Remember the original ‘Friday Night Lights’? High school football back in the day…those chilly fall football games when we were in school? Popcorn, cheerleaders, the biggest guys lumbering around with shoulder pads, huge helmets, and happy-if-muddy grins. Win or lose, we’d always meet up after the game for burgers and our carefree high school life continued. Granted, high school sports in the Midwest were slightly more frostbitten than here in Florida, but still fundamentally the same.
Fast forward to 2009, high school football Florida style. Those carefree memories are a funny novelty to the high school jock of today. Playing football today is a very serious and often expensive business to thousands of young athletes.
According to online publication ESPN Rise: “Many people clearly believe Florida is the best high school football state.” Lake Mary, Florida grad, All-American linebacker at USC, and first-round draft pick Keith Rivers of the Cincinnati Bengals is a perfect example of a ‘local-kid-makes-good-on-his-dream’ story.
But sports success does not come easily or inexpensively for most youth in high school sports today even here in Florida. Doug Peters, Athletic Director at Lake Mary High School tells me that his school alone averages 800 student athletes annually and only about 15 of them will go on to attend college on athletic scholarships after graduation each year.
Although his parents may not be aware of it yet, these young football players already know that they need real marketing to the tune of: professionally produced highlight videos, personal trainers and even a “scout” who contacts multiple schools on the player’s behalf in order to play college football. The commitment required for today’s high school athletes is so different because it involves even greater emotional, personal and financial investment on the part of the whole family.
Take 16 year old Trevor Alfredson (full disclosure: my own teenage jock son) who has been playing football and loving it since he was six years old. “I’ve wanted to play Division 1 football for as long as I can remember” says Trevor. And as a sophomore varsity player, Trev’s season also involved hiring a firm to make a highlight video, discussions with two different recruiting service firms, training with former a NFL player Dana Sanders and attending something called “combines”.
For those uninitiated in the “jock” lingo of today: high school football combines officially test athletes on a number of physical skills like speed, agility, and strength while various college coaches look on. The pressure to get noticed is incredibly heavy for these boys, as early as age 14! The cost of sophomore year football alone, with an eye toward playing “division 1 football” can range upwards of $5500.
The pressure and problems of “making it” aren’t unique to football either. Lake Mary’s Lee Morgan is a junior who plays two kinds of soccer (Club Soccer and school soccer) AND football so he’ll have the best shot at playing a college sport at a good school. A super-talented and first string football kicker, Lee has already emailed a number of college coaches (part of his personal marketing plan) and heard back from some of the Florida college coaches. For a fee Lee’s invited to summer soccer camps so the coaches can get an up-close-and personal look.
As fiercely competitive as college sports have become for young athletes today, Lee tells us that “I’ve been playing soccer since I was 7, and now I want to keep all of my options open.” His educator father Walt, says that “part of today’s added pressure is because the cost of college has also risen, which can put more pressure on athletic scholarships.”
Florida’s Chip Humble works for CSA Prep Stars and he scouts players for multiple schools. Chip says that most parents need help understanding how recruiting really works. And with the exception of those very rare “blue chip players” like Keith Rivers, “lots of good athletes go unnoticed and unseen because they haven’t been properly marketed”.
The pros in the know say that the main reason many boys are not recruited is that no one knows about them. As Chip reminds the parents of his athletic roster: “just because your child was good in Little League or a standout at her own school it doesn’t mean they are a ‘blue chip’ All American athlete as far as college coaches are concerned.”
Raising a jock right now means a personal profile with website; following coaches on Twitter, verified game & combine stats and that pro-quality highlight video looked at by hundreds of college coaches. Dreams don’t come cheap these days, even in high school!