsibility that shouldn't be taken lightly and an achievement worthy of praise.