How to Get Recruited for Football When Most of the Recruiting Interest Is Focused on the Top 200 Players
Playing college football is the dream of thousands of athletes across the country, but many families are unsure how to get recruited for football. In fact, the NCAA reports that only about 7% of high school football players will compete at the college level, and approximately 3% will play Division 1 ball. To top it off, not all football players will receive athletic scholarships. So, what does this mean for your athlete? And how can your family overcome these odds?
What does it take to get recruited to play college football?
To get recruited for football, athletes need to start by researching which division levels they qualify for athletically and what kinds of schools they are interested in. Once they’ve created their target list of schools, they should start proactively reaching out to the coaches on their list, sending those coaches their football recruiting video, why the recruit is interested in that program and a few key stats. Recruits should keep following up with those coaches, sending them updated highlight videos and new combine stats, as well as arranging times for campus visits.
Throughout this process, the recruit should start to really hone in on around five key schools that they are interested in and the coach is also interested in the recruit. Late their junior or early senior year, recruits should expect to get offers from interested schools, and they will sign with their top school.
Of course, this is an extremely simplified version of the recruiting process. To help guide families through the college football recruiting process, we’ve created the following full recruiting guide, complete with all the major milestones athletes need to hit throughout their journey, as well as helpful football recruiting tips and tricks.
The most important football recruiting tip to remember: the only way for athletes to ensure they get recruited by college football coaches is to take charge of their own recruiting journey. Athletes shouldn’t wait around for coaches to “find them.” Instead, recruits need to be proactive. They should introduce themselves, send their highlight video and tell the coaches why they’re interested in the program. Families often see that the top 200 recruits get “discovered” without putting in much work, but that only applies to the most elite, nationally ranked recruits. And even future NFL football players have been overlooked in the college athletic recruiting process.
When does recruiting start for football?
If you’re wondering how to get recruited for football, you first need to understand when the recruiting process starts. Before we launch into the dates, it’s important to note that there’s a difference between when athletes should start the recruiting process and when they should expect to hear from college coaches. The recruiting process technically starts as soon as the athlete has committed to playing collegiate football. Once they’ve made this decision, they should start researching schools, creating their highlight video and completing the groundwork needed for a successful recruiting process. Typically, the bulk of this work should take place during the athlete’s freshman and sophomore year of high school.
The top athletes will start to hear from college football coaches as early as middle school. But for the majority of recruits, high-level D1 programs will start seriously recruiting football players their sophomore and junior years of high school. Often, they will fill their roster for a recruiting class by the end of the recruits’ junior year of high school or early in their senior year. D2, D3 and NAIA coaches will wait until recruits’ junior year in high school or senior year, looking to see who didn’t get picked up by a D1 program.
The sooner your family starts the recruiting process, the more opportunities will be available. This is especially true if the athlete wants to target D1 programs—they need to get their information in front of coaches before those coaches fill their rosters for that recruiting class.
The importance of star ratings in football
Star ratings are splashed across all the major football recruiting websites: Rivals.com, ESPN, Scout.com and 247Sports.com. While each of these organizations has slightly different criteria for how they evaluate high school athletes and rank them, they generally all analyze film footage, live games, camps and combines, and overall athleticism to make their decisions.
Just as the methods for assigning star ratings differ, what they signify will be slightly different from platform-to-platform, as well. These star ratings are meant to signify how a recruit is expected to impact a D1 football team. Here’s an overview of what the star ratings generally mean:
- Five stars: These are very rare, elite prospects, who will likely be difference-makers on a D1 college team as a true freshman.
- Four stars: Outstanding prospects, these recruits are expected to make significant contributions to the success of their team as a young collegiate player.
- Three stars: Good prospects, these athletes might need a little more development before they make a significant contribution to their college team.
- Two stars: An average recruit, two-star athletes need the most time to fully develop their skills, but they still have the potential to become a major contributor later in their college career.
The star ratings have a few specific purposes: They provide the general public with an easy way to see who the top recruits are so they can track their recruiting journeys. The ratings also help college coaches find athletes who are the right caliber for their program. However, and we can’t stress this enough, star ratings aren’t an exact science and they are only helpful to a point. Plenty of three-star, two-star and no-star athletes have had successful college—and professional—careers. If you get a ranking, use it as a baseline to help you target the right programs. But don’t let it deter you from contacting coaches at your reach schools.
How does the new redshirt rule impact football recruiting?
Thanks to an NCAA rule change, redshirt Division 1 FBS and FCS football players can now compete in up to four games in a season without losing a year of eligibility. The new rule, which goes into effect starting with the 2018-2019 football season, means players will no longer lose their redshirt status for taking as little as one snap during a game.
Since over half of D1 football players redshirt their freshman year, this rule change means college coaches will adapt their recruiting tactics by seeking to attract recruits with the promise of meaningful playing time and development during the first year of their college career. As you begin to communicate with college coaches, ask about playing opportunities for redshirt freshmen.
Getting started: Level set your talent and expectations
The football recruiting process starts with the recruit, their family and the current coach. Athletes and parents should sit down and go through the following questions, answering as honestly as possible:
- Am I ready for the demands of being a college football player? No matter what division level your athlete competes at, football is going to take up a lot of time. There will be early practices, training sessions, games, studying film and travelling on top of classes and homework. Make sure your athlete is ready for this level of commitment before diving into the recruiting process.
- Am I good enough to play college football? Answering this question requires athletes to critically analyze their current skillset and athleticism, as well as project how much they’ll be able to improve by the time they are a freshman in college. This is a great time for athletes to loop in their current coach to discuss their goals of playing college football and have an honest conversation about the recruit’s skill level. Athletes can also get evaluated by a third-party like NCSA.
- What division level(s) am I qualified to play at? There are hundreds of opportunities for softball players at the Division 1, Division 2, Division 3, NAIA and junior college levels. Ask your current coach, a qualified third-party like NCSA and college coaches themselves what division levels you might be qualified to compete at. Learn more about the different division levels.
Research schools and create your target list
One of the best football recruiting tips that we can give: do your research and cast a wide net when looking at schools! Ideally, start out by contacting a lot of college coaches—around 20-30—and then you’ll pare down your list over time. Here’s how we recommend organizing your target list.
- 5 safety schools: These are schools you know you’ll be able to play at and for which you qualify academically. Get in touch with these coaches early on so the coach knows you’re genuinely interested. Many athletes find that programs they never considered originally ended up being their best college fit.
- 10 target schools: This is where you’ll put the schools that are your best match athletically, academically and socially—the ones you really want to focus on in your recruiting.
- 5 reach schools: These schools might be out of your price range or very competitive academically or athletically. Add them to your list as a great goal to strive for.
Football recruiting tip: Always include a mix of division levels in your target list. You might be surprised which division level is right for you, and it maximizes your opportunity to get a college football scholarship. Check out this list of questions to ask yourself to help you find your best college match.
Create an eye-catching highlight video
There’s no mincing words here: recruits’ highlight videos are critical to the recruiting process! College coaches just aren’t able to go out and watch every recruiting compete in person. Not only do the high school and college seasons overlap, but high school players only compete in one game a week, providing a very small window for college coaches to see them play in person. Recruits need to capture their best skills and plays in a three- to five-minute video—and that’s not an easy task! Here are a few general tips to get started:
- Use varsity game footage for your highlight film. Coaches want to see how recruits compete against top athletes and how they react in a game setting.
- Eliminate intro and music. Coaches aren’t listening to the music and they don’t care about lightning bolts or flames.
- Treat your highlight video like a commercial—start with your biggest plays to really capture coaches’ attention.
The highlight video is a great way for athletes to get their foot in the door with a coach. If the coach is interested after viewing the highlight video, they will either arrange a time to watch the athlete play in person, or they will request full game footage. Learn what skills recruits need to show off in their recruiting video for their position.
Proactively reach out to the coaches on your target list
Here’s a quick step-by-step guide for communicating with college football coaches. For more information, visit the Contacting College Coaches page in our College Recruiting Guide.
- Send an introductory email to the college coach, including your highlight video and key stats.
- Follow up with a call to the coach, mentioning the introductory email.
- Respond to all correspondence from coaches, including recruiting letters, emails, social media direct messages and more.
- Continue to follow up with the coaches, sending them updated stats and new highlight videos, inviting them to watch you compete or congratulating them on a recent win.
Football recruiting tip: If the recruit isn’t sure who to reach out to at large- to mid-sized football programs, start with the recruiting coordinator. If there’s no recruiting coordinator, contact the position coach, then the assistant coach and finally the head coach.
Get your current coach involved to help build relationships with college coaches and evaluate your skill set
Athletes should keep their high school coaches in the loop throughout their recruiting process! A football recruit’s high school coach is an important part of the athlete’s recruiting team. High school football coaches can facilitate an introduction between their athletes and college coaches. In fact, many high school coaches already have relationships with college football coaches. If they think an athlete might be a good fit for that program, they can send the college coach a recommendation.
Furthermore, a recruit’s high school coach will often have full game film, which will be crucial for recruits to create their highlight video. They can also help recruits pick out the right plays to include in their highlight video, as well as give them an evaluation on their skill, providing ideas on what that athlete needs to work on to make it to the next level.
In short, athletes should lean on their high school coaches throughout their recruiting process, as they can be a valuable resource for building rapport with college coaches, getting exposure to college coaches, sorting through game film and practicing skills that need improvement.
Attend camps, combines, showcases and junior days that will get you in front of the coaches
Attending football camps, showcases and junior days is incredibly important for the same reason that recruits need a great highlight video: college coaches often have limited time and resources to watch every recruit in-person. Camps are a great way for recruits to really show off their skill set to the coaches who they are interested in. They can also help athletes build relationships with coaches and get to know them personally.
While college coaches are not typically in attendance, combines are still an important part of the football recruiting process. At combines, football players have the opportunity to get their verified football stats, or football numbers that have been taken by a trusted, third party. Attendees will be tested in football skills, including: the 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill, shuttle run, vertical jump and broad jump.
Learn more about how to use camps, combines, showcases and more in your recruiting.
Manage your football recruiting process
Oftentimes, we see families get stuck in a holding pattern in their recruiting, which leaves them wondering if they are on the right track and questioning if they really know how to get recruited for football. This is typically a sign that they’re in the “managing” phase of the recruiting process. There are plenty of ways families can keep their recruiting moving forward when they reach this point:
- Update your highlight video with new footage and plays. Once the athlete has created a new video, this is a great opportunity to email the coaches on their list and send them the updated footage.
- Continue to be proactive in communicating with college football coaches! Athletes don’t necessarily have to reach out to college coaches every week, recruits should keep them updated about their progress every month or every other month and send the coach their schedule so they have the opportunity to watch the recruit compete in person. Check out these 25 reasons to update a college coach.
- Update your NCSA profile with new athletic or academic stats, a new video, an updated transcript or personal statement. When coaches search for an athlete’s profile, they’ll see an accurate snapshot of the student-athlete.
- Go on unofficial and official college visits. The only way to really know if a school is right for you is to visit the campus. Make sure you schedule a time to meet with the coach, check out the training facilities, see the library, tour the freshman dorms and ultimately ask yourself, “Can I see myself living here for four years?”
- Continue to update your target list of schools. Throughout your recruiting, schools on your list will inevitably drop off, move up or down on, or even stay right where they are. Check back in with your list of schools every quarter to make sure you’re prioritizing your recruiting appropriately.
- Take the ACT and SAT. For NCAA and NAIA academic eligibility, your standardized test scores are extremely important. We recommend taking the ACT or SAT the fall of junior year so athletes have time to retake the test in the spring if they need to boost their score.
- Stay on top of your academic eligibility. Make sure athletes are on track to achieve the grades, test scores and core courses they need to be academically eligible.
- Double check the deadlines. Go over when the following are due: your NCAA Amateurism Certificate, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), your college applications, NCAA and NAIA Eligibility Center registration, final transcripts and proof of graduation.
Understand scholarship offers and how to negotiate
For most athletes, the goal of the football recruiting process is to get a scholarship offer. NCAA D1 football is deemed a headcount sport, which means that every scholarship given must be a full ride. Anyone on the team who isn’t on scholarship, must be a walk-on, or non-scholarship athlete. For every other division level, including NAIA, coaches can break up their scholarship money however they want, usually giving the most to the top athletes or specific positions. Learn more about the different types of offers in our College Recruiting Guide.
Most families want to know tips for negotiating a better scholarship offer. The best bargaining tool an athlete has: offers from other schools. Coaches do not want to lose recruits to other institutions—especially rival schools. Ideally, athletes want to have serious recruiting interest from five schools to negotiate the best offer. Always negotiate based on Expected Family Contribution, or how much money your family will be paying out of pocket after everything’s factored in. To learn more about scholarship negotiation, visit our College Recruiting Guide.
Sign with your top school
To formalize a scholarship offer and make it legally binding, the athlete needs to sign with the school. About 650 NCAA DI and DII schools use the National Letter of Intent (NLI), and NAIA and NHCAA schools have their own version of the NLI to sign. The NLI is a legally binding document, so families should double—and triple—check they know what they’re agreeing to before putting pen to paper. By signing this document, an athlete agrees to compete at the school for one year, and the school is promising to provide the recruit with the agreed upon scholarship for that one year.
And now the recruiting journey is over! Don’t forget to celebrate this important moment as you look ahead to the next chapter of your life.