College football recruitment is a game within a game – and a high-stakes one at that. With millions of dollars in scholarships dispensed every year, prospects have much to gain beyond the roaring crowds, message board stardom and Instagram likes. Those scholarship funds aren’t only for NCAA Division 1-caliber athletes, either; assistance is available for students who sign with Division 2 and certain NAIA and NJCAA institutions as well. (Division 3 schools do not award athletic scholarships, but they do grant other forms of financial aid that student-athletes may qualify for.)
Carl Nesmith, head coach at Jacksonville’s Joshua Christian Academy and founder of North Florida Elite 7v7, knows all about the recruiting process. A graduate of Raines High School, he played collegiately at Butler Community College and the University of Kansas, then spent a year with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. He created North Florida Elite to train local players and give them offseason football experience. More than 20 of his charges have gone on to play in college.
We spoke with Nesmith to get some insight into how student-athletes and their parents can effectively navigate the college football recruitment process.
Q: What’s the most important factor for a student-athlete in the college football recruitment process?
A: The main thing is grades. You have to prepare yourself to be taken seriously and understand the importance of education – having the right grades and making sure you get yourself ready for the SAT or the ACT. College coaches don’t spend much time if it’s not worth it – they just kind of eliminate the kids who aren’t real about it. If you have a 1.5 GPA, I don’t care how your Hudl links look or how your stats look; you’re really not going to be taken seriously in terms of being recruited.
Q: What else is important?
A: Having a clean social media – not showing gang signs and different things people do on those pages and being careful what you say. Just the way you [present] yourself goes a long way. It’s the small things that coaches look for – sometimes that makes the difference in whether they delete you or decide you’re someone that they’re serious about and they really want to recruit and bring to the head coach.
Q: When should students (and their parents) start thinking about recruitment if they aspire to play college football?
A: Recruiting starts, for the most part, when they get to the ninth grade. Instead of waiting until you get recruited [as an upperclassman], you can go ahead now and start preparing yourself. Make it a habit to get up and work out, learn how to eat better, learn how to take care of your body, make sure you’re on point in taking the right classes and not taking a lot of electives. Just putting yourself on course to being a real student-athlete is very important.
Q: You mentioned Hudl, which has become a popular online platform for players to showcase their skills. How can athletes use that to their advantage and stand out in a crowded field?
A: If you have a Hudl and you’re in your season, keep it updated and make sure there’s a clear view of your plays. Some players do all these different angles, but I think it’s important to get straight to the best plays. Most coaches aren’t going to sit and watch a whole five-minute highlight film, so I think you need to have eye-catching videos on your Hudl. Your first 15 or 20 seconds need to be the best plays that you have. Make sure the view and the angle are good, that it’s clear, so the recruiter can see it.
Q: What advice do you have for lower-profile athletes, the ones who aren’t necessarily elite-level but for whom there are still scholarships available?
A: I think the number one thing is to be honest with yourself. Everybody is not a D1 kid. Some kids are not realistic about where they can land. You have to be realistic and put yourself in the right lane. If I know I’m not a D1 prospect, I’m not sending my stuff out to Florida State or Nebraska. If I know I’m a D2 kid, I need to stay in that lane and be OK with it. Because if you get that degree, it’s all the same.
Q: On the other side of that coin, what do you say to elite athletes to help them stay grounded when there’s so much hype and attention on them?
A: I say just stay humble, have a plan, and have people in your corner who are going to help keep you on the straight and narrow. And just understand it’s a blessing to be put in that position. If anything, try to help other kids who may need help. Other kids may need that extra push to get noticed, and you might be able to use your platform to help them.
Q: How have you seen college football recruitment change over the years?
A: Having been recruited myself coming out of high school and going to a junior college, I’ve seen it change a lot. Everything is a lot faster and more direct now. Social media gives coaches quick access and helps them put eyes on a player and see what’s going on right away.
There are other ways kids are getting seen too, from 7-on-7 to coaches being able to see more game film now. A coach can get on Twitter and say, ‘Everybody who plays defensive end, send me your game film,’ and next thing you know, 300 kids have sent their Hudl link to their Twitter. Back then, it was VHS tapes and coaches had to drive to get them. It’s a different ballgame now. It’s exciting, and it really helps the kids.
Learn More: A helpful resource on college football scholarships is available at ncsasports.org/football/scholarships. For more information on Carl Nesmith’s North Florida Elite program, visit northfloridaelite7v7.com.
Written by: Allen Allnoch
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