Recruiting Do’s and Dont’s – Alex Relph

Over the last decade, I have been a Football coach either at the high school or Collegiate FCS level. Before that, I was a high school athlete going through the recruiting process myself, ultimately landing at Colgate University to play football. These experiences have allowed me to see every side of the recruiting world, along with the many mistakes that get made. 

This article aims to provide practical guidance for athletes, parents, and high school coaches. It is also worth mentioning that while many of the tips discussed are universal, the intended audience is not the few 5-Star athletes with 30+ offers from the nation’s elite programs. Rather, it is for the majority of kids looking to continue their careers at the next level but unsure of the best path to do so. 

So, what’s first? 

Be Honest with Yourself

DO: Take fair stock of yourself, and consider the opinions of seasoned coaches
DO NOT: Ignore advice from experienced coaches

This is the hardest part of the process. Being brutally honest with yourself, and taking clear stock of who you are, and what your talents are, is not easy. This is where your high school coach should be able to help. If you are lucky to have an experienced high school coach who has been doing it for a long time, lean on their advice. Ask what level they think you are best suited for. 

If your high school coach is new, inexperienced, or uninvolved, crowdsource advice. As you go to camps and clinics and begin to send your highlight tape around, where are you getting the most interest? If you have only heard from Division 3 schools and you are halfway through your senior year, chances are, you should seriously begin to target D-3 schools. 

Without taking fair stock of yourself, you will likely waste a lot of time and money pursuing schools that will not return the interest. 

Prioritize Properly

DO: Base your decision on Academics, Campus, then Athletics
DO NOT: Base your decision on Athletic prestige alone

Before anything else, you need to formulate a framework for your decision-making by setting proper priorities. Far too often, I have seen athletes making college decisions with the sole criteria of “Who is the best team at the highest level of competition?” This never ends well.

Understand that far less than 1% of High School Athletes will play professionally. However, if you are good enough to play professionally, they will find you no matter what level you play (see case in point here). So what is the takeaway? Find a school that offers the best overall fit. How?

Academics

Whether you like school or not, you likely want to be successful in life. One way to set yourself up for success is to choose a respected academic institution with a great alumni network. 

If your school has a strong network of successful alumni, you have a far better chance of finding gainful employment after college, and success in the long run. 

I, for one, would never have gotten into Colgate without Athletics. I used my athletic ability to get into an elite academic institution with an incredible Alumni network. Once my playing career came to an end, the education I received and the access to a super successful alumni network made a monumental impact on my success in the professional world. 

Campus

This may seem odd, but it is super important. The location of your college will significantly impact your happiness, and if you are not happy, you will not perform to your fullest potential. 

Are you super close with your family? Attending a school across the country when an equal match is a few hours away may not be the best decision. 

Do you prefer a more scenic, quiet campus setting? Attending school in downtown Boston is probably a poor decision. 

Be sure to consider the campus setting and the proximity to home (whether you want to stay close or go far away). Every year, both as a collegiate athlete and coach, I saw at least one kid leave within the first two weeks because they realized they picked the wrong type of location and setting. 

Athletics

I get it. Athletics matter. I was a collegiate athlete myself. I am not saying to discount Athletics in the process, but rather, to prioritize it correctly. There are plenty of successful athletic programs for you to pursue, so why not choose from the handful that ALSO provides a great fit in all other areas? 

Understand College Coaching is a Business

DO: Examine the staff’s resume
DO NOT: Believe everything they tell you

While I would never recommend you choose a school without LOVING the coaching staff, you must understand that college football is a business. Almost every coach is trying to climb the ranks. Much like you, they want to be the best. 

This is why the points above regarding priorities are so important. If you choose a school for the staff alone, you are going to be very disappointed when they leave or get fired. 

One thing to look at is the coaching staff’s resume. Have they jumped from school to school after only a few years, always looking for the next best opportunity? Have they had four straight losing seasons, possibly in jeopardy of getting fired? Or has there been consistency in the staff, or at least in the head coach position? If all else is the same, choose the staff that has shown stability and institutional loyalty. 

Furthermore, understand that it is each coach’s job to land the best recruiting class possible, and that means loving you up during the recruiting process. If coaches are pumping you full of promises, like the ability to start right away, be leery. 

Look for coaches who are straight shooters. The truth is, as soon as you sign on the dotted line, you are just another player. You will receive no special attention when you report to camp, and you will have to earn everything!

Be Your Own Recruiting Service

Do: Take ownership of your recruitment
Do Not: Waste money on a recruiting service

I don’t want to make sweeping statements that condemn an entire industry of business, but in my experience, recruiting services that charge families with the promise of placing their kids in the best program are not worth the money. 

As a college coach, my Inbox was INUNDATED with blast emails from recruiting services. What did all my fellow coaches and I do? Select All, Delete. 

How did we find talent? We opened emails from athletes themselves (more on that later), and we reached out to the coaches at the schools within our territory, asking if they had any prospects for us. 

The primary benefit of the recruiting services was that they could provide you a web page with all the requisite information: Highlight film, GPA, transcripts, contact information. 

However, your Hudl page has 80% of what a coach needs, and, as we discuss later, the rest can be included in your introductory email. 

Want to get super fancy? Build yourself a simple website on Squarespace, or any other web builder, host your video and key information. Provide a “Request Information” button so coaches can request more personal details like transcripts. 

Make a Highlight Tape, not a Hollywood Movie

DO: Put best plays first and keep theatrics to a minimum 
DO NOT: Get crazy with slow motion and rewinds

Ever drop food on the floor only to scoop it up and shout “5 Second Rule”? Well, when making your highlight tape, it is the “60 Second Rule”. Coaches will pull up your highlight, and if you haven’t “WOWed” them within 60 seconds, it is going in the trash bin.

Therefore, cut out all the theatrical info at the start. Give the coach an image, metrics like height and weight, and your GPA. This screen can be all of 5 seconds (they have a pause button).

Then, lead off with your ABSOLUTE best plays. DO NOT go in chronological order of games played. They may never make it to your best clips. 

The length of your tape should be 3-6 minutes. Too short and the coach may think there isn’t enough there. Too long and you risk putting in clips that are not highlights and boring the coach.

Make Emails Complete, Concise and Personal

DO: Personalize emails and include ALL the information needed
DO NOT: Blast email coaches, or send only your highlight

While Hudl has made film evaluation far easier, it has also made it harder. Back in the day, you’d have to create a physical VHS or DVD, put it in an envelope, and physically mail it to coaches. Crazy right? 

While this made it more time consuming for coaches to evaluate a lot of players, it had the benefit of forcing kids to send their film to targeted schools. 

Now? Kids can take a link, and blast email it to hundreds of coaches. The result? Every coach’s inbox has 100 emails each morning. So how do you stand out? 

I like personalizing the Subject with the coach’s name and your key information. For example:

Coach Smith: 6’0” 185 Lbs Quarterback; 3.6 GPA; Interested in {School Name}

Then in the body of the email, be concise, be personal, and include everything they need.

Below is an outline of what the body of an email could look like: 

Greetings {Coach Name},
My name is {Your Name}. I am a 6’0″ 185 LB Quarterback from {Your High School}. 
I am interested in {School Name} because of the {reason:combination of success in Football and incredible academics}
Here is my highlight tape: {link}
My transcript and contact information is attached. 
Please let me know if you are interested in recruiting me. 
Best,
{Name}

Once again, the key here is to be concise and personal. Coaches don’t want to read a long biography. They get too many emails. 

Including something personal, like why you are interested in their school, lets them know this isn’t a blind, blast email. It lets them know that if they like your film, there is mutual interest. 

Notice how I also mentioned that the transcript and contact information was attached? If they like you, they 100% need your transcript! Don’t make them chase you down for that. 

Wrapping Up

So what are the takeaways? 

First, be honest with yourself. If you spend all your time sending emails to Texas and Alabama, but are a better fit for Division 3, you might miss the boat entirely, and end up scrambling to find a home. 

Next, set proper priorities. If you are good enough to play professionally, you can do so no matter where you play. Therefore, prioritize Academics and the right type of campus. 

Lastly, understand that coaching is a business. Don’t believe everything coaches tell you, and don’t choose a school solely based on the staff. 

Beyond that, let the cards fall where they may, then make the best of it. You may not get offers from the level you want. Appreciate the opportunity to play college sports, regardless of level, and maximize it! Wanted to be D-1, but you are D3? Become a D-3 All-American. 

My sincerest hope is that you gleaned at least one new insight from this article. Recruiting is a super exciting time, but it is also wildly stressful. It is really hard to find help in the process. 

If you don’t have anyone who can help you in the process, by all means, use me! DM me on Twitter: @coach_relph. I am happy to provide any help and insight I can! 

It is a big decision! Don’t make it lightly.