Athletic Recruiting football My Recruiting Experience

What I Learned From My College Football Recruiting Journey

johnny mago chases down the football at the end of his recruiting journey

I never received an athletic scholarship. Like so many kids who play high school football, in my hometown of Cary, Illinois, and around the United States, I dreamed of playing at Florida State or Alabama or UCLA. Like so many kids, those dreams were never realized.

I had unreal expectations about the recruiting process.

My journey really started my sophomore year in high school. I lacked the typical size of a linebacker—5’10”, 190 lbs—but after a pretty awesome season starting on varsity for Cary-Grove High School, a State Runner-Up team, I was in the newspaper as All-Area Honorable Mention.

Surely only DI players would achieve such an award in their sophomore season, I thought.

That winter I was in heaven every time I went to my mailbox and found envelopes from the likes of Notre Dame, Michigan, Temple and a few other big DI programs. I felt I was being actively recruited by college coaches. And it was awesome! I filled out the questionnaires and sent them back to each school.

I was sitting pretty, and, in my mind, going to get a scholarship once I was a senior. Nothing could change that as long as I kept working hard. I did well in the classroom. I gained weight while getting faster. I was shaping up to be a top recruit for many a DI program.

And then my recruiting journey went off track.

Just when my junior season was about to begin, I broke my ankle and missed seven games.

At first, I wasn’t worried. College coaches would still want to recruit me – they had to, based on the greatness I achieved as a sophomore, right? Well, that didn’t happen. I received zero letters or camp invites that winter and spring.

And that spring, the thought that I wouldn’t play DI football slowly crept into my brain.

Following junior year, two of my friends in high school participated in summer camps at various DI and DII programs. I was not invited; the only invite I got was a campus visit to a DIII school after my mom contacted the coach on my behalf.

I knew I was smaller but I wasn’t sure why I wouldn’t be getting some looks by DI coaches. Was college football worth it if I couldn’t play for a big school. Who wants to play for a school no one’s ever heard of?

The thing is, recruiting classes were being finalized and coaches were moving, even if I was not.

I did everything I could my senior year to play well and try to get noticed by some DI or DII coaches. My focus going into that season was that we were going to win State and I would be able to take care of any recruiting after that.

It all came crashing down. A heartbreaking loss that year in the State Quarterfinals led to me sulking for the almost an entire two weeks, not even wanting to think about college or football.

I was scared I was going to miss out on college football.

The thing is, recruiting classes were being finalized and coaches were moving, even if I was not.

Later, I was being invited to colleges and receiving phone calls from coaches almost nightly. Slowly however, there were some DIII and NAIA coaches coming to school and wanting to meet with me. After almost a whole two years of not feeling wanted, I was finally being recruited. It wasn’t Lloyd Carr at Michigan or Pete Carroll at USC, but it still felt awesome to be recruited.

I ended up visiting seven schools that late winter and spring. It came down to Hope College and Augustana College, two small private schools with D3 football programs. In the end, Augie just felt right. Oh, and they paid for half my tuition. I was lucky enough to play college football on a scholarship, albeit an academic scholarship.

What I lacked in understanding of the recruiting process as a high schooler, I was able to make up for in hard work in the classroom. I graduated with over a 4.0 GPA and an ACT score of 29. This paid dividends towards that tuition bill; I received an academic scholarship that paid for over half of my entire college tuition.

What I lacked in understanding of the recruiting process, I was able to make up for in hard work in the classroom… I received an academic scholarship that paid for over half of my entire college tuition.

That is not to say I didn’t come out unscathed. I still have student loans, but I was able to play college football and get my college degree at a fraction of the price. College football provided me with the best experience I’ve ever had and granted me some of the best friends in the world while my college degree has afforded me the opportunity to work towards ensuring others the same benefit.

Contributor Johnny Mago is a scout for NCSA Athletic Recruiting. He is a Class of 2011 graduate of Augustana College, where he was ESPN/CoSida First Team All-American. Have questions about the football recruiting process? Ask Johnny and our other football scouts everything you want to know.

About the author
Andy McKernan

Andy McKernan is the content strategist at NCSA Athletic Recruiting. A content marketer with a background in creative writing, Andy brings several years of experience to NCSA.