Buchanan High School Head Football Coach Mike Kuntz came to hear me deliver College Recruiting Simplified almost four years ago. He got his son Bryan in the NCSA Athletic Recruiting Network during his sophomore year. A quarterback on the football team, Bryan projected to be a college baseball pitcher. Even though he has been a longtime head coach in football at different schools in Texas, Indiana and Michigan, Mike Kuntz knew his contacts were limited with college coaches and wanted Bryan to get proper exposure.
“Charlie,” Coach Kuntz told me, “we had two baseball visits to Michigan State. We visited Northern Illinois, Toledo, Western Michigan, Oakland University, and Grand Valley. Plus we had all kinds of smaller schools. Almost all of it came through NCSA. Bryan stayed on top of things. We made a Skills Tape. That’s key. You have to have tape. We used all the NCSA tools, got our transcripts in for his Profile. Grades are critical. These college coaches would see his transcripts and knew he was a good student and that they wouldn’t have to worry about that in college. Questionable grades in High School means high risk in college to them.”
Bryan received hundreds of letters from colleges, over 100 personal emails, and almost 20 phone calls from coaches. He ended up with 3 athletic scholarship offers when all was said and done in the recruiting process.
“At first we had his information sent to college coaches all over,” said Kuntz, “but after a lot of talk he wanted to stay local so we had NCSA just focus on the midwest and that worked out real well.”As a 12th grader at Buchanan High, Bryan finished 11-2 on the mound with a 1.80 earned-run average. He had 108 strikeouts in 80 innings. He was a first-team All-Lakeland Conference selection. The 6’2″ 185 pounder signed with Kalamazoo Community College.
“A lot of D1 pitchers in college baseball go the junior college route,” said Kuntz. “In talking with a lot of D1 college baseball coaches, we learned they don’t bring in as many freshmen pitchers because they would rather have someone who has juco experience on the mound than fresh out of High School. If a school like Michigan State brings a freshman pitcher in, most don’t play until junior year. When you play junior college, you are playing a lot your first two years of college. Baseball is a different animal from other sports especially when it comes to the junior college option.”
Kuntz was the longtime head football coach at South Bend Clay High (he was Conference Coach of the Year 3 times) and is now the head coach at Buchanan High in Michigan. At Clay, he saw some of his players there sign with schools as big as Stanford and Notre Dame, but the great majority of his players projected to play at a smaller level. Always blunt, Kuntz shared some of his observations after having been a head football coach in High School for many years.
“There are two things that don’t lie, transcripts and game tape,” said Kuntz. “You are either good enough or you or not. These college coaches will watch you on tape for a complete game to see if you take plays off and to see how consistent you are. Number one is transcripts, though. SO many players have the talent to play but they haven’t taken care of the grades. 99% of it is because of the 9th grade year. They blow it off. They mature as an 11th or 12th grader but by then they have buried themselves too much.”
When Kuntz said that, it brought two points to mind. One, a couple of years ago, a Big Ten Conference head football coach spoke at the annual NCSA/Tom Lemming Banquet. He said, “You would be amazed how many kids we can’t recruit because of their grades from 9th grade.”
Recruiting officially starts the day you begin taking High School classes, whether you are a scrawny looking JV type player or are already 6’4″ and 220 pounds. You are on the clock academically. Look at 9th grade as First Down in a football game. If you get good grades in 9th grade, it is like completing a pass for 8 yards on first down. Now, you are looking at just 2 yards for a first down. Same with grades. If you screw around and get a bunch of C’s and D’s in 9th grade you are looking at 2nd down and 29 yards.
The other thing I thought of when he talked about how important 9th grade is academically to recruits is the time I was speaking at a High School in the Midwest. Because so many parents were asking for help with recruiting, the well meaning Athletic Director had has Secretary make up a guidebook on recruiting for parents. Bless her heart, it was pretty good, but she had so many other duties that it wasn’t thorough. I remember leafing through it and reading: 9th Grade: You Don’t Need to Do Anything. Recruiting will happen Later.”
I thought to myself, “Have mercy…”
Kuntz strongly believes all High Schools should make College Athletics Recruiting Education a mandatory part of 9th grade orientation.
“It is hard to explain to families that have really good athletes that they won’t be able to play college because they have failed to qualify academically,” said Kuntz. “There is a lack of education on recruiting starting early, especially in inner city schools.”
NCSA’s Amanda Rawson can assign one of the over 30 Recruiting Expert speakers to schools for 9th grade orientation presentations, as well as general recruiting presentations for all kinds of events. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is why it is so important to talk with a College Scout now to make sure you are on track for successful recruiting. The process starts early, especially if you do realistically project to be a D1 athlete. The other day I spent an hour on the phone with the mother of a really good 8th grade softball player whose coach feels she could be a D1 athlete down the road. I told her how D1 schools identify prospects early and often offer them as sophomores in softball (Notre Dame had offered a girl 10 miles from her a scholarship at the end of her 10th grade year after identifying the prospect at a much younger age). We talked at length about a lot of other things, and she understood in their case they needed to start early. Too many kids go underrecruited or have 12th grade debacles because they have not been thoroughly educated on the process. That is why it is critical to do the evaluation with a College Scout.
In talking with Kuntz, he had strong feelings regarding what level a kid could play college ball at realistically. “Many kids and parents especially are very unrealistic,” said Kuntz. “They all think D1 and very few can play at that level. Most of the kids near where I live, if they can play, would play at the D3 or NAIA level. In all my coaching years I had a lot of high level D3 football coaches come in during December and look at our kids at Clay High and honestly tell me that a lot of our kids couldn’t play at their level. For some kids, they are shocked. Junior College is often a tougher route because in football especially you have so many D1 athletes who were non qualifiers at that level.”
Bryan Kuntz, Mike’s son, is in his freshman year at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, making all A’s and B’s as he heads towards a Mechanical Engineering degree. He will go there for two years and then transfer to play his remaining two years. “He loves it,” said Kuntz. “He has already taken a Drafting class and he is in Physics and Chemistry classes now. Recently he met with the Kellogg cereal people about doing an internship in Battle Creek soon. Baseball-wise, the first week of Florida they go down to Florida for their first games.”
One of the reasons Kuntz said junior college is an option families should explore is that young people can get their general classes out of the way the first two years and then know what they want to focus on as they transfer to play at a higher level. At Kalamazoo Valley Community College, they are getting a full tuition scholarship. “In baseball they split it up,” said Kuntz, “but they said each year they give a full to a player and Bryan was that full.”
Another important thing Kuntz touched on is something I hear from families about a lot, and that is what does the athlete do that is good at two (or more) sports in High School when it comes to decide what to do in college.
“From the first time he was in Little League,” said Kuntz, “everyone felt baseball was his best sport. He went on to become a very good quarterback (All State at Buchanan High) but he had a torn ACL as a sophomore and then a shoulder injury. We talked a lot about it and I brought up how he would probably have more longevity in baseball and maybe a better future, and that he hadn’t been that lucky with injuries in football. He agreed, saying the rehab was getting old. He did look at some colleges to play football, like Siena Heights, but in the end decided on baseball.”
Pitchers are coveted in professional baseball. Any thoughts about that route?
“No,” said Kuntz, firmly. “This is about using athletics to get an education. We aren’t even looking at the pro thing.”
Bryan Kuntz is on his way to becoming an Athleader. When asked what advice he would share with families as far as recruiting, Bryan had two words: “Start early.”
Recruiting Expert, NCSA Athletic Recruiting Network