Column, Opinions

A Window into the Odyssey of College Recruiting

The recent scandal that rocked college basketball gave the public a window into the corrupt practices that lure the nation’s top talent to big-time schools. Players are receiving cash and cars, and recruiting visits are replete with strippers and raucous parties. Like it or not, perhaps this is the reality for the top echelon of recruits.

But for the other 99 percent of college athletes, the recruiting process plays out much differently. For non-revenue sports such as baseball, recruiting is far less glamorous, yet every bit as stressful. Moreover, no two recruiting experiences are the same. Players progress at different rates and commit at different times. There is no structural framework or ideal roadmap. It is an inexact science that can completely consume an athlete.

For me personally, the recruiting process was extremely frustrating. My freshman year of high school I decided I wanted to play college baseball, but I also prioritized attending a school with an elite academic reputation. I began to compile a fairly narrow list of schools that I wanted to attend and began to work toward my goal. Schools often begin to identify potential prospects around their sophomore year of high school. As a player, you desire the maximum exposure possible, which means that, in addition to high school baseball, you play a pretty heavy summer tournament circuit. I attended tournaments all along the East Coast, from Connecticut and upstate New York all the way down to Georgia. Along the way, I would diligently email coaches, explaining my interest and hopefully persuading them to come watch me pitch.

Despite my persistence, I had little success finding my ideal match in a school. I was very naive in the beginning: I thought it would be easy to attract attention. As the summer after my junior year of high school (the prime time for college commitments) was winding down, I stood without even a nibble from my top choices.

I didn’t speak to the coaches at Boston College until late spring of my senior year—incredibly late in the recruiting process for any prospective BC athlete. My saving grace was that I had maintained my grades and scored well on the SAT. As a student, I was accepted to BC, and this gave me the opportunity to achieve my goal of playing baseball at a higher level. My academic strengths bought me the time I needed to catch up athletically and become a viable option for colleges.

For others, recruiting can be much more accelerated, and although they may have more options than I did, it is no less stressful. Some coaches put deadlines on scholarship offers, leaving recruits and families in a difficult bind. Scheduling on-campus visits around games, work, and finances further complicates matters. It is an important decision that has been thrust upon players at younger ages than before, as some schools secure pledges from kids as young as 14 and 15.

Though I am now a junior in college, the memory of my recruiting experience still sticks with me. I think, above all else, I have come to realize that if you work hard and follow your gut feeling, eventually good things will come. Maybe you can create your own luck: If you bet on yourself and truly train toward the goal, when your opportunity arises you will be in position to seize it. So much depends on how you perform when the right eyes are watching, so you always have to be prepared—how you do anything is how you do everything. College and professional scouts quickly write off players for lack of effort or mental focus.

It is also important to never give up on the dream. There were a few times that I considered settling for a school when deep down, I knew I could do better. The easy way out was really tempting, especially as I watched many of my friends and teammates commit to their dream schools. As much as it hurt in the moment, I am extremely grateful that I never gave up on what I truly wanted. I always told myself that if I’m good enough, someone will find me.

Finally, I have learned that, as an athlete, you have to continuously prove yourself. All college athletes were studs on their high school teams, but it is a blank slate in college. Gone are all the accolades, the prestige, the aura of a “D1 baseball commit.” In my three years of college baseball, I have come to realize that it is the guys that put their ego aside and embrace the grind of climbing up the totem pole that truly succeed and grow. I know that once I graduate and transition to the working world I will be a small fish once again, and again I will have to prove myself in my given profession. And that excites me.

I don’t miss the days of college recruiting, but I am glad I had the experience I did. It has made me who I am, as a student and an athlete. I think it has helped me appreciate BC more than I probably would have. I’ve written before how proud I am to represent BC on the baseball field. Putting on the jersey tastes just a bit sweeter when I recall my journey to the Heights, with all its twists and turns, and how close it was to never happening.

Featured Graphic by Anna Tierney / Graphics Editor

March 19, 2018