I played football at the United States Naval Academy. How did I end up there? Well, that is my story, and it starts with my recruiting experience.
I have been blessed with enough ability to always be competitive in the majority of the sports I played. Sprouting up to a ripe 6 2, I played football since 5th grade. In high school, I was able to stand out on the field and have pretty impressive stats. As is the case with most aspiring athletes, I would excel in high school, but my size, speed and strength were a little off the mark and search radar for most of the big time football scouts.
I had initial interest from some good schools early my junior year, so I was at least optimistic with my chances that something would work out and I would get a partial if not full ride to a major D-1 school. Couple this with having the typical high school adolescent big fish in a small school syndrome and you had the recipe for some major disappointment and a rude awakening when none of the big name schools came knocking with offers. I was devastated or at least extremely surprised. I could not believe that no one wanted me to play D-1 football in college. On top of that, James Madison University, which is D-1 AA, asked me if I wanted to walk on!
I am not the sharpest pencil in the box, but I have great parents, who always made me hit the books and get good grades. So with a pretty good GPA and a decent SAT score I was pursued by a lot of the military service academies (West Point, Air Force Academy and Naval Academy). These were all D-1 football programs, so I seriously considered all of them. With my old man being a former alumni and player himself at the USNA (Class of 70), it did not take me too long to accept an admission letter to the Naval Academy.
I decided to go to the Naval Academy because it allowed me to play major D-1 football and play against some of the best teams in the country. Also, I would receive a good education, which would be free. Furthermore, my old man was a career Navy man himself, following in his footsteps seemed like a pretty good plan. Plus, having a job guaranteed for the first five years of leaving college was a huge plus!
I am very proud to have been a student-athlete at the Naval Academy. I have zero regrets and would not have traded my experience for anything.
Throughout high school, I never had any dreams or visions of playing a college sport. I had always been a pretty good basketball player because of my size, but had never played football until my freshman year. I never imagined that it would be my eventual ticket to a free education and the best experience of my life.
Though I enjoyed basketball the most, I just seemed to be a natural at football, because of my leadership and my never-quit attitude. My team always seemed to thrive on the energy that I brought into each and every game. After my junior year, I all of a sudden started receiving awards and recognition from out of nowhere, which was the first time that the thought crossed my mind of potentially playing at the next level. Though I was definitely not the strongest or fastest player on the field, I never ever quit on any play and kept my intensity and my team's energy up for the entire game. I had a solid work ethic and that is one of the main things that college coaches look for in their recruits.
I was very excited when all of the recruiting letters began pouring in, but it was very overwhelming. I received letters from top programs like Penn State University, all the way down to small D-3 schools. I never wanted to count any schools out however, because things in the recruiting world can change very quickly.
The whole recruiting process was the most stressful time in my life. I lost a lot of sleep at night. I saw the University of Richmond, and new that it was a perfect fit for me. The players, the coaches, the school, everything about it was just right. However, at the time I had a high school girlfriend, and was very close to settling on Towson University, because it was much closer to home. However, I never got the same sense of team, or sense that I belonged at Towson, like I did at Richmond. I realized that Richmond was where I needed to be, and it turned out to be the best decision I have ever made.
Whatever you do, don't look at the immediate impact of your decision. Odds are that you will get homesick; you will be overwhelmed with work, and the speed of the game, and the pressure from the coaches. Getting through all of these things will shape who you are as a person, and will make you into a much stronger individual. You will be able to handle life's challenges more easily having been a college athlete, and you will have no regrets.
Almost every college program offers some sort of camp in the summer. This is basically a legal way for coaches to see what players can do up close, though they are very limited by NCAA regulations. If there are any schools that you are really interested in, make a great effort to get to their camp. This will let the coaches know that you are interested in them, just as they are interested in you.
You should also make every effort possible to get your name out into the recruiting world. Join recruiting websites, make video tapes, and call coaches. It is okay to brag as much as you possibly can; it will only help you out in the long run. Treat your senior season as an audition, as every game could be your ticket to a free ride. If you make a mistake on the field, don't feel like scouts are going to pack it up and give up on you. Everybody makes mistakes, just make up for it on the next play or in the next game. As I said, there is NO replacement for hustle on the field.
Recruiting trips after the season are one of the most fun times that you are going to have throughout the whole journey. You are only allowed five official visits so be sure to pick schools that you would legitimately want to consider going to.
Some things to consider on your official visit:
School. Odds are you will not go pro. Will you end up with a degree that you will be proud of once you graduate?
Location. Is it too far from home? Too close? This is important, as many freshmen will get homesick and a weekend trip home can be enough to help you make the gradual transition.
Coaches. These are your new parents. Be sure that they are honest and truly care about their players. Don't fall for the old "come here, and you will play right away" line, which is used frequently to lure in recruits. If you are good enough, you will prove that you can play right away on the field, not through promises.
Players. These are your new brothers and will become the closest friends that you will ever make. You will go through the toughest few years of your life with them. Be sure that there is a sense of team among the players. Ask them all the questions that you can, about coaches, school, social life, etc.
The recruiting process began rather suddenly for me. I got my first letter my sophomore year when I played both JV and Varsity. I got a few more letters during the offseason from other programs and fall of my junior season they started coming in about 10-15 letters a day.
Football is a little different than other sports because high school football is where it all happens there is no club or AAU teams that help you in recruiting, just camps at different schools where you can showcase your abilities. Although I never went to this type of camp, I recommend attending if you're serious about going to one of the schools. It's a good way to see how you match up with others and for the coaching staff to take a look at you in person as well as get your name out there.
A few things to consider when you're being recruited, regardless of what sport, is that you're selling yourself just as much as the recruiter is selling the school. Be respectful and humble to all recruiters regardless of your interest level in their school. If someone takes the time to talk to you about playing for them, you should at least take the time to hear them out.
I was injured during my senior year which heavily hurt me being recruited by big time D-I schools. However, I was still able to get a scholarship because I listened to smaller schools even though I never thought I'd end up at one (which I did). There is no such thing as "that will never happen to me" because whatever "that" is CAN happen. So you want to give yourself options and NEVER burn a bridge unless you know for sure that it is not the school for you. College sports are a business and recruiters will tell you everything you want to hear, but until you sign a letter of intent it is all just talk. Recruiters have no loyalty to you until they offer you a scholarship and/or you commit and sign that letter of intent. Therefore you have to lookout for yourself and not get too caught up in your own hype.
- Have fun with it. Go on your visits and enjoy being celebrated for your hard work.
- Trust and accept advice ONLY from people you already know and trust - like your family and coaches because they are more likely to have your best interest at heart
- Choose a school AND an athletic program, not just an athletic program. Most likely you're not going to go pro in whatever sport you're being recruited to play so you need to make sure you go to a school that meets your academic desires and career aspirations as well (and if you don't have academic desires or career aspirations you may want to give it some thought).
- Become knowledgeable about your choices/considerations. If you're interested in a school do some research and background checking about it on your own. Don't just accept what the recruiter gives and tells you.
- Continue to work hard. You're in this situation because of your hard work at what you do, so don't slack now just because you're being recruited.
- Stay out of trouble. There is no worse label to obtain during recruiting or any time in your life for that matter as a person who has "character problems" which basically means you're probably more of a risk than you're worth. If there's one thing you have absolute control over it's showcasing the fact that you're a good person and not a troublemaker. This will show that you would do a good job representing their school. This factor may be the thing that gives you the edge over someone else that they're recruiting.