When it comes to college recruitment, the NCAA sets guidelines for college coaches and high school athletes that control when coaches can reach out, how many campus visits a student may take and when athletes may commit to a school, among other activities. According to its website, the NCAA imposes such restrictions “to create an equitable recruiting environment that promotes student-athlete well-being.” In this two-part series, SCDS athletes discuss their experiences with this process.
Senior Theo Kaufman started his recruiting process “really late,” he said. Top soccer recruits can be scouted as early as their freshman year, and the average recruit really gets started at the beginning of their junior year. But Kaufman didn’t begin emailing coaches until last summer.
“I didn’t really know anything about recruitment,” he said. “I don’t know anything about college sports. It was new for me and my parents.”
Though Kaufman’s mother Christina played at Sacramento State University and San Diego State (and later professionally on the national team), she was never recruited by a college and was thus unable to advise her son.
Besides speaking to coaches late, Kaufman said he did not utilize the club coach from his team, Union Sacramento FC, as many players do.
“I didn’t tell him the schools I was interested (in) or have him send emails,” Kaufman said. “It could have been very different if I had.”
Furthermore, Kaufman hasn’t compiled footage of himself playing, which he said put him at a disadvantage because coaches want to see players making real-time decisions in games. And he doesn’t have an account on soccer recruitment websites because those accounts are expensive.
As a result of these pitfalls, he received interest from only the University of Puget Sound, a Div. III school. He visited the school in November to check out the soccer program, meet the coaches and team and follow their game-day routine.
Though Kaufman enjoyed the feeling of being recruited, he said he will likely not attend Puget Sound. Instead, Kaufman will likely enroll at the University of Oregon and try out for a club team there.
Kaufman limited his college list to Div. III schools because he would be a candidate based on his skill level, but he had a glimpse of Div. I recruitment at the University of Vermont, where he was invited to attend a college ID camp. During these camps, players showcase their talent in drills to dozens of coaches.
“I knew (the coaches) weren’t going to want me, but it was still very cool playing with the top players in the nation,” Kaufman said. “They knew how to play. It was scary.”
About 60 athletes attended, and many were French-Canadian, he said.
With his club soccer team, Kaufman has also attended college showcases, at which teams play each other tournament-style under the inspection of college coaches.
“You have to be careful of the way you act,” Kaufman said. “That’s a big deal for college coaches these days. They don’t just want a high-skilled player. They want someone who won’t lose their cool and will be respectful. You’ve got to play well, and you can’t lose your mind.”
Kaufman said the good that came out of his grappling with recruitment is that his sister, junior Lia, is well informed and already working on being recruited.
Leading up to and during his basketball season, senior Reggie Fan initiated contact with four coaches through emails and phone calls. Fan had to reach out because playing at a Div. VI high school has made it harder for him to be noticed by college coaches.
“At summer tournaments when I’m playing with my (Amateur Athletic Union) team, there’s a college coaches’ section, so you definitely notice, but I try not to let them affect my play,” Fan said.
Fan said that he wishes he had known how difficult it can be to reach out to a coach and wait for a response.
However, he said whenever he would make contact with a new college coach and send his recruitment video, to his amazement, SCDS basketball coach David Ancrum would find the coach’s personal cell phone number and speak to the coach on behalf of Fan.
Some of these correspondences resulted in requests for more information or invitations. For example, in the fall Fan was asked to play with a college team in Boston. Unfortunately, his invitation was revoked when the coach decided it was too close to the start of the team’s season to allow outsiders.
Instead of practicing with the team, Fan took a tour of the school with the assistant head coach and met a couple of players.
Fan, who has played basketball for five years, has narrowed his focus to Div. III schools with strong academic reputations near big cities.
“THE LIVING DEAD”
Sophomore Rebecca Waterson is a year-round competitive swimmer for DART at Sacramento. She is also currently in a “dead period.”
That doesn’t mean she’s suffering from extreme sleep deprivation or dealing with a zombie outbreak. She is simply not allowed to meet face to face with or be contacted by college swim coaches and will receive no response from them if she initiates contact.
Like most competitive high school athletes, Waterson’s “dead period” began on July 1 before her sophomore year and will end on June 30. Waterson was alerted to the commencement of her “dead period” by DART coach Brian Nabeta while at a summer swim meet.
“I tried talking to a college coach that came to watch (senior) Amalie (Fackenthal),” she said. “I asked my coach if I could introduce myself, and he was like, ‘Oh, my gosh! You can’t talk to him! You can say your name, and that’s it!’
“It was like two days after the period had started, and my coach had to explain that to me. I managed to introduce myself, so that was a good two seconds.”
Waterson said that a few of her sophomore friends have emailed college coaches and created profiles on the website CollegeSwimming, a swimming news source, to “put themselves on the college radar.” On this website, high school and college swimmers can submit pictures and biographies and request that any incorrect times be changed. CollegeSwimming also reports class rankings and college swim team rankings.
Waterson said that it can be advantageous to pique a college’s interest early on; however, she has abstained from going after swim coaches because she and her family are more concerned with researching possible majors and having her maintain a high GPA. Waterson also said the NCAA’s required “dead period” is a time when athletes can really focus on their swimming.
It wasn’t until the summer before her junior year, once her “dead period” (sophomore year) had ended, that senior basketball player Yasmin Gupta was approached by coaches. She has since received emails, phone calls and texts from around 20 schools, including Cornell College in Vernon, Iowa, with which she has signed a four-year basketball contract.
Gupta first crossed paths with Cornell at a tournament in Arizona.
“I had busted my lip because my tooth went through my lip,” she said. “So I was really swollen and wasn’t having a good tournament, but (the Cornell coach) started contact then.”
Gupta has visited Cornell twice – once the summer before her senior year and once in the fall. On her visits, Gupta stayed with players. She also worked out with the team – which was allowed only because the team was not in season – and met with Cornell’s head of science because of her interest in majoring in pre-med.
Gupta said that her decision to commit to Cornell College ultimately rested on the amount of money she was offered because she was conscious of high-priced international-student tuition (Gupta is an Australian citizen); for example, according to their admissions website, most UC schools charge internationals $60,000.
After watching Gupta play in person for the second time, Cornell’s coaches offered her a scholarship. However, Div. III schools are not allowed to give athletic scholarships, so Gupta will receive her sum through Cornell’s Presidential Scholarship.
“If a Div. III school wants you badly, they’ll find other ways so (the scholarship) is not illegal,” Gupta said.
Colleges give their teams a sum of money to distribute to their athletes, but if a recruit meets financial aid requirements, then the school will award the recruit with financial aid instead of the team providing a scholarship.
When teams offer a position or scholarship, the decision to keep this information confidential is left up to the player.
“It’s better to keep (offers) on the low,” Gupta said. “Because someone verbally saying, ‘I’m going to give you a scholarship’ is not (binding). You need a document.”
Gupta said that recruitment offers are susceptible to change, and announcements can inspire competitors to send footage to a college.
If a team offers a player a scholarship, the player must still apply and be admitted. But Gupta said it’s rare that an athlete is offered a scholarship and then denied by admissions because applications can be flagged for student-athletes.
Gupta did not have to submit teacher recommendations, which are optional for first-year students anyway, and instead turned in an essay she had written for junior AP Language and Composition.
When she submitted her application, Gupta was at Cornell and informed of her acceptance in person by an admissions counselor that very day.
On Nov. 8 Gupta signed her National Letter of Intent to commit to Cornell. There are two dates when athletes sign these contracts. The first is Nov. 8. These athletes usually receive full rides or scholarships from the team. The second date occurs in April. Those recruits meet requirements for financial aid.
Gupta said that once she had committed to Cornell, boys’ basketball coach David Ancrum consulted with its coach and altered Gupta’s practice routine. It was decided that she would play the three or four for Cornell and need to be handy with 3-pointers.
“I’m used to being a ‘big,’ the tallest player, so playing down low (on the court) and getting points in the key is what I’ve done (throughout high school),” Gupta said.
“(As a three or a four), I need to be able to shoot 3’s on tall, slower players. If I have a smaller guard on me, I also need to be able to make points in the key.”
“THE EARLY BIRD”
In May sophomore Aaron Graves will enter his second season of volleyball as a libero for Northern California Volleyball Club’s (NCVC) 16-1’s team.
“I’ve had to catch up,” Graves said. “I show up early and stay late at practices and work out extensively on the weekends, but when it’s something you love this much, you don’t mind.”
Graves’s passion for volleyball means that finding a competitive college that will allow him lots of time on the court is his biggest priority.
“I love the game so much, so I’d prefer whatever school gives me the most playing time,” he said.
Graves said that though volleyball coaches from Div. I schools are not allowed to initiate contact, Div. II and Div. III schools can freely speak to him, and so far three have.
“I visited a school in Northern California and bumped into their coach, and he said they were interested in having me play,” Graves said.
For now, conversations with coaches have focused solely on Graves’s skill and his interest in the school, but in the future, they will likely be geared toward Graves’s academic record as well, he said.
Graves has been advised by players on his club 18’s team to increase his exposure to coaches early. At the same time, they recommend he hold off on emailing Division I coaches for another year so that he has more experience and because volleyball players usually begin contacting coaches in their junior year.
Graves’s coach also gives tips on recruitment every now and then, focusing on what qualities coaches are seeking.
“They want someone with a good attitude, not just a high performer, someone who won’t get frustrated with themselves,” Graves said. “They also want to see how you react on the fly.”
Outside hitters are sought after because they hold the most important positions, and teams will have several on their roster at once, according to Graves.
For now, Graves is monitoring his profile on the volleyball recruitment website CaptainU, where coaches can check statistics and athletes can find what colleges are looking for. The highlight reel that Graves will send to coaches when the time comes is also in the making.
Graves will attend volleyball camps this spring, resume his NCVC season in May, play in the USA Volleyball Boys’ Junior National Championships in July, and check out beach volleyball in Huntington Beach and Long Beach this summer.