Dear Recruit – Part IV

Anthony Wheeler. (Justin Wells/IT)

Anthony Wheeler. (Justin Wells/IT)

The Dear Recruit – PART I, PART II, PART III series from our Chris Hall; an open letter to all recruits.

By: Chris Hall

Dear Recruit,

Last week’s five things you never choose a school for may have left you wondering: “What do I actually choose a school for, then?”

That’s the point. You have to slow down, and think, for this series to be a help to you.

I want you to consider every angle before diving head first into adulthood. National Signing Day should be a business decision that pays dividends the rest of your life. I want you to look, before you leap.

The truth is choosing a school should be based on a number of different factors.

Coaches, playing time, the NFL, your family (notice I left out girlfriend) — all of these should play an important role in your decision. But where you sign shouldn’t be based on any one these factors alone.

I don’t want to find you disappointed and directionless in your sophomore year because one thing didn’t work out. Coaches get fired, players get benched, and most all of us go professional in something other than football, eventually.

Each recruit’s combination of desires, needs, and scholarship offers will be different. No two people or situations are the same.

However, I want to give you three things that should be a part of your final equation (no matter how unique your situation may be).

1. Winning

Winning, in football, is life and death. You’ll be working far too much over the next four years to lose more games than you win.

I’m not trying to say that winning is the most important factor by enumerating it here first. But, I am trying to be practical. If all you do is lose on Saturdays, you’ll wonder whether your scholarship check is worth all the trouble in the first place.

I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve heard longingly wonder what it’s like to be a regular student. Usually something profound, like, “what would I do with all that free time? … Man, that would be awesome.”

The cost of playing college football is high — the practices, the pressure, the 4-hour workouts in the summer — your return on investment won’t feel worth it unless you’re stacking Ws in the fall. It would still be worth it, don’t get me wrong, your education will always be worth the price you pay in the field house. But everything is more enjoyable when you win. “Winning cures everything” is a common saying for a reason.

You may be a borderline Division I recruit set and determined on “going D1.” It’s the initial dream of every high school player who discovers he’s actually good.

Your first letters start coming in, each one is exciting and celebrated with friends or family. You start discerning the importance of the letters, which ones are basically mass emails and which ones are handwritten with intent. Then your first phone call comes, and maybe an in-home visit and an offer or two after that.

The process, though exhilarating, can be a whirlwind that leaves your head swimming as Signing Day approaches. Remember, it’s still football no matter the size of the stadium, school, or division level.

Winning, in the end, is what makes the game fun. All the swag a big budget school can offer won’t replace winning championships (or the lack thereof) at the end of your career. Personally, if I had to choose between winless Kansas (the worst team on the FBS level) and North Dakota State (FCS National Champions the past 5 years in a row)— I’d give Fargo a long hard look.

Get a great education and go to the NFL if you can; everything will be much more enjoyable if you win a few games along the way.

2. Your Future

I know this is hard, but I want you to think about life after football.

Right now your entire world revolves around football — that’s normal. You’re in high school, you’re great at sports, and athletics is paving the way for your future. But your future…That’s what I want you to focus on. What do you want to do with your future, after football is over?

The majority of your life will be spent doing something other than playing this game. You have to start planning and preparing now for what you want the rest of your life to be.

At 6am on February 2nd, 2005, I faxed my letter of intent to the University of Texas at Austin. The ceremony we had at school was nice. Honestly, it felt like a successful “game over” to me more than anything else. I had won (but “the game” was only beginning).

It was incredibly hard for my mind to think beyond the halls of Irving High School. I was a baller, everyone respected me, and I had a great (cool) group of friends. What else was there to life? It was almost like I never expected graduation to actually come. It was so surreal for me to pack my stuff up and move into my dorm on campus. My world was so small; it was hard for me to imagine life beyond popularity among my high school senior class — but it definitely existed. I don’t expect you to have the next 40 years figured out, deciding the next four is hard enough. But because your college years will have such an affect on the rest of your life, you have to at least start thinking about it. Before you know it you’ll be a miscellaneous 20-something in the world.

Choosing a school for your future means two things, practically: education and relationships.

Your education (i.e. major) will determine what you’re trained in, what skills you learn, and hopefully give a you a viable career path after graduation. It doesn’t have to be chemical engineering, but some kind of degree with definite job opportunities is preferable.

What do you like? What topics interest you? What sounds appealing when you think about working 40+ hours every week?

It’s okay, and understandable, if you default to being a coach. Athletics is what you know. Keep your options open even into your sophomore year of college. As you mature, you’ll likely discover what direction you should head in.

If you’re already sure about what you’d like to study, and a university doesn’t offer it, you should probably play football somewhere else — simple as that. The next four years are a foundation for the next 40.

It’s relationships, however, that may be even more key to making a career than the type of bachelor’s degree you earn.

You’ll meet more people in college than you will in any other season of life. If you’re smart, you’ll seize the opportunity to build a professional network, make life-long friendships, and develop much needed people skills.

None of that can happen if you spend all of your free time playing PlayStation and hanging out with teammates. You have to get outside of the athletic social bubble, at some point, and make other friends if you want to effectively use your college years to build a future.

A private university with 1200 total students may not be the best for that. Choose wisely.

DKR Texas-Memorial Stadium. (Justin Wells/IT)

DKR Texas-Memorial Stadium. (Justin Wells/IT)

3. Location, Location, Location

I don’t want this to sound patronizing, but you need to seriously consider how far away you can handle being from home.

My grandpa (“Papie”) didn’t leave Angelina County until he enlisted in the Army at age 17. He also moved back to East Texas just as soon as he was released from active duty. He missed home and my grandmother. He doesn’t often leave her side or Lufkin, Texas if he can help it.

I was the same way my freshman year in college. I didn’t have a sweetheart to come home to, but I drove home my redshirt year nearly every weekend or opportunity I had. I missed my family; “being on my own” and the transition to college football was almost more than I could handle. There’s a reason why a lot of guys don’t make it past their freshmen year.

If I had signed with Florida instead of Texas, I may have tried to “come home for good.” I don’t know what would have happened. I hope you’re better prepared to leave home than I was — but it’s definitely something to think about.

You need to ask yourself: “What can I live with, and what can’t I live without?”

Do you need Momma to give you a kiss before every game? I wouldn’t admit that if it’s true, but you probably shouldn’t move halfway across the country if that’s a deal breaker. Maybe you have the opposite need. Your environment at home may be something you desperately need to get away from. I can understand that — being close to home would be the worst situation, because home would eventually follow you to college until you weren’t allowed to come back to campus anymore.

It’s not just the physical location though; there’s the culture and atmosphere of that location as well.

If you can’t handle being out of a deer stand for days at a time, you shouldn’t go to USC. It’s in the middle of Los Angeles (where there may be guns, but definitely no hunting allowed).

If crowds of people freak you out and the thought of large classrooms make you anxious, don’t go to Texas A&M. There’s 58,577 Aggies waiting to “howdy” you every day as you cross campus.

If independent thought and non-conformity are two of your core values, avoid going to West Point or Academy school. You’ll be broken down before you’re built back up (or for you, just broken down).

I may be giving you more food for thought than you can handle at this point. Chew slowly. February 2nd is still weeks away and there’s plenty of time to think everything through.