I knew I wanted to be a football player at an early age. My brother’s high school team won a state championship in 1982, and even though I was just eight-years-old at the moment, he and his teammates hoisting that trophy in celebration was burned into my memory and played like a newsreel on repeat in my mind throughout my teenage years.
The singular goal of team success permeated my being throughout junior high and high school, but was always underscored by the dream of playing college football. As much as I wanted to win high school football games, I also wanted to be a scholarship college football player at the highest level possible.
Unfortunately, because of that focus, I was left unprepared for college in many ways.
Academically, I did just enough to survive in high school. In courses that came more naturally to me, such as English and history, I was generally above average. In classes that were more challenging, such as math and science, I did just enough to stay eligible to play football.
I’m embarrassed to admit my lack of focus on academics, not just because it left me unprepared for some college level courses, but also because I missed out on so many scholarship opportunities tied to academic performance. I was, frankly, too confident that a college football scholarship would pay for my college education.
While I was a barely above average high school player who filled my role on my team well, my own estimation of my football skill was likely a bit inflated. While I enjoyed the recruiting process…I completely mishandled it. But, that’s a story for another time.
I was fortunate to earn a handful of scholarship offers at the NAIA and junior college level, and even a DII offer, along with several DII walk-on invites. I chose the JUCO option, and it quickly became clear that junior college was not the right fit. My size and speed – or lack thereof – left me as a kind of “tweener” for my ideal position. I knew after just a couple weeks of practice that I probably should’ve gone to a four-year school where I could’ve developed in a red-shirt year and grown into my position.
Ultimately, I transferred to a four-year school, left football behind, and focused on academics.
Let me be clear – this is not a criticism of junior college football! In fact, three of my high school teammates found immediate playing time and success in the junior college ranks. Many, many Kansas athletes have used junior college as a jumping off point for eventual four-year success. It simply was not the best fit for me.
But, that’s not what I want you to take from this. What is more important is how wholly unprepared I was left for college because of my singular focus on football.
I love football, and even with its risks I still believe it’s a great game that provides a great physical outlet for young people across the country. I was fortunate to parlay my passion for football, and all athletics, into a successful small business, and I couldn’t love my work more.
All that said, I mismanaged preparation for college, and I would love to help young student-athletes and their families avoid making similar mistakes. As a result, I’ve developed a kind of checklist of considerations for aspiring college athletes. Check them out below:
- Athletic assessment – Every year hundreds, if not thousands of high school athletes, and their parents, claim they are “slept on” by top level athletic programs. The reality is that participating in college athletics is incredibly difficult at any level and properly assessing your own skill level early in high school is imperative in choosing the right opportunity. Remember, it’s not just about being on a team. It's about having a legitimate opportunity to earn playing time and not only get, but keep that scholarship. Sharp Performance has a number of assessment opportunties coming up in the spring, including the free athletic testing combine. Find out more at https://www.sharp-performance.com/events.
- Academic success – I think kids who hear me speak probably get tired of this message, but PLEASE put the student in student-athlete first. Do this not just because the opportunities to make a living as a professional athlete are ultra-rare, but also because academic performance can provide scholarship opportunities. If you are not a full-ride DI athlete – and very, very few of you are – then your athletic scholarship will not cover the complete cost of your education. Thousands of college graduates leave school with loads of student loan debt every year, and if your family cannot afford to cover the complete cost of your education, then you’ll want to find any and all resources to pay for those expenses. Academic scholarships are key, but so is my next point.
- Saving for college – This should likely be the number one consideration, but it’s probably the one people least like to talk about. Even a small investment monthly at an early age can result in a windfall that can help cover costs not covered by an athletic scholarship. My family was left unprepared in this regard. But where do you start, right? Well one place to start is at Kansas State Treasurer Lynn Rogers’ 529 Learning Quest Website (https://www.learningquest.
com/home.html). Learning Quest provides tips on how to pay for college, including the Learning Quest 529 Savings Plan. It’s a tax-advantaged investment option to help cover the ever-increasing costs of college, while potentially reducing reliance on student loans.
Certainly there are many other considerations for successful navigation of the college selection process, but financial preparedness provides a sense of security and reduces the challenges and overall stress load related to receiving a college education.
There’s no time like the present to put saving for college at the top of your list.