I am often asked how a player can make the transition of playing football at the next level when coming from a 1A (sixman) football program. The truth is college coaches are paid to win football games. They want the best athletes they can get with the resources they have at their disposal. If an athlete is 6'0" weighs 225 pounds runs a laser time 4.4, benches 325 lbs and squats 500 lbs, he could have been playing tidily winks on Mars and still get an offer from most colleges. For the record, all players on Mars fit this description.
The problem is most the commute from Mars is long. The good news is the current technology allows you to get the recognition needed to peak the interest of a college football program and extend your ability to play the game at a high level. However, you need to recognize some of the obstacles you will face and how best to circumvent them.
STEP 1 - An Honest Assessment This might be the hardest part for a sixman football athlete. No matter where you play (public, private or homeschool) you need to realize certain college programs will be biased against your level of play. Don't let this concern you because all coaches will be biased in favor of your athleticism.
Today's college football athlete (especially at the D1, D2 and NAIA levels) must "check the appropriate boxes". These boxes are based upon physical attributes (size, speed and strength). There will always be the athletic anomaly who defies this very sterile process of analysis; however, this exception will find it very hard to convince a coach he can play bigger, faster and stronger (BFS). Speed size and strength are position dependent. For a better understanding of what coaches are looking for at each level check out Athlete size, strength and speed by position and Athlete size and skills by position. The more you fit the "mold" the easier it is to climb the ladder to D1.
You can get a better assessment of your abilities from several sources. Some cost a little money while others can cost thousands of dollars. Here are a few that I suggest. The spring before your Junior year start attending some local college football camps and combines. Please don't think your are going to be recognized at one of these camps unless you can be one of the fastest at the camp or jump the highest / furthest. Combine results provide college coaches the ability to cross-check player information or find a verified measurement like a 40 time or a height and weight. The reason to attend is to get a feel for where you are compared to other athletes vying for college scholarships. It will also help you to better understand the areas where you can improve.
You can hire a recruiting consultant (if you do, choose wisely). There are plenty out there and they will be very honest about your prospects. Remember, they have to maintain a relationship with the coaches and over selling your ability hurts them in the long run so they will be brutally honest. The problem is not all of these consultants are truly a good judge of talent and you would be advised to engage them for their ability to help you navigate the recruiting landscape than assess your talent.
Finally, you need to recognize your film can be an asset or a liability depending upon how it is packaged (more on that below). The lack of film will be a detriment to your getting to the next level if you do not perform in the top percentiles at the combines. You should take into consideration how much film you have being athletic. Making athletic plays is more important that running untouched into the end zone.
To recap, you need to evaluate your ability through the eyes of coaches. "Intangibles" are not sufficient. Be honest about your measurable metrics. Getting a third party (like a combine) to validate your speed and having video of your lifts. Finally, you need to be clear to coaches how you will help their program be successful which takes us to step two.
STEP 2 - Knowing the Landscape
Getting a college scholarship / academic aid to play in college for most sixman players will be a by-product of your ability to find the appropriate fit. The likelihood you are similar to hundreds of other players seeking the same position on a team is relatively high. If you have been playing on Mars, consider yourself blessed and the need to market your skills will not be necessary. Outside of your ability to play, you need to consider the following important factors:
Level of play
Standardized test scores (ACT / SAT)
High school requirements
Federal Student Aide (FAFSA)
Degree and cost
It is important your self assessment is accurate as it will save you time knocking on the wrong doors. If you want to play defensive back at a D1 college but are 5'8" and run a laser timed 4.7 then you will be wasting your time unless you can show film where you intercept half the balls thrown your way. You also need to know the differences between the different leagues and what scholarship / financial aid they can offer.
D1 consists of the largest schools that also have big budgets to support their athletic programs. It is considered to be the most competitive division with the best athletes and teams.
There is a separation within Division 1 as well. You have the high major, mid-major, and lower D1 conferences.
Offer full scholarships that cover everything including tuition, room and board, books, dining plans, etc.
D2 / NAIA have some pretty solid teams and athletes, but the schools tend to be a little smaller and have lower budgets.
Both offer some full scholarships and a lot of partial scholarships.
Most scholarships are year to year at this level. If you get hurt, your scholarship may not carry to the remainder of your schooling.
NAIA coaches have the ability to combine athletic and academic scholarship dollars
D3 is the lowest division and it is comprised of many small private universities with fairly low budgets. These schools pride themselves on having “true” student-athletes.
Do not offer any athletic scholarships, but can provide financial aid packages.
Sixman players will have more success with schools outside the state of Texas. There are several reasons for considering schools beyond the Red River. Texas does not have as many colleges per capita as many other states. Many of the mid-western states have teams where more than 50% of their players are from outside the state. Also, these states have 8 man football and are more apt to consider sixman players. Finally, Texas football has a great reputation which will benefit you in the recruiting process outside the state.
Every college will have some level of academic performance before you can be considered by the football program. For a breakdown of what is required at which level check out this article on the academic requirements.
If you are coming from a homeschooled environment you will put down that you graduated first in your class and this will actually assist you with some of the schools (especially those whose coaches have access to academic grants). Because schools vary so drastically all over the US most of the weight will be in the standardized tests.
Important note: the higher you score on your ACT/SAT the more appealing you become to a D2, NAIA or D3 school. Coaches at these level often have access to academic aid which is predicated upon your test scores. The fewer athletic dollars they have to use to make your offer the better for them. For example, I had a player whose test scores allowed a coach to get access to a $10,000 academic grant which were funds he did not have to pull from his athletic scholarship budget.
Federal Student Aid is an important factor and anything less than D1 will require you submit your FAFSA. For more information on how to navigate this process go to https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa
As a sixman player, you have been playing on both sides of the ball. You need to choose which side of the ball you want to be recruited in college. Again, if you played on Mars, offense or defense does not matter. Remember, everyone wants to be a quarterback, running back or receiver so offense will be much more competitive. You will see this when you attend the camps. 50 players will be in the receiver line and 10 in the defensive back line. Whatever position you choose, be sure to have some film to verify you can play the position.
Film will be your best method of exhibiting to coaches you have the athleticism needed to play for them. Please note that I said "athleticism" and did not say skills or technique. Coaches at the next level will not hold against you the fact that your high school coach was not a stickler for technique. What coaches can't teach is athleticism. The ability to make people miss, acrobatic catches and the ability to explode into tackles are examples of the types of athleticism coaches want to see. The good news for sixman players is you have many more chances to make a play per game than your 11 man peers.
Finally, you need to take into consideration the degree and the total out of pocket costs. You can eliminate many schools quickly by looking at the degrees they offer. If you want to be an economist then better not play at a teacher's college which does not offer this degree. You should also factor in the costs of travel, books, fees, etc. The old saying that the devil is in the details is very true when it comes to the cost of college. Here are some helpful online tools:
All of these factors will need to be considered when selecting the programs you should contact. This takes us to the third step of marketing yourself.
STEP 3 - Marketing Yourself
You have honestly assessed your abilities, you are familiar with the college landscape and how you intend to fit into it; now, time to start recruiting colleges. I know what you are thinking, "I thought it was the school's job to recruit me?" Real life is not The Blindside, and you are not 6'4" 315 lbs, benching 225 over twenty times and running a 5.3 fourty. You might be able to beat his fourty time but you probably are going to fall short in the size and strength departments. So, you are not from Mars, no worries.
The smaller the school the fewer the coaches on staff and the harder it is for them to find you. So, lets start with where coaches go to find players. Some coaches will go to camps; however, most are being paid to attend the camps so they are really there for the paycheck than to try and discern which of the 300 attendees wants to come play for them. Some coaches will use recruiting services like NCSA (more on these services later) but the vast majority will rely upon you to contact them.
Lets just use some common sense and put ourselves into the shoes of a college coach. He needs to fill his roster with about 30 - 50 athletes each year. They need to qualify academically and desire the education being offered by the school. He has to win games and recruit athletes who have the highest probability of attending his school. To do this, he is going to take the low hanging fruit and those are the folks who reach out to him.
So, you need to build a list of 30-50 schools of where you "might" like to attend. You then need to get the contact information of the head coach, recruiting coordinator (if they have one) and the offensive/defensive coordinator depending upon the side of the ball you want to play. You also need to keep track of the following:
Room & Board
Freshman class size for the past three years
Team record past three seasons
Head coach tenure
Physical location of school (city/state)
Twitter accounts for all coaches
Twitter accounts for team
Keep track of important steps A. initial email B. coach has replied to email C. coach has added you to twitter D. scheduled visit E. submitted application F. ACT/SAT sent G. FAFSA sent H. Offer made
Yes, you should keep this in a spreadsheet and be ready to change the coaches over the course of the journey because they change! Your athlete needs to have an email account and all correspondence needs to come from his account. The athlete also needs a twitter account to communicate with coaches.
NCSA offers a portal for handling the recruiting process which I used but it cost about $500 in 2019. This was not access to their consulting services (which costs much more). It was simply access to a system where you could keep track of all the above but already contained the academic information and allowed you to keep notes. Google sheets is free!
Here are some things you should consider when evaluating the football team:
Size of football program - Some colleges will have 200 players on a team and maybe even a JV schedule. Be wary because the equipment they show you for starters is often not the same for non-starters. Also, many of these schools offer a small scholarship the first year and then none in subsequent years.
Style of football - Do you want to be a receiver on a team that throws the ball 5 times a game?
Transfer players - It is more common for teams to build through transfer. Look at a roster and see how many starters entered the school as freshman. Programs built on transfers may have large freshman classes with very few players able to play past their sophomore year.
Weight room - You do the math. If a team has 150 players and 8 power cages then there will be a number of people not lifting or having to lift at 5 am. Also, is the weight room shared with other sports teams? If so, be prepared to get a membership at a gym off campus. Do they offer rehydration (like chocolate milk) at the weight room?
Training room - Does the school tape for practices? Do they offer ice baths or the equivalent? How many full time trainers and assistant trainers?
Equipment - What type of equipment is issued and is it consistent for all players?
Stadium - Is the game stadium turf or grass? Is the practice field turf or grass? Teams with grass fields usually have lower budgets for everything else in the program.
Opponents - Are the opponents in the conference highly ranked? Do they have turf fields?
Each athlete needs to have their film posted on Hudl and Maxpreps. The latest "best of" clips should be pinned to the top of both. Coaches will click on the first film they come to and will usually not watch more than 30 seconds so your most athletic plays need to be in the first 30 seconds. For example, I had a player recruited as a defensive back whose first 30 seconds had 2 offensive and 2 defensive plays but the offensive plays had him breaking tackles and running over defenders. Again, coaches want to see athleticism!
Here is my suggested timeline for reaching out to coaches:
Send the first introductory email in the summer before your junior year.
Send film to coaches in December of your junior year. FCS and below will begin building their boards in December.
Touch base with coaches twice in the spring before senior year. For example, mention winning state track meet or hitting PRs in lifting.
Schedule visits to schools in the summer before senior year. Great time to meet with coaches.
Apply to all schools of interest
Send senior film after first four games
Send senior film at the end of season (so before playoffs)
Pointers on communication
Always list your last name, location, position, stat in the title (e.g. Golemon, Bastrop, TX, DB, 4.6 - 40)
Be very brief in your communication. Think twitter.. 250 char or less
Be longer when replying to an inquiry from the coach
Be honest in all your dealings. Do not exaggerate anything. A coach might ask you to tweet him your lifting 250 pounds.
Throughout the process of communicating with coaches. Don't become disheartened because you have not heard back from a coach. Every coach is different in how they go about recruiting and each has a different timetable and different staff resources. Remember, you have nothing to loose by reaching out. They will never tell you to stop reaching out to them; however, you want to be respectful about it.
Having done your due diligence, sown your recruiting seed, its now time to prepare for the harvest.
STEP 4 - Finding the Best Fit
I want to preface the next step in the process by stating not everyone who goes through the process plays collegiate football. The dollars offered might not be enough, the school you liked the most and was the best educational fit did not need your services, or a variety of other reasons. More and more young people are opting not to go to college as most are over priced and their degrees not worthy of what you have to pay to attend. Each athlete needs to determine for themselves up front how much debt (if any) they are willing to take upon themselves and be willing to pursue other options outside of football.
The single most sincere gesture you can provide a program about your seriousness to play for them is to visit their campus. The second most sincere gesture is to apply to their school. You might not be able to do the former, but you should certainly do the latter.
Important note: you should not have to pay for applying to any college. Almost all coaching staffs have the ability to send you a code to waive the application fee (if there is one).
The pre-requisite for applying will be a transcript and your SAT or ACT board scores. Athletes need to take the SAT/ACT before the summer of their senior year (or during the summer). Most schools will accept both and you don't have to take both. The ACT has four parts and you can re-take any one of the four parts to help raise your score without having to re-take the entire test. I would recommend taking a prep class and there are some very inexpensive options available.
In the fall, some coaches will invite you to "game day" visits. The advantage of game day visits is you will get to meet other athletes being recruited. The disadvantage is you might not get to spend as much time with the coaches and the players. Never turn down a game day visit invitation from a school on your short list.
Most schools require your FAFSA and your application to be on file before they can make you an offer. Both the NCAA and NAIA schools will require you also have registered with their associations as well. It costs about $75 for each and it is a one time fee (not annual). NCAA offers are contractual obligations and after accepting one in writing you will have hurdles to jump through to go to a different college. NAIA and D3 schools do not have anything official but when giving your word to play for a school realize you are affecting the choice of another player. It is always best to be a man of your word regardless of whether their is a contract involved.
Some schools will send you offers from just seeing your film and never talking to you. Others might send you offers just because a rival program has sent you an offer. Offers from NCAA programs will only be for athletic scholarship and you will have to work separately with the admissions office to get additional dollars for FAFSA, academic or grant aid which might be available. NAIA offers will include everything together and you will not know how much is academic and how much is athletic.
D1 schools have 85 full scholarships to give out each year. NAIA schools are limited to 24 full athletic scholarships which cover only tuition. This means coaches can break this apart as they see fit. For example, they could give 48 players half scholarships or 96 players quarter scholarships or any combination. NCAA D2 schools have 36 full athletic scholarships to distribute covering tuition but are prohibited from working with admissions on other aid. D3 schools have not athletic aid to distribute.
The D1 early signing day in December starts the process because athletes passed over by D1 schools are now eligible for the lower levels. D2 and NAIA offers usually start being offered in October of your senior year with the majority being offered between January and early March of your senior year.
I pray this was helpful and I will do my best to update this with more information. Please feel free to reach out to me email@example.com with any questions you might have or for any guidance.
This blog post was last updated 02/21/2021.