Pulling double duty as a father and football coach, Mike Apodaca has been around for most of his son’s best and worst times on the gridiron. But there is one moment that stands out for the Silver Creek coach.
The summer of 2011, before Austin Apodaca’s senior year, the quarterback received a phone call changing the trajectory of his football career. Up until the time Washington State University called, the Raptors signal caller had resigned himself to playing at a Division II program.
Hearing the signal caller on the phone, talking over his first major-college offer, one he would latter accept, is a memory etched into his father’s mind.
“When they called with his very first offer, the look on Austin’s face was, ‘Oh my God, this is really happening,'” Mike Apodaca said. “It was a pretty special moment.”
The commitment is the highest point of the recruiting process. It is the final payoff of a long journey. But it is only one of many good, bad and ugly sides of recruiting.
Coming into the process, many athletes have a preconceived idea about what is involved in recruiting. But once in the rigmarole, rosy expectations of colleges clambering for a commitment can be smashed.
“I definitely was taken off guard by the recruiting process,” said Kailey Edwards, who was recruited by and will play next season for the University of Denver. “It really is not as clear-cut as it sounds.”
The Legacy guard had the usual downs in her recruiting experience, from programs that lost interest to coaches that never reciprocated contact. But she also endured some of the nastier bumps in the process.
The toughest were rumors that Edwards had committed to a program — long before it was fact.
“I don’t know if they were intentionally-spread rumors or if they were just mistakes, but I had offers retracted because of them,” she said.
Missteps and tough breaks hit more people than just athletes — recruiting is very much a family affair. Mothers, fathers and siblings all chip in or sacrifice so athletes can chase dreams. This has even become more the case with the growth of club sports, which by their nature demand more of a family’s time and money.
Traveling around the country, picking up airfare and hotel bills for weekend tournaments has the potential to run into the thousands of dollars each year. In turn, it can easily diminish a family’s lifestyle.
“We’re taking our first vacation in four or five years,” said Kailey Edwards’ father, Corey. “Before this, Kailey’s tournaments were our vacations. Really, the whole process involved a lot of sacrifice, not only on my and Kailey’s mother’s parts, but also her younger siblings. We were team Kailey.”
Athletes and their families focusing so much energy on one task can sometimes create problems. Effort has the tendency to build expectations, sometimes to the point of being unreachable.
Playing college athletics is a slim proposition to begin with, with only 6 percent of high school athletes moving to the next level and only 2 percent receiving college scholarships, according to NCAA statistics.
And those fortunate few who do play at the college level, might not be doing so at the level they envisioned. Not everyone is a Division I athlete, and no amount of pushing by players or their parents will change that.
Mike Apodaca preaches flexibility to his aspiring college players. The goal is to continue playing, in most circumstances at what level is out of an athlete’s control.
The promise of making the process easier is a siren song to many athletes, prompting many across the country to claim to be recruiting specialists. And while there are reputable organizations and individuals that help coach athletes to the next level or provide recruiting services, it is always a matter of buyer beware.
“There are some people out there who have no idea about the recruiting process, but are giving advice,” Colorado State University-Pueblo football coach John Wristen said.
In about a quarter-century as a college coach at the Division I and II levels, Wristen said he has never had a player come from a recruiting service.
Northwestern wrestling coach Drew Pariano believes he would put more faith in a player who personally sent him information, rather than through a service.
Even with some of the potential stumbling blocks of recruiting, athletes almost always view the process as a positive experience.
Despite the pains of 5 a.m. workouts and tight schedules, all while trying to squeeze in being a teen, most athletes love the dedication demanded by their sports. In some cases it is nearly impossible to keep the game from the player.
“Even the days we didn’t have practice at my club, we’d get together and work out,” said Centaurus’ Emma Lazaroff, who will play lacrosse at Duke University next year. “You just want to get out there and keep a stick in your hand.”
Sports teach many life lessons and so does the recruiting process, the payoff for which goes beyond an athlete setting a goal and achieving it.
The process requires many athletes to step out of their comfort zones, demanding proactivity, tact and thick skins. It requires the academic chops and upstanding character on which coaches are willing to bet. And above all, it requires patience to execute a multi-year protocol.
In short, what going through recruiting requires is an athlete to become an adult.
“The way Kailey grew up through the process was impressive to see,” Corey Edwards said. “She learned how to deal with adults, to handle disappointment and to manage herself. It was a very good experience for her.”