Signing Day was yesterday. It was a joyous occasion for 100’s of high school football players as they ended their recruiting process by putting pen to paper bonding themselves to universities all across the country. Not everyone who signed yesterday was happy. Some student athletes signed on the dotted line to schools that they really didn’t want to go to but felt like they had to. This article today is for them.
I was a lightly recruited prospect coming out of high school. Having transferred from Florida to California in my junior year and getting injured, I entered my senior year of high school with very little fanfare. Despite having an All-Star type senior season, my late arrival on the scene left me out of the big boy scene when it came to college football recruiting. Like most kids my age without guidance in the process, I was disillusioned. I thought that all that playmaking in 12th grade meant the entire Pac-10 (as it was called at the time) should’ve been parked on my lawn waiting to offer me a scholarship. I knew nothing of how the process works, how exposure happens and what college coaches think when they are out on the recruiting trail.
At the end of the day, I only had five real offers that I could’ve committed to: Cal (which I lost when I took too long to commit), Cal State Fullerton (I absolutely wasn’t going there), UNLV (no way I would have completed a degree at that place), San Diego St. (committed to them for one hour on my trip before my dad bit my head off) and Long Beach State (the school I committed to). I have told this story before on this blog but I saw Long Beach St. on TV my junior year of high school and they were playing in a one sided stadium. I saw cars on the street in the background. I could not remember the name of that school but after signing with them and going to the stadium during our summer practices, I realized this was the school I saw on TV a year ago and was clowning their stadium. Imagine my surprise.
Even before I got the stadium shock, I was not in love with Long Beach State. Hell, I wasn’t even in like. Long Beach State was not where I wanted to be. It was far away from the big time football I wanted to play at USC or UCLA, the two big local colleges in the area. The weight room (if you could call it that) was primitive, the facilities were archaic, the team was not good and it was a brand new coaching staff filled with guys I had never heard of. They said it was Division I football but it damned sure did not feel like it.
Thankfully in life, my family groomed a you are no ordinary person mentality into my head. So while the college program I almost had to commit to may have seemed ordinary, the person going to it was not. My goal was to play big time college football and while this was not it, I was going to make it be that for me. I trained like I was big time, studied the game like I was big time and walked around like I was big time. I am certain that several of my teammates did not care for the attitude but if I was to stay at Long Beach St., it was a necessary evil. If any of them are reading this now, please accept my apology but it was an act of survival.
To make a long story short, the combination of my attitude, determination and focus resulted in me playing as a freshman and starting several games. It carried over into me being a full-time starter at cornerback for my entire sophomore year. At the end of year two, Long Beach St. cut their football program allowing all of the student athletes to transfer to other schools and be eligible to play immediately. I went from lightly recruited high school prospect who signed with a bottom of the barrel Division-I school to an intensely recruited young and experienced prospect with Division-I experience. Schools from across the country came calling and after setting up several official visits, I elected to comeback home and sign with the number one team in the country, the Miami Hurricanes. Most people who know of me, think that’s where my story begins but as you can see now, that’s not true.
When I tell high school football prospects to be realistic and seize the opportunities in front of them, I am speaking from experience. Football is made for competitive people and if you have excelled at it, you most likely did so because of your competitive spirit. So when it comes time to choose a college, your competitive spirit may overcome you. However, successful football players also have some intelligence. You can’t allow your competitive spirit to overwhelm your intelligence. I could have sat around angry and banging on the doors of the Division-I powerhouses demanding a scholarship. I would have risked all of the scholarship offers to those lesser known schools in the process. I would have ended up missing out on a free education and where would I be? I may have even been successful in coercing one of the big boys into letting me in. However, would they have given me the opportunity to shine like Long Beach St. did when there were other guys that they really wanted on that field? Probably not.
The opportunity that came to me at Long Beach St. was truly a once in a lifetime. So by no means am I telling you to go into that school you didn’t really want to go to and hope for them to drop their football program. That would be foolhardy. What I am telling you is, opportunities come in all shapes and sizes. What is important is that you are ready for them when they come. I could have walked into Long Beach St. feeling sorry for myself. I could have sat around bitter that I did not go big time like some of my teammates and my cousin who signed with UCLA, the school I wanted to go to. That attitude would have certainly delayed my entry into the starting lineup and thus I would not have been ready for the unexpected opportunity that came when they cut the football program. Your opportunity will most certainly be different but it will be an opportunity nonetheless. Perhaps you will be the school’s all time leading rusher. Or perhaps you’ll be the conference’s all time leader in interceptions. Being an all-timer will certainly get you NFL attention but if nothing else, will get you eternal respect. The question is, will you be ready for the opportunity when it comes?
Aside from all my misgivings about Long Beach St. in the early going, the school turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. The student body, my teammates and believe it or not, the game day experiences helped shape who I was as I moved on and morphed into who I am today. There were days where I wondered what am I doing this for but I quickly washed that away with thoughts of the end goals that I set for myself. Nothing says you are not in the big time like getting handed Converse high top cleats to go cover speed receivers with. Nothing says you aren’t at the college football mountain top like watching your team trainer fight with the star wide receiver over using too much pre-wrap. Block out all of those things and remember why you play football and what your goals are.
The school you signed on with may not have been your first choice but it could be the best thing that ever happened to you. The key to making that a reality is your mindset. Your college experience will be what you make it. That is true whether you signed with Oklahoma or your signed with Bucknell. It’s all up to you.
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Author: Chad Wilson
Chad Wilson is a college football recruiting expert and creator of the GridironStudsApp which allows high school football players to gain exposure to college football coaches and fans. Wilson is a former college football player for the University of Miami (92-94) and Long Beach St. (’90-’91) and played briefly for the Seattle Seahawks (’95). He is also a former youth and high school football coach for over 15 years. Wilson’s older son Quincy plays in the NFL for the Indianapolis Colts and his younger son plays cornerback for the University of Florida. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.