“I would do it all over again the same way,” Ryne Lightfoot, who is now an assistant coach at Bethel College, told me. As a high school student-athlete, Lightfoot was offered by D1 programs such as NC State, St. John’s and Valparaiso, yet chose to sign with NAIA power, Bethel College.
As an assistant coach on Bethel’s staff, Lightfoot is now recruiting players and trying to help educate families about what’s out there. “It’s not about level,” he said, “but about fit and what’s right for that particular young person. For a lot, D1 is the right fit, but a big challenge is that high school athletes are fixated on D1 and that only limits them. There is a lot of very good ball at different levels. What happens is if they are even getting a little interest from D1, they kind of block out all other levels and limit themselves, and that is a big mistake because they box themselves in as having to go D1. They hear it from their peers, AAU families/coaches and others that ‘they have to go D1’ and that feeds that D1 monster more.”
Lightfoot is considered one of the best players in his county’s history.
Lightfoot (pictured below in high school) went through the recruiting experience just a few years ago. At NorthWood High (about 2 hours east of Chicago) the 6’3″ guard scored 1,673 points and made 138 3-pointers, both school records.
Lightfoot’s situation was interesting because his dad, Mike, was and still is the head coach of NAIA power Bethel College. “I didn’t want to go to Bethel at first,” said Lightfoot. “It wasn’t my first choice at all. Early on it was about Purdue. Butler, Wright State and a lot of mid majors like Ball State and Western Michigan. They all showed interest. Valparaiso showed the most interest early, which meant a lot to me. They offered early. I liked that because with a lot of the other Division ones, I felt like I was a 4th or 5th choice, like they had missed out on other recruits and were coming to me then.”
“The thing is,” he added, “you have to get out on visits. There’s a ‘feel’ that comes where you tell yourself that you can see yourself being there as a student or an athlete.”
After visiting Bethel College, Lightfoot knew it was the place for him.
“I wanted to be at a place that challenged me on three specific levels: academically, athletically and spiritually. After much prayer and some very wise council on all of my campus visits, it was Bethel that was the best fit,” said Lightfoot. He finished his college career with 2,075 points, 702 assists, and 500 rebounds. Academically, he carried a 3.7 GPA and earned a degree in marketing and sports management.
As he stated earlier, he wanted to go somewhere that would help him grow spiritually. He led their Bus Station Ministry where he and several other Bethel players and students would spend a couple hours each Friday night passing out donated food to the poor at the bus station downtown. Fifty to 70 people will stop by for a couple free sandwiches. The bonds of friendship have gone beyond the bus station.
“We took our (unsold) season tickets and some left over Bethel T-shirts and passed them out one Friday night,” Lightfoot said. “The people loved it. If they can come up with the 35-cent bus fare to come over, they’ve got tickets for our games. We’ve had some come to our practices. I’ll just stop, look over and wave.”
Now as a coach, Lightfoot watches how kids get caught up in March Madness and want to be a part of it, but only a small percentage will be able to play on that stage.
“If you are not offered by D1 before August before your senior season, it’s probably not going to happen,” said Lightfoot. “Now 12th graders often make their decision on what D1 they will play for during their senior season but almost always they have been offered well before then.”
Lightfoot encourages families to look at all the levels out there, in all sports. “They don’t understand how good the high level of NAIA can be,” says Lightfoot. “I have talked to staff at Notre Dame after they played NAIA Cardinal Stritch in November of this season. They said they will never play them again because they were so good. ”
“The biggest misconception families have about NAIA,” said Lightfoot, “is that they often don’t understand we can offer athletic scholarships. We give different levels of athletic money.”
Lightfoot is on a mission to help players understand all division levels have elite athletics.
Lightfoot isn’t knocking D1 by any means. He is all for players that fit at that level going there, but he is on a mission to help players understand there is top flight college sports at the high level of all other divisions. Don’t be ashamed of not knowing.
No matter what level you play in college, Lightfoot also educates families about how being a college athlete can make them more marketable in the workforce. Lightfoot had instant success in corporate America, but loved the college athletic experience so much that he left the corporate world to become an assistant coach for Bethel.
It is important to be evaluated by credible third-party sources to find out what level your son or daughter best fits at academically and athletically. You can talk to a NCSA recruiting specialist to get evaluated and receive the assistance and education that all student-athletes should have while trying to get to the next level. Call us now at 866-495-7727 or click here to start the process.
Charlie Adams is a motivational speaker and the author of 4 books on peak performance and the power of attitude including his latest – ‘How to Build a Positive Attitude and KEEP the Darn Thing!.’ As a sports anchor for a quarter of a century, he covered the recruiting process closely. As a speaker, he constantly has corporate leaders tell him they often look to hire former college athletes because of their ability to manage time, their competitive spirits, team play, and leadership abilities. For more information on his motivational programs you can go to StokeTheFireWithin.com