Football

Online recruiting services help football players achieve scholarships

Online recruiting services help football players with scholarships

Online football recruiting services help players such as former Crystal Lake Central football player Kyle Lavand (left) and former Marian Central quarterback Chris Streveler pick up scholarships.
Online football recruiting services help players such as former Crystal Lake Central football player Kyle Lavand (left) and former Marian Central quarterback Chris Streveler pick up scholarships.

He grew anxious when his celebrated high school football career had netted but a single college scholarship offer.

On most evenings in early 2012, Chris Streveler, then a 17-year-old junior at Marian Central, followed the same seemingly endless routine. He finished working out, returned home, sat in front of his computer and logged in to his profile with the National Collegiate Scouting Association, an online recruiting network designed to connect high school athletes with college coaches across the country. Think LinkedIn for college sports.

The dual-threat quarterback, who threw and ran for 3,426 total yards and 43 touchdowns the previous fall, believed his production warranted more attention from schools.

Up to that point, Streveler’s one scholarship offer was from South Dakota State, a Football Championship Subdivision program far removed from the bright lights of the Big Ten.

With his dad’s help, Streveler purchased an NCSA membership for $800. That came with an online profile, a highlight reel and a list of his measurables: height, weight, 40-yard dash time, GPA and more. His hope was that when NCSA staffers sent his profile to prospective colleges, interest would perk up.

“It’s just frustrating when you’re trying to get in contact with all these people and you’re kind of getting a lot of fluff and not anything real,” Streveler said.

Eventually, he got a nibble. Minnesota Director of Recruiting Billy Glasscock viewed his profile, and after a few emails back and forth, invited him to attend the Golden Gophers’ Junior Day, akin to an unofficial visit as the prospects must pay their way to campus.

“It probably got the ball rolling,” Streveler said.

A couple visits later, he got his second scholarship offer that June, and committed to coach Jerry Kill’s program on the spot.

“There was just a big weight lifted off my shoulders,” said Streveler, now a redshirt freshman for the Golden Gophers.

Streveler sits among a growing number of high school football players who in recent years have relied on online-based recruiting companies as a way to boost their profile and garner college interest. Given the Internet’s rise in the past decade, dozens of entrepreneurs have launched services like NCSA, Hudl, BeRecruited.com and others.

They serve as middlemen in the world of college football recruiting, collecting prospects’ highlight reels and shuttling them to college coaches.

They have intensified an already cutthroat process, and they show little sign of slowing down.

Booming business

Initially, Jim Berent strolled into the bleachers at Bill Duchon Field in Glen Ellyn as a dad with a camcorder, looking to tape his son’s football game.

In 2009, his son, John, played linebacker for the Class 8A power Glenbard West High School, and on Saturday afternoons, Jim recorded the games, largely as a hobby and for scrapbooking purposes.

Increasingly, he got requests from the parents of John’s teammates: could he use the tape to put together a highlight reel for their sons? Eventually, there was enough clamoring that in the summer of 2010, Berent started a company called TopRecruitFilms.com. For $200, a player can get his own highlight film, coming with four DVDs and a digital copy, to send to schools.

“I was seeing a need for something that would showcase the kids.” he said. “A lot of parents want their kids to be promoted the right way.”

Business has grown since, though not a full-time endeavor for Berent, it’s “getting close,” he said. Berent employs a small staff of stringers. And in the past few years, he’s built highlight tapes for about 50 players, including former Glenbard West defensive linemen Tommy Schutt, a junior at Ohio State, and Ruben Dunbar, a freshman at Northern Illinois.

What Berent found was that demand for these services is increasing, and can be traced back to 2000.

That was the year Chris Krause founded the Chicago-based NCSA. Krause was a lightly recruited linebacker from North Chicago Community High School in the early 1980s before he earned a scholarship to Vanderbilt. He remembers thinking that his high school teammates could have played at the college level, and that belief provided the rationale for starting NCSA. No talented player would fly under the radar.

NCSA’s fees range from $800 to $2,000, depending on the type of membership, and it also offers financial aid packages, Krause said. The company’s services include information on how to take official and unofficial visits, how to talk with coaches and other nuts and bolts.

“We’re a great resource to the colleges, and a great support system for the athletes,” NCSA Director of Football Recruiting Randy Taylor said. “The important part that we provide for both is reality.”

Taylor, who previously worked on coaching staffs at Illinois, Minnesota and UCLA, stressed that one of the key goals of the service is managing expectations. However talented, not every player who signs up is destined to land at a top Division I school. So, Taylor and other NCSA scouts evaluate players in an effort to match them with an appropriate school.

“Take the love glasses off,” Taylor said, “and figure out ‘this is what I’m going to be.’”

Of the 6,000 NCSA-registered football players from the class of 2014, 98 percent of them either landed a scholarship or received a roster spot, according to NCSA web manager Andy McKernan.

BeRecruited.com was also launched in 2000 by a former college athlete — a Duke swimmer named Ryan Spoon. Like NCSA, it boasts a network of college coaches. Any high school athlete can sign up for a profile for free, or a premium one for $99.

Neither company is a mom and pop shop.

BeRecruited.com was sold last year to the Rain Group for somewhere between $17 million and $22 million, according to TechCrunch. And Crain’s Chicago Business reported that in 2013 NCSA raked in $43.3 million in revenue.

Later this month, a new website called MyRecruitBoard that bills itself as a network “to connect college coaches from every college sport to student athletes everywhere” will launch. Other sites like GetUrecruited and SportsWorx also pledge to generate exposure for high school athletes.

The most commonly used is perhaps Hudl, a Nebraska-based software company that was founded in 2006.

Hudl is not explicitly a recruiting service. For up to $3,000, it sells server space to high schools and colleges, thereby allowing them to upload their game footage. This gives players and coaches the chance to scout their team and opponents on film online from anywhere with a Wifi connection instead of simply on a projector in a classroom. Nearly 15,000 high schools, including 529 in Illinois, have purchased packages, said Alli Pane, a content manager for Hudl.

For the high schoolers, there’s no additional cost, and any player can look up his school’s game tape, cut it and create his own highlight reel.

Does it work?

All of this raises a question: How much do colleges rely on this collection of networks? The answer varies by school.

Lance Leipold, who just won his fifth national championship at Wisconsin-Whitewater but is leaving to coach Buffalo, said the web boom has allowed his program to evaluate more prospective players. The Warhawks’ coaches were able to review film for an estimated 1,400 players from last year’s recruiting class, according to recruiting coordinator Andy Kotelnicki. As a Division III program, they don’t offer scholarships, but do offer roster spots.

“A highlight film is enough to get a coach’s attention,” said Leipold.

At UW-Whitewater, Leipold and Kotelnicki said they rely heavily on the Internet to filter prospects, viewing 95 percent of film on Hudl, in addition to some NCSA profiles and YouTube clips. They have a limited travel budget, often make a deep playoff run in December and can’t travel the country until January to personally meet prospects.

In addition, Kotelnicki and other assistants don’t coach full-time, but also hold teaching and administrative positions.

In Division I, where coaching and video staffs are bigger, it’s relied upon less.

Lamar Conard, the recruiting coordinator and running backs coach for Illinois State, describes the boom as “an extra resource above and beyond the information that we already gather.”

Conard receives 50 to 75 emails each day from prospects sending along their film. ISU head coach Brock Spack gets between 100 and 150.

“It’s very rare we find somebody who just sent in a tape unsolicited,” Spack said. “... The majority of the time, we already know about the guy and are looking for another piece of information.”

Allen Trieu, a Midwest recruiting analyst for Scout.com, brings up Wesley French, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound senior defensive lineman from Saint Joseph, Michigan. Last summer, French released his highlight tape on Hudl, and the next day, received a scholarship offer from San Diego State.  

“Sight unseen,” Trieu said. “They hadn’t met the kid. They hadn’t seen him in person. He hadn’t come to their camp. They offered him purely off what he showed on Hudl. That door would not have been open to him pre-Hudl.”  

The desire to become the next Wesley French has perhaps inflated expectations, prompting coaches to worry about the upcoming generation of players.  

“It’s brought a little bit of an unrealistic expectation,” said Conard, “because now everybody thinks they can play at this level.”

And it isn’t just the players.

“The parents tend to do the more pushing than the kid,” Spack said. “That’s the issue. The parent thinks you can go market yourself and you’re gonna get a scholarship and that’s not the case. You have to be able to play.”

All of them concede the Internet has made it easier to view film and evaluate prospects.

And it’s also sped up the timeline. It’s increasingly common for players to receive scholarship offers by their sophomore and junior years, with many top prospects committing before their senior season.

“It’s made everything go faster,” Trieu said. “I think that’s why you see kids getting offered younger and at an earlier age because you can evaluate guys quicker, look at footage quicker.”

Selling yourself

In November, when the high school season had ended for most Illinois schools, Woodstock North senior Jake Britton followed everyone’s lead. He logged into Hudl, cut a highlight reel with his best plays and posted it to Twitter. Maybe a college coach will see it.

“I never really wanted to be that guy that tweeted out a video,” said Britton, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound offensive lineman, “but everyone else is doing it. A little self-exposure can’t hurt.”

His reel serves as a way for an anonymous offensive lineman to stand out. Much of recruiting seems tied to this, putting your name out there and doing as much as possible to get noticed in the hope of landing a small slice of the $2.7 billion that NCAA Division I and II schools annually award in athletic scholarships.

Additionally, Britton, a 2014 Northwest Herald all-area first-team selection, emails schools. He said Division III programs such as Carroll University, University of St. Thomas, Wisconsin-Platteville and UW-Whitewater have expressed interest, along with Drake, an FCS school.

“You have to make the initial contact a lot of time,” he said.

Increasingly, the onus is on the players to reach out to colleges. Erik Streveler, Chris’s dad, likened it to a job search, pushing your own résumé among a qualified field of candidates.

“My reference to it is you’re competing for a real high-profile job,” said the elder Streveler, who coincidently works in sales. “These guys are competing for scholarships, positions on the team. And at least at quarterback, there’s not many of them.

“It’s like trying to find, in your professional life, somebody who knows somebody who can get you an interview. Can’t get you a job, but can get you an interview. That’s all he was looking for. Get me a chance to talk to somebody.”

Players acknowledge that there’s a fine line with promoting themselves, and being overly aggressive.

Said former Crystal Lake Central quarterback Kyle Lavand, who used NCSA, and is now a freshman at Northern State in Aberdeen, South Dakota, “It’s a little awkward at times, just because, if you’re not one of those people who likes to talk about yourself a lot. I wasn’t like that. So, I had to get used to that.”

Chris Streveler said players need to be “proactive,” adding “I’m sure for the blue chips guys, you can just throw it [a video] out there and it’ll [an offer] come, but for the rest of the other guys, you kind of have to work for it.”

Streveler learned about NCSA from former Marian lineman Bryan Bulaga, who ended up going to Iowa before being drafted by the Green Bay Packers.

How responsible was NCSA for Streveler’s scholarship? He was the one who impressed Minnesota coaches, during a workout Marian and later at a one-day camp in Minnesota. But it was a foot in the door.

“In terms of getting exposure and being able to get his name out there and his film out there in front of people, it was easily one of the best investments we made in the whole process,” Erik said.

Several other Marian seniors like wide receiver/defensive back Jordan Niemeyer, and offensive linemen Joe Gatz and Karl Rude use it, as well.

Gatz has heard from a variety of schools nationwide through NCSA like Central Arkansas, Ferris State, Grand Valley State and Wagner.

“It’s a really big spread,” he said. “It connects you with the whole country.”

For Rude, he’s heard from a handful of NAIA schools, and last month received a scholarship offer to FCS South Dakota State.

“It’ll only cost a couple grand,” Rude said, referring to NCSA, “and it’s better than costing me the 40-grand to go there.”

SDSU costs about $11,000 a year in out-of-state tuition. So, yes, roughly $40,000 over four years.

It’s an investment, they say, an investment they hope will be worth it.

Some investments pan out. Some don’t.

But they’ll make their pitch. Anything to stick out.

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