Justin Jarrett | LowcoSports@gmail.com
A few years ago when I was covering high school sports full-time, I got a call from a local tennis coach letting me know one of his players was going to sign a letter-of-intent to play in college that afternoon.
“Oh, great, who is it?,” I asked.
I didn’t recognize the name, which was odd, because I thought I knew every name on the roster.
“She plays JV,” he said.
I was puzzled. Here we had a player who was unable to crack not only the lineup, but the varsity roster, for a middling high school tennis team, and she was signing a college scholarship. It turned out she was a great student who had stumbled onto a fledgling program desperately in need of players, and she was going to be able to keep playing tennis while helping fund her education. Talk about a win-win.
What it taught me was that if high school athletes want to play at the next level, there is a place for them to do so, a fact that I’ve become even more familiar with since transitioning to a career in collegiate athletics. There might not be much, if any, scholarship money involved, and it almost certainly won’t be at one of your dream schools, but there’s a roster spot available somewhere.
The college recruiting landscape can be difficult for high school students to navigate, and especially those who aren’t NCAA Division I talent. I’ve seen families spend enough money trying to get their kids recruited that they could have saved enough for undergraduate and graduate school combined.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
D1 coaches will find D1 talent, regardless of whether families are spending a fortune to send their kids to expensive academy programs or carting them around the country for showcase camps and travel tournaments. The trick is knowing when to admit your child isn’t D1 talent.
If you aren’t hearing from D1 coaches by your junior year, that’s your first hint. Start looking at Division II, Division III or NAIA programs. D2 and NAIA schools have athletic scholarship money to dole out, and while D3 schools can’t offer athletic money, they have ways of making sure recruits find other forms of financial aid.
Coaches at these smaller schools don’t have huge recruiting budgets to travel the country scouring for diamonds in the rough, so they’re not nearly as likely to find you on their own. If you’re in this tier of athletes, you’re going to have to sell yourself.
By all means, find someone to shoot a recruiting video you can throw on YouTube and send to coaches. Spend your weekends tracking down email addresses for coaches at schools where you might be able to play or filling out recruiting questionnaires on those schools’ websites. And most of all, be realistic in your expectations.
If you keep getting turned away by top-25 D2 programs, look for teams that finished in the middle of the pack their conference. If the D2 coaches won’t give you the time of day, try D3 or NAIA. Keep going down the list until you find someone who is interested, and when you do, set up a campus visit and a workout. If you have the talent to help the program, they’ll have a spot on the roster for you.
Maybe going to a big school is more valuable than continuing your athletic career, and that’s fine. But if you aren’t ready to hang it up just yet, there’s a place for you to play. You just have to know where to look.