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Recruiting Survival Tips for Parents

Zeise Out Loud

Hey, I can go back to life – my son, Elijah, committed to his school (Pitt) and so the recruiting process is over and everything else can resume and maybe I’ll get some sleep now…….

Now that the process is over, I’ll share some thoughts/advice for parents who have a child who may be recruited some day or is in the process of getting recruited. It is the kids day, the kids decision and all of that stuff -- but as a parent, there is a lot of stress and anxiety involved so when it finally comes to decision day, it is a huge weight off of your shoulders as well.

It is not an easy process, it can be a disappointing process at times, it can be an exciting process at times but I think the key to make it manageable is simple – set goals, ask questions and remain focused on the ultimate prize.

So how do you do that? Well it sounds easier than it actually is but here are some of my observations based on my experience – both with Elijah and in many years of covering recruiting --  and as always, these things and $3 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks…..

1. Be realistic about where your kid is capable of playing – This is a big thing. Everyone thinks there kid is a star but guess what – a lot of coaches/evaluators/recruiters don’t agree. More importantly, they evaluate hundreds of tapes every year and see thousands of prospects at camps  so unless your kid is Terrelle Pryor-level, he probably isn’t as special in their eyes as he is in yours. This is important because it saves lots of time and energy and money chasing dreams that aren’t realistic. Too many people over the years since I’ve been covering recruiting and since I have been involved in it personally just aren’t realistic. It is good to want to be at the top and be with the best but guess what – a helluva lot of guys have no opportunities to go anywhere or do anything so if you have a few opportunities – especially those that include financial benefits for school – you should feel blessed and consider them all seriously. There are far too many guys who are holding out for something that is never going to come so be careful to be realistic and honest with yourself and your son. Here is a good thing to do which I did (even though I am expert on all things, of course…….) – reach out to someone who is far smarter than you are and far less emotionally involved that you trust to get an opinion and guidance. I had a number of college coaches helping me through the process figure out what is realistic so this kept me grounded.

2. Because of point 1 – identify the schools your son has the most interest in and he has a realistic chance of playing. Now understand – when I say “realistic chance” I don’t mean sell short or settle for less. I mean, be realistic. When my son first identified places he would like to play he had Texas on it. I told him, that was fine and all that but explained that Texas usually has their recruiting class done by about May and almost all of their guys fall in two categories 1) four or five star or 2) from Texas. So I said “I’ll send them your video” but said let’s focus on the schools you like – Pitt, Temple, West Virginia, Rutgers, Maryland. That was his list of five he had most interest in based on researching them and going to camps and getting to know coaches. Of the five, three offered and two did not but he was OK because it meant he had an opportunity to go to one of his three top choices.  What this did was simple – saved me a lot of time, money and energy chasing things that aren’t there. You don’t get extra credit for piling up more offers and you only need one offer. So while I see some people trying hard to get a bunch of offers and mostly so they can say “I have 20 offers” or whatever, it makes no sense. Once Elijah told me who he had interest in, that is who we decided to focus in on and go after. This saved us a ton of time and money – and we also didn’t waste anyone’s time, either.

3. Don’t be closed minded – Two opportunities that presented themselves were Ivy League and then out of the blue Old Dominion offered a scholarship. At first we thought – Ivy League? But as he researched and looked into things and realized he could get some grants and some aid and go there for virtually nothing he really became interested in the Ivy League. At the end of the day, the practical aspect (as in close to home which means cheap to get to and completely free) of Pitt was too much to overlook. Although I must say this – he really, really liked Old Dominion as he went to visit there and may have given that school a serious thought EXCEPT they told him they wanted him on defense. Elijah ultimately chose Pitt but I can tell you that Cornell and Dartmouth were seriously considered and Old Dominion was as well.

4. If you have options, be picky – I am real proud of this aspect for Elijah. He wanted to get a great education but he also wants to have a good football experience and for him, that meant a real opportunity to play wide receiver. So when a bunch of schools came calling and offered him opportunities to play defense, he told them he wanted to play offense. It cost him a few offers but again, his thoughts were that he had three of the five offers he wanted so was going to be picky. I have seen way too many kids over the years settle for something they didn’t really want and then were miserable as a result. Elijah stuck to his guns – that he wants to play receiver – and so now he doesn’t have to go somewhere and convince them to give him a chance at a position they didn’t recruit him for. I can tell you based on experience – if they recruit you for one specific position it is because of a numbers thing and they are going to be far less interested in letting your son move positions once he is on campus because they recruit to numbers. And also, if they think your son fits at one spot it is likely that they think other players fit elsewhere better than he does.

5.  Get all of the information, don’t be afraid to ask questions – Over the years of covering recruiting and college athletics, I have always been amazed by the number of times kids either (1) think they have an offer and don’t or (2) talk about schools that aren’t interested in them. I never understood how this could happen – until now. Here is the thing – coaches can be very vague, they can say things that they don’t necessarily mean AND (this is a big one) position coaches say a lot of stuff but unless you hear it from a coordinator or head coach, it doesn’t mean much. In order for a kid to get an offer at almost every place I’ve been to, the head coach has to sign off on it. So if you haven’t heard it from the head coach or coordinator and the words “we are offering you a scholarship” aren’t said, then it probably isn’t an offer. And if you have questions about what was said, don’t be afraid to say “so where do we stand” This will help you understand where you stand with each school and avoid making mistakes.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask where your son stands when it comes to other people being recruited. I know this story all too well – a kid gets an offer and two months later he learns the offer was revoked. What changed? Simple – the school had one or two spots for his position and one or two other players committed. This recently happened with a friend of mine’s kid who plays QB. He had an offer from a major university but they only had a spot for one QB (and had offers out to four). One of the other guys committed so that meant there was no more spot for a QB and my friend’s kid lost his offer. Also, coaching changes and whatnot can change things. A great example was Rutgers – the guy who was recruiting Elijah hard told us he would be getting the official green light from the head coach to offer him in a few days and to stay by the phone. The next time we heard from him he was no longer at Rutgers as he was let go for interviewing for other jobs. So clearly things changed with that school.  All I’m saying is that you need to make sure you have all the right information and know exactly where your son stands. If he is only having contact with one coach from the staff that may not be a good thing because if said coach goes – so does the scholarship.

7. Don’t be emotional – Emotions make you make bad decisions. I would say do not commit somewhere until you have left campus and are away from the coaches. I know this – when you are there they lay out the red carpet for you and tell you how great you are. But you need to get away from it and really dissect what you saw, heard and learned. Elijah would have committed to every place he visited had he let his emotions get the best of him but by leaving campus and going home he was able to make better decisions and separate the nonsense from the real. Trust me it is tough when someone is offering you an education and opportunity to play big-time football, but you need to make sure it is the right opportunity and the only way to do that is to go through the process and compare and contrast each school and listen to what they are saying. A great example was when he went to Maryland for camp way early in the process – he was hurt, had a bad heel and should not have been playing but I forced the issue (emotional response was “but you have to go”) and he didn’t perform well at all. Not very bright on my part but I learned from that and when other things came up I was able to say no and understand that it was OK to say no.

8. Don’t be afraid to take a shot or two but don’t be crushed if it doesn’t work out– Before the summer I asked Elijah if there was any schools still out there he wanted to explore, he said Duke. So I took him to Duke prospect camp. He did well, but they already have three receivers committed for next year and once they let him get off campus without talking to him it was clear they weren’t going to offer him. OK, no harm no foul – he left and didn’t look back. It was worth it though to take a look but don’t do it too much. In other words, if there are one or two schools you have heard from but maybe haven’t gotten an offer from going into your senior year, take a shot at a prospect camp. But know that may be a long shot. The key is, once you do it you know in your heart you at least can move on and be at peace. That being said – I think going into the senior year may be too late to go to a prospect camp for the first time. If you have an interest in a program, perhaps going into your junior year is when you should go to a certain camp for the first time.  Maybe had he gone to Duke last year he would have put himself on the radar sooner but you know what, you live and learn. The thing you don’t want to do is spend thousands of dollars going to every camp because you think you should for whatever reason – it makes no sense. Pick a few that may be a bit of a reach and take a shot – but remain focused on the primary ones.

9.  Go where you are really wanted – As the process goes on it really became clear who really wanted Elijah and who, even though they offered, could live with him or without him. That’s important.  Some schools offer 200 kids and actually don’t really recruit about 150 of them. They focus on the ones they really want and then if some of the other ones want to come, fine. This is why some guys commit somewhere or should I say try to commit somewhere and then find out they need to wait because the school is waiting on another kid at their position.  My question there is – “well do you really want him or do you just want him as a backup plan?” We thankfully didn’t face this problem as we maintained good contact with all the schools that he wanted.  I have no doubt the Pitt coaches really wanted and liked Elijah by how they recruited him – he was one of their primary guys as opposed to one of their secondary guys and that means something.

10. Grades, Grades, Grades - You want to make sure you kid has as many opportunities as possible? Make sure he gets it done in the classroom. Coaches will take a chance on a guy who has good grades because (a) it shows he is not likely to need to be babysat for four years and chased around campus (b) it speaks to his work ethic and (c) it shows he has some brains and thus is probably going to be coachable.  Guys with bad grades better be super studs and they just don’t grow on trees. Every coach I spoke to said that Elijah’s grades make him that much more of attractive prospect.

11. Protect your Wallet – There are so many ways people are making money off this stuff that you have to be really, really careful. Going to a million camps is not a good way to go and frankly I am not sold on all of this 7 on 7 business going on right now. There are tournaments everywhere now and there are camps everywhere now and there are always some reasons why you may think you need to do them. Just be smart and be careful as it all adds up. The big combines are nice if you are one of the top kids but I’m not sure what they do for anyone except for the top 10 or 15 kids as everyone else sort of gets lost in the shuffle.  Elijah didn’t do any of this stuff – just didn’t feel like it was necessary and as a result it cost us a lot less to go through this process than a lot of people. We also decided to do unofficial visits to a few schools instead of waiting for official visits because Elijah wanted to have his choice done by the time his senior season started. Getting a few free weekends away is nice, I suppose, but in the end why waste people’s time? Elijah can now go into his senior season and not worry about anything but enjoying being a senior.

Again, I am by no means an expert, but given my years of covering this stuff and talking to coaches and now my experience as a dad in this – hopefully there are some tips in here that will help you avoid some of the heartache and mistakes far too many people have made over the years.

I used to not understand how there could be so many breakdowns in communications and mistakes made and families left wondering what happened – now having been through it I can really see how these things happen.

But again, I think the thing Elijah did very well and I am very proud of him for it, is he (1) identified what he wanted before it all started (2) did not settle for less and (3) asked lots of questions the whole way through and tried to make sure he had a real pulse on everything going on around him.

Good luck to any of you out there who are either still in this process or about to embark on it!