10 tips on earning scholarships

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When Canfield High graduate Mark Porter earned a football scholarship to Kent State in the fall of 1990, colleges were still recruiting seniors, tuition could still be covered by a summer job and 6-foot-3 tight ends “with chicken legs” could still play in the Mid-American Conference.

“Now, I’d be playing at [Division II] Ashland or in Division III,” Porter said. “Back then, the MAC was full of 6-3 tight ends. Now the MAC coaches say, ‘We need 6-6 kids who are basketball players.’

“It’s a different world.”

No one understands that world better than Porter, who founded ScoutingOhio.com, a free recruiting website for Ohio high school football players, in 2005. Over the last decade, his website has helped level a recruiting field that was heavily slanted toward players from the biggest and best programs in the state. He’s learned what to do — and, more importantly, what not to do — to help players get college scholarships.

“Most of the parents in this process are rookies,” he said. “They’re sitting in the stands and they realize they have an athlete on their hands, but they don’t understand the process. They don’t know what to do.”

This story can help. In honor of David Letterman’s final week, here are Porter’s Top 10 Rules of Recruiting. While they are football-centric, most of them apply to other sports, too.

1. Your junior year is the most important year in recruiting. Waiting until your senior year is death.

When Porter earned his scholarship a quarter-century ago, most players could still get recruited based on what they did as seniors. By 2005, the odds had dropped about 50 percent.

“Now it’s down to about 10 percent of already low odds,” he said. “College coaches have to fill their class and if they wait until kids are seniors, those kids have already committed. They’re not going to send nine coaches on the road to find a diamond in the rough.

“Are they going to miss guys? Yeah. But they can’t worry about that. If a player hasn’t popped up on the radar by his senior year, it’s probably because he’s not elite genetically.”

Seniors who get recruited usually fall into a couple camps: players who were stuck behind Division I prospects (something that happens at a school like Cleveland St. Ignatius), players who were injured earlier in their career (or didn’t go out for football until their senior year) or players that were VERY late bloomers.

“If you do get a miracle shot, usually it’s because you were a freak that missed a year or you had a big growth spurt,” Porter said. “There’s usually only about three to five players each year in Ohio who get offers that didn’t get offered before. You basically have to be twice as good to get noticed.”

2. Don’t pay for recruiting help. Your high school coach and free services (like ScoutingOhio.com) should be enough.

This is a major pet peeve for Porter, who has talked to far too many parents who shelled out big bucks to recruiting services that send out annoying spam emails to college coaches or arrange an “All-Star game” that does little more than line their pockets.

“Colleges have a recruiting budget to find you,” Porter said. “In sports like girls swimming or girls tennis, they don’t have enough money to fly around the country but college football coaches swarm into Youngstown by the hundreds. If you use my service, you’re gonna get noticed.

“But what happens is, a parent sees Joey from Boardman has a scholarship but their Jimmy from Canfield doesn’t, so they pay for help. That’s a big mistake. These guys are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Nine times out of 10, parents are furious after they paid because they realize they got scammed.”

At some point in the process, Porter said, you realize a kid is what he is.

“Nothing was going to help that,” he said. “I hate to say it this way, but the hot girl at school isn’t waiting for a prom date. If you’re not hot, you can dress up, wear lipstick, spend a bunch of money on shoes, but it’s not going to make you hot.”

3. Don’t blame your coach or your “small” school for not getting recruited. Go try out at a camp.

Twenty years ago, before everyone’s video was on the Web, you could play the blame game. Not anymore. Porter recommends attending a half-dozen college camps in June, which are essentially three-hour tryouts for $100,000 scholarships.

“At one time, a guy like [former Mooney coach] Don Bucci would hand a coach a sheet of paper with four names on it and say, ‘These are the guys you need to offer,’” Porter said. “And they would offer them. But now with social media, those days are gone.

“Even if you’ve never played for a team, if you put your hand down on the ground and run a 4.4 [40-yard dash] at a camp, I’ve got news for you. You’re getting recruiting.”

4. Separate yourself from the herd. On the field and off.

Elite recruits like Maurice Clarett don’t need to worry about this since they’ve already won the gene lottery. But once you get past the top five players in each class, there’s not much difference between the next 10 or 20, Porter said.

“There might be a 10-way tie and that’s when you start nitpicking,” he said.

Colleges will start looking at things like grade-point average, home life and work ethic. A player might be good enough to play safety in the Ivy League, but there might be 20 other players who can do that, too.

“The kid who gets the scholarship might not be better,” Porter said. “He might be the same. He just won all the tiebreakers.”

5. You can’t earn a scholarship through social media, but you can lose one.

This is pretty self-explanatory. If you’re tweeting out something racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise offensive, you’re risking your $100,000 scholarship. If you’re posting Facebook photos from drunken parties or bragging about smoking weed? Kiss it goodbye.

“Colleges could already evaluate the physical, but now you’re giving them a chance to evaluate the mental,” Porter said. “Colleges aren’t necessarily looking for saints, but you can ruin a $100,000 scholarship with the wrong kind of mentality.”

That includes arrogance. Bragging about getting, say, your ninth scholarship offer rubs coaches the wrong way.

“They’ll use the hashtag ‘#blessed’ but the hashtag should say ‘#lookatme,’” Porter said. “If a school has 10 scholarships left and it’s down to 10 guys, social media can separate them. If a kid’s profile photo has him in a suit and tie and he’s talking about doing community service on Saturday and going to a Bible study on Sunday, it’s hard to find a flaw with that.”

6. The most important number you can put up isn’t your 40-yard dash time. It’s your grade-point average.

“If you’re a freak of nature, you can get away with a 2.8 or 2.9 GPA but if not, you have to separate yourself there,” Porter said. “There’s a lot more money available for academics than athletics. Kids will spend money on a speed trainer or a strength trainer, but not an ACT or SAT coach. They’ll spend three or four hours in the weight room but they’ll go home and not open a book.

“It’s a lot harder to spend three hours in front of a calculus book than three hours in the weight room where there’s mirrors everywhere. Kids get caught up in summer camps and combines. How about summer tutors?

7. Bigger isn’t always better. It’s a lot more fun to play in the MAC than stand on the sidelines in the SEC.

If one-third of the players in a recruiting class make at least one start, it’s considered a success. College football sidelines are filled with players who took the biggest offer, rather than the best one.

“Standing on the sideline isn’t fun,” Porter said. “And a lot of times, a kid will pick a school based on its football team and throw academics out the window. You can play on ESPN or you can go to the Ivy League and become a doctor or a lawyer and have a brighter future. Some kids, and I was one of them, get a general studies degree and after graduation, they don’t know what the hell they’re going to do. If you’re not there for the academics, the football part will eat you alive. You’ll spend four hours on football and one hour on academics every day.”

8. Patience is a virtue.

Yes, Hubbard running back George Hill started getting offers as a sophomore — he committed to Ohio State last June — but he’s an outlier. Most players don’t start picking up offers until the summer before their junior year.

“There’s a rhythm to the process,” Porter said. “I tell parents, if you don’t have any offers after the junior summer (i.e. just before the fall of your senior year), that’s when you can start to worry. I get calls every day from parents of sophomores having meltdowns, saying, ‘I don’t understand how that kid got a scholarship and mine didn’t!’”

Impatient parents become desperate parents, Porter said.

“They’ll do things they wouldn’t normally do, like run over to a coach and shake his hand with that desperate look in their eyes,” he said. “Or they’ll offer me money to put in a good word for their kid. I’m like, ‘You think I’m going to ruin my reputation and my business for $50?’ But I get it. A parent might have $50,000 or $60,000 saved for college and all the sudden, a kid gets a scholarship and the parent hits the lottery. Now they can get a condo in Florida or a new Ferrari or retire a little earlier.”

9. Be honest to coaches — and to yourself.

If you tell a college coach that you’re 6-6 and weigh 250 pounds, guess what? They’re going to size you up in person. If you’re lying, that doesn’t just reveal your size, it reveals your character.

And if you’re 5-10 and weigh 160 pounds? Well, Ohio State probably isn’t the place for you.

“That’s the hardest thing to be honest about,” Porter said. “Are you an Ivy League kid or a MAC kid? It’s a gray area. You can save yourself a lot of frustration if you’re honest about your abilities.”

10. There are more FBS players than FBS scholarships.

“You get down to 10 or 12 kids trying for the last two scholarships at a school,” Porter said. “They can all play there. Yeah, your kid may have been a MAC player but the scholarships ran out. Or he should have been a Big Ten player, but the class filled up and now he has to go to Miami (Ohio) or Ohio University.

“I hear it all the time, ‘My kid can play in the MAC,’ but I tell them: the MAC does not want MAC players. That coach wants Big Ten players, so he can beat the other MAC schools and keep his job or get another job.”

The competition for scholarships rises with the cost of tuition. Porter is happy to help parents with the recruiting process, but at the end of the day, each school can only have 85 scholarship players at a time.

Only the best will get one.

“The bottom line is, if you’re genuinely good enough to play Division I, everyone knows it,” Porter said. “That kid is usually not hard to see.”


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