Online services change the recruiting game

Web consultants guide student-athletes through scholarship process

§     On national letter of intent signing day, cameras flash and prized senior high school athletes slide on sleek, brand new caps with college logos in front of television crews. They have chosen where they will play sports in college.

Young men and women are getting a taste super-stardom months before they receive their high school diploma.

Now, there are online recruiting consultants to help colleges find those star players.

“The angle I tend to look at it from is the athletes with the requisite skills should have a chance to play in college,” CEO Vishwas Prabhakara said.

BeRecruited is the largest website in the burgeoning online recruiting industry, with 1.5 million athlete subscribers and more than 25,000 college coaches logging on to search for players in the last year.

Any athlete can create a free profile on BeRecruited and post highlight videos, statistics, grades and standardized test scores. The goal is to let coaches see at a glance whether an athlete will fit into their school or system.

Athletes can upgrade to a deluxe profile package that provides a monthly report of views that a profile generated. The cost is either $19.99 a month or a one-time $99 fee. College coaches aren’t charged to use the service.

“You have your, your — those kids don’t need recruiting services,” BeRecruited spokesman Vince Wladika said. “Those are the .001 percent of kids who are going to get recruited by the Alabamas or Notre Dames.

“That means there are 99.999 percent who want to progress in their sport, but need another bump. These services are for the 99.999 percent, not for the super blue-chippers.”

University of Tulsa women’s rowing coach Kevin Harris said that for well over half of the athletes on his team, Tulsa recruiters used BeRecruited to reach them.

“It’s really important for us to use these services because getting people to pay attention to a rowing school in Oklahoma is tough,” Harris said. “Truthfully, everybody uses it, I just don’t know if they use it as much as we do.”

Salisbury University softball coach Margie Knight said she fears too many student-athletes are using recruiting websites to do the work for them. Marketing is a two-way street, she said, and just as athletes like the personal touches coaches put on recruiting tips, coaches like it, too.

“A student-athlete still has to be the one to market themselves,” Knight said. “If I’m just getting blasts from BeRecruited, I delete them. It’s not the student-athlete who’s interested; it’s the corporation.”

The approach each service takes to corner a market-share is as different as coaching philosophies.

BeRecruited focuses on the self-motivated athlete, Prabhakara and Wladika said. The service has no direct communication with coaches or recruiters. Players fill in their profiles without the oversight of their high school coach.

“It’s the kids’ job to be proactive to keep their profile up to date, so their profile looks good for coaches,” Wladika said.

Popular video editing software Hudl also has a recruiting element, though its placed squarely in the hands of high school coaches.

As coaches use the program to analyze game film and share it with their teams, players can cut footage into personal recruiting videos and post it on their individual profile page.

“From the core, we want to help coaches win and that’s one of the tools we give them,” Hudl recruiting spokesman Kyle Bradburn said.

Hudl does not charge athletes for the service. Instead, teams purchase the program and grant access to each of their athletes.

Players can go online to view film and create highlights, or they can use Hudl’s mobile app. On the iPhone version, Bradburn said, double-tapping the screen on a selected portion of a video clip automatically creates a highlight.

When coaches think their players are ready to release recruiting material, they alone can send out a recruiting package to colleges that includes highlights, statistics, and academic and contact information.

“It’s amazing how quickly they can send these packages to a coach,” Bradburn said. “They can have a big game Friday night. And Saturday morning, a college coach can watch the highlights.”

Hudl and BeRecruited offer Web-only support.

Jay Jackson, the driving force behind Step Your Game Up, a consulting firm in Northern Virginia, said the recruiting journey necessitates a hands-on service.

“A lot of times, kids end up going through a website, but not a real face-to-face person and I want to be there for them,” he said. “I try to tell kids what to improve on or tell kids they’re not a Division I player. I’ll be honest.”

He was a basketball coach for 13 years and spent another 10 as the assistant admissions director at the Flint Hill School in Oakton, Va.

Instead of widely offering Step Your Game Up, Jackson said, he takes about 15 athletes per recruiting cycle. There’s a one-time charge of $500, which includes a personalized Web page, highlight video production and Jackson’s services as an evaluator, mentor and guide through the intense process.

“Recruiting is a cutthroat business,” he said. “People’s feelings get hurt, especially kids and parents.”

Jackson said the personal relationship he has with clients let him pinpoint the best college programs for each player. As an evaluator, he sometimes reaches out to coaches — or vice versa — to put an athlete on their radar.

“A family the other week was uncomfortable with the direction they were going and they asked me to call up another program and see how things developed,” Jackson said. “We had a great conversation and the kid is going to go there.”

Knight had one piece of advice for student-athletes:

“Do your work yourself. Use the services as another tool to get you where you want to go, not as the main tool.”


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