College Football’s National Signing Day is right around the corner (next Wednesday to be exact), and with it comes a big moment for lots of high school football players making their decision on where they’re going to play college football for the next four years. That day, though, doesn’t come out of nowhere for these kids. It’s a crescendo of sorts, the culmination of four years of play on the field, as well as many life decisions off the field.
On the field, these kids are gifted with amazing athleticism. To quote the late Jake Gaither, former Florida A&M Head Coach, they’re “…agile, mobile, and hostile.” Off the field, though, there’s often room for recruits to improve how they come across to college coaching staffs, fan bases, and the media. In 2015, a recruit’s entire off-the-field life is under a microscope and on-display, from their personal Twitter feeds and Facebook profiles to the recruiting feeds of rival universities. To be a well-rounded recruit in this day and age, it’s more than just speed and strength. It includes having a self-awareness that you won’t get from the public school system. You need to understand how every step you take will be viewed by different groups of people.
It’s worthless to throw out advice for this year’s Signing Day class, so instead, here are10 things I would offer up to a high school freshman looking to make a name for himself on National Signing Day 2018.
1. Publicly keep your list of target schools wide your first couple years of high school
Showing interest in a wide range of schools will further your name recognition around the country. This is taking a page out of a presidential campaign playbook. Candidates know voters need to know their name before they ever have a chance to vote for them, and this is no different. You want people to know your name as you’re building a personal brand that will eventually garner you a large following and (once you go pro) lucrative endorsement deals.
2. After researching a wide range of schools, narrow your focus to about five that you want to target.
This will happen naturally as you form an opinion from interacting with different schools, but this is vital as there’s only so much time in a day for you to be a high school student, a football player, a college researcher, and a kid.
3. Dissect your top five schools’ attributes
Different schools and their fan bases have different subtleties to them that make them who they are. Figure out which schools seem to overlap with your way of life, but also think about who you want to be when you get out of school. The people you associate with help shape who you become – so choose wisely.
4. Start to publicly align yourself with what those schools stand for
You want to get an offer from one of your top choices? You need to start living life the ____________ (insert university) way. It’s blatantly obvious to say don’t get arrested and be a good person, but it’s more than just that. When you do something good, make sure it’s made public. Be humble in your posting, but make sure word gets out about your good deeds. You don’t have a PR team doing these things for you. Volunteer, visit the sick, be a family man, etc. All of your off the field actions will be eyed and scrutinized, so shape the story to be a good one.
5. Connect with the fan bases of your top choices
This is your chance to crowdsource an opinion on what life would be like as an LSU Tiger or a Texas Longhorn. Shoot out questions on Twitter ahead of any official visits and see what fans/students at your top schools have to say. In addition to getting qualitative data on schools, you’re also getting a gauge of how excited different fan bases would be to have you as a representative of their program.
6. Be cool
Or rather, be your best self. As your star-power rises, so will your skeptics. You want to be on the good side of everybody who’s judging you. Every school has plenty of examples of top recruits who were later dismissed for doing something boneheaded, so try not to look high when you’re in front of a camera. Critics will see that as a warning sign, and you’ll be playing from behind from then on.
7. Still stand out in some form or fashion
This is your chance to build your brand. Figure out what makes you unique, and remind yourself to live it.
8. Practice answering typical reporter questions
As you get good at football, you’re going to be asked more and more about your talents, and your intentions, by reporters. Be ready for these types of questions, and it will make you look 1000x more polished to schools and the general public.
9. Manage to be yourself
High school football is so ramped up these days, the process can feel like a full-time job. Find time for some Madden, music, or whatever it is you enjoy doing in your free time. Otherwise, the grind could wear you out before you ever get going.
I only had nine things to say. Ten just sounded much better. Any other advice for high school freshmen looking to become big time college football players? Leave a 10th piece of advice in the comments section.