While National Signing Day is a cause for celebration and joy for 1000’s of high school athletes across the country every year, for many more the thought of that first Wednesday in February brings a ton of anxiety, angst and misery. Many athletes, football in particular, think that if they don’t find a school to sign with on National Signing Day (NSD) their football career is over. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The truth of the matter is that National Signing Day represents the first day that a high school athlete can signing a letter of intent to a college institution not the last. As a result of the thought and mindset that one must sign on NSD or all is lost, many athletes and their families make critical mistakes. Sure, it is great to be a part of all of the festivities in the gym or school auditorium. The feeling is that you are being recognized and rewarded for all of the handwork and dedication you have given to your sport not only during your high school years but often times before that. While I can certainly feel you there, the urge to be a part of that ceremony should not supersede what is in your best long term interest. Many marriages culminate with a huge ceremony that costs $1,000’s but unfortunately the stats show that quite a few of those end up in a courtroom before a judge. Likewise, many marriages still going strong after several decades began with a simple courtroom procedure and ended up with a lifetime of ceremonial moments. The point is that a bad decision celebrated is still a bad decision.
Many high school football players will grab any offer that comes their way just so that they can say the signed on signing day. That sounds like a marriage that is headed to the courtroom. Signing with a school, sight unseen or when you really don’t feel like it’s the place for you, will not allow you to have happy thoughts when you reflect back on signing day. Using my wedding example, some couples spend money they don’t have to throw a huge ceremony and spend the rest of their marriage fighting about it. It’s an awful feeling enrolling at a school and going through the rigors of football when you are at a place you really don’t want to be. Being a student athlete is hard enough as it is when you love the school, think about the toll on your sanity when you are at a school where you don’t like the town, the weather, the coaches, the people or anything else having to with the university you chose.
The smart thing for a student-athlete to do is bet on yourself. Don’t become overwhelmed by the pressure of signing day and jump on an offer from a school you are likely going to want to leave in six months. In my article You Thought You Loved Football then They Gave You a Scholarship, I detail the true life of the common college football player. It was not an article to downgrade the college football experience, it was a plea to the many athletes that mistakingly think football is for them when it is not. Ask yourself if you are really serious about football. If you are, ask yourself if the school you are hustling to sign with on signing day provides you with the football experience you can live with. If it doesn’t, ask yourself if the education you will receive is enough to override the football experience you know you won’t enjoy. If your answer to both of those questions is no, then continue your search and don’t be afraid to both create and pursue other options.
Some athletes may really need to go to a junior college first. Are you really talented and suffered some misfortune? Perhaps you were injured during a crucial time of your recruitment. You undoubtedly were one of the top guys in your region before you had the setback. If that’s the case, you may want to go to a junior college, get more film and improve your college football options in one or two years. Division I college football is full of junior college transfers. Perhaps you didn’t really take off until your senior season and thus were left off the list of many top universities. This happens to many prospects and as a result, the college just didn’t have enough time to feel comfortable with you as a recruit. In that case, waiting a bit after signing day may open up an opportunity for you at a FCS or Division II school as opposed to a very expensive lower tiered school that will require you take out loans to attend.
This advice may run counter to what many think which is “you better jump on that scholarship money”. That thought is all well and good but too many student-athletes wind up coming back home after a semester or two, disgusted and not wanting anything to do with college. For some, had they waited and given their decision a little more care outside of wanting to be on the NSD stage like their friends, they could have put themselves in a better position.
As with any important life decision, there are risks and this one is no different. Saying no to a scholarship offer could result in another one not being offered. I have learned in life that important life decisions require two things. First and most important, an adequate assessment of one’s self and abilities. Be honest with yourself about both your athletic and academic abilities. Also, be honest about your love and dedication to your sport. Second, important life decisions typically require putting pen to paper. Write down the pros and cons. Write down your goals. Put on paper the options that exist and look at it frequently before pulling the trigger. At the end of the day, your college decision is as important as any other decision you will make for the duration of your life. It should not be something done to follow a friend, feed an ego or be part of a crowd. You can make a very courageous, important and joyful decision about your future after the first Wednesday in February. There’s no rule against that.