BY JEREMY HOECK
A month-long endeavor is now complete.
The Press & Dakotan’s 5-part, 6-story series on recruiting is in the books, and it’s time to take a step back and examine what we learned.
Let’s answer a question I’ve gotten a few times: Why do this series?
In short, for as many stories, photos, previews, recaps, and other items we do on local and area high schools, it’s only natural for sportswriters like myself and sports editor James Cimburek to ask ourselves: I wonder where he/she is going to college?
That led us to think about all those kids and all the options they have for college — from small NAIA schools to larger NCAA schools. One of the key focuses of the series was to let athletes lead the way, to provide a kind of “case study” in most of the stories.
At one time during the month, I had a coach tell me that it was “refreshing” to hear an athlete’s perspective on recruiting. Sure, coaches have contact with players throughout the cycle, but it’s nearly impossible to get in the mind of a kid to see what they think.
That was one of the driving forces behind this series. We wanted you, our readers, to hear from the kids themselves. To hear what they go through. For them to take us through the process, from those initial letters and calls from coaches, to the stressful decisions between schools and ultimately making a formal commitment. It’s not easy for a 17-year-old or an 18-year-old high school student to make a decision like that without some help — whether it be from their parents, former teammates or other athletes who have gone through the process.
I mean, just think about it. You’re a high school junior and a stellar athlete. You’ve got visions of playing at the Division I level, but you quickly realize that maybe it’s not an option. So what do you do? Do you accept the first offer that comes your way? Or do you sit back, wait and see what happens, only to find out it might be too late, forcing you to settle?
Personally, I never really went through any of this. The closest I came to being recruited were letters and occasional phone calls I got at home from Division II baseball coaches when I was living in Sioux Falls. It was nothing overly serious, and I eventually turned my attention to journalism my senior year and into college at USD.
(I was no Bryce Harper, in other words).
The majority of the athletes I talked to aren’t those superstar-type kids rolling in Division I offers, and that was the point. The focus of the series, from the start of the planning phase on through writing, was geared toward shedding light on the NAIA and NCAA Division II opportunities open to kids in the area — whether it be through football, soccer, basketball or whichever. Our first story in the series, especially, was keyed on those options, starting with Christian Nohr (who went to Morningside for football), on to Jackson Pasco (who signed with Northern State for football) and to Kylie Fischbach (who will play volleyball at Wisconsin-Whitewater).
Another thing about recruiting we have to keep in mind: There are so many wrinkles involved. What if a kid gets injured? How do they get their name out there? Where do they play in front of coaches? Then of course you get into the logistics; that behind the scenes stuff that may not be all that interest but is just as important — rules on when and how coaches can contact players, how many scholarships are available, what kinds of financial aid packages can NAIA schools present, etc.
All of that stuff was a learn-on-the-fly concept for most athletes and parents, especially when it came to balancing levels — NAIA and NCAA have vastly different recruiting rules. In doing research for that particular story, I was amazed at just how much freedom NAIA coaches have in recruiting. They can literally email, call, text or talk to a kid as many times as they want, whenever they want, and in turn, that kid can visit the campus as many times as they wish.
The downside, of course, is competing with the bigger schools. Far from simply taking from the scrap heap of whatever’s left over from the NCAA schools, NAIA programs set their goals high — yes, some of those coaches go after kids who end up at Division I schools.
Ninety-nine percent of the coaches involved have a precedent to follow or tradition to fall back on. But what if you’re a new coach of a brand new program, like Mount Marty College women’s tennis? How in the world do you build a program literally from scratch? In planning this series, we thought it might be a good way to wrap it up by trying to answer those questions. As we found out, Mount Marty coach Rob Klimisch has had no real problems finding quality athletes to commit to something new. On the one hand, any history they make is their own, while on the other hand, there’s a significant grace period.
If, for whatever reason, the Lancers lose every single match they play next season, it will always be chalked up to ‘Well, they were new.’ On the flip side, the girls Klimisch brought in have already established themselves in the sport and will be able to “sneak up” on opposing players and teams. It’s essentially a win-win. You can only go up when there’s been nothing before you.
OK, so, what did we learn?
Personally, I came to find out that many athletes are a little unsure of all their potential options. Rather than branching out and being proactive in the process (for factors that vary in every circumstance), some kids wait for coaches to call and take the first offer. Of course, that’s not always a bad idea, because the first school might be the one that stays the most consistent. Then again, you run the risk of pigeon-holing yourself to one offer and miss out on other opportunities.
A couple kids I talked with on the phone say they did research on schools, to see where they would fit in best. Some wanted to stay closer to home, while others had no qualms about going to school in another state — whether it be Jordan Lillie at Bethany College (Kan.) or Fischbach in Wisconsin.
In the end, as one coach put it, “It’s not an exact science.”