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Editor's Note: As the 2016-2017 school year approaches, many young athletes are preparing to step foot on the field, court or golf course. Many of those athletes have dreams of playing in college, but how does an athlete get to the next level?
That’s the question that we look to answer in this series, X’s and O’s of the recruiting process. For the next four weeks, we will talk with people who have seen the recruiting process unfold from different angles during their careers. We will talk with a former recruiting department employee, coaches and players that have earned scholarships or walked on to a university team.
While the focus will be primarily on football recruiting, the advice is still applicable to volleyball, basketball and track athletes as well. The process is nearly the same across all sports. While there may be slight variances in the way it is carried out, the idea is still the same. The biggest thing an athlete needs to do is get exposure. There are various ways to get that exposure to colleges and we will discuss that over the duration of the series.
In part two of our series this week, we learn about the recruiting process from a coach's point of view. We talked with Neligh-Oakdale coach Ron Beacom and former Boone Central/Newman Grove coach Arnie Johnson. The two have helped send various players on to play at every level of college football, including current Huskers Cole Conrad and Wyatt Mazour.
When a player decides he or she wants to play college sports, one of their first contacts is their high school coach.
Arnie Johnson, former head football coach for Boone Central/Newman Grove, and Ron Beacom, head football coach for Neligh-Oakdale, have combined for more than 60 years of coaching experience in Nebraska. The two coaches have sent players to nearly every level of college football, including multiple walk-ons at the University of Nebraska.
Over their careers, Johnson and Beacom have had the chance to learn what a future college athlete looks like. Beacom said one of the biggest indicators is how motivated a player is on the field.
“If they play with a high sense of urgency all the time, I think they have a chance to play at the next level,” he explained.
Johnson noted that he has seen many kids with the ability to play in college, but they are missing another important quality.
“Sometimes kids have a lot of ability,” he said. “But their heart isn’t into it.”
Johnson made a practice during his time as a coach of inviting anyone that had a desire to play college football to visit with him. They would talk about a player’s goals, where they wanted to play and how they planned to get there. Early on in his career, that consisted of mostly seniors. However, in recent years, as the recruiting process sped up, juniors and even sophomores would often have to start considering their options for the future.
One reason for the sped up recruiting process is due to services such as HUDL. Players for both coaches have used the service to create highlight films for themselves and sent them to college coaches in hopes of getting noticed. Johnson has noticed that the service has helped his players.
“They (HUDL) gave a possibility to someone from our small towns to get recognized,” he said.
Once a college has seen a player’s film, oftentimes they will set up meetings with that player. Beacom believes kids should use that meeting as an interview for their “potential full-time job” as a college athlete.
“Don’t let them ask all the questions,” Beacom suggested. “Make sure to also ask questions that important to you.”
While ultimately, it is the player’s decision where they want to go, both coaches have been happy to use the many connections they’ve made to get a player to their dream school. A coach with plenty of experience and a good reputation, such as both Beacom and Johnson, can be a huge asset to a player trying to get recognized by a specific school.
“At the end of my career, if I’d have called and said ‘Hey this kid’s good’, they would say ‘We’re going to take a look at him,’” Johnson explained.
With such a small amount of time to search through the many possible recruits, colleges are trying to efficiently find players that will be good for their system. If a player has a trusted coach that will vouch for them, it gives them a better chance at getting a chance at their school of choice.
Besides the coaches talking with their connections, they are also to help a player market themselves by finding camps for the players to go to. Johnson believes a player must get out and show themselves off to the colleges they are interested in by attending their camps. The camps test athletic attributes of players such as speed, agility and quickness and gives athletes a chance to introduce themselves to coaches.
Going to a camp in top physical condition can help a recruit pass the eye test of a coach as well. With so much competition, if a recruit shows up to a camp overweight or with poor conditioning, coaches may look at other prospects, regardless of how well the recruit tested.
Besides taking care of yourself physically, Beacom stressed the importance of working hard in the classroom, also.
“Make sure you look at all of the eligibility requirements,” he suggested. “Continue to do the best you can on the academic side of things.”
Most colleges that are not considered “DI” level schools are not able to give full athletic scholarships. In many division two, three or NAIA schools, the athletic scholarships are often 33 percent or 50 percent scholarships. If a recruit has a good academic record, it allows the colleges to put together a stronger financial package for the player to help pay for their education while they play sports.
Over the years, both Beacom and Johnson have had the fortune to see great athletes pass through their programs and go on to play college sports. Those athletes do not make it to the next level accidentally.
“It’s not something that just happens,” Johnson said. “You have to show a commitment to what you want to do.”