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Good Enough for State but are they Good Enough for Scouts?

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The Wampus Cats’ undefeated season carries no scholarship guarantee. Can rural students compete for college dollars

Clark Fork’s Wampus Cats are playing some awesome football this season, untouchable as of this writing and reveling in an undefeated season. As host to the Mullan Tigers last week, in the first division play-off game, they left the field slightly after the half under the “mercy” rule, defeating Mullan 50-0. They hope to repeat the experience this week, again at home in Clark Fork, against the Horseshoe Bend Mustangs and, if they do, Clark Fork’s 8-man ball team will be heading to the Kibbie Dome to play for the state championship.

They’ve played ball like this all season and, as Coach Frank Hammersley puts it, “These kids have only played two full games this season. All the rest have ended in the third or fourth quarter under the mercy rule.” 

Quarterback Clayton Hewitt, a senior this year, has played for the varsity team all four of his high school years and has racked up some impressive stats along the way, even though he and the rest of the team haven’t played many “four-quarter” games this year. Hewitt has 714 yards rushing, with an average of 1.31 yards per carry and 574 yards passing, averaging 19.79 yards per pass. He’s matched teammate Brian Young with 15 touchdowns (as a quarterback) this year. He can pair that with a 3.8 GPA, leadership on the student council, a decade of 4-H and other activities outside of school, plus a strong desire to go straight from high school to university, and maybe play some ball when he gets there. It may sound like he’s the epitome of the desired student for a university program, but scholarships are not a guarantee—students from rural schools, if they want financial support to continue their schooling, have to work a little harder to get it. 

With about 130 students in both junior high and high school, Clark Fork is as rural as they come. But even the bigger schools in this area are still rural when you start talking college—you won’t find college scouts sitting at many of the local games, picking and choosing which students they’re going to approach. It’s up to the student to get the attention of the scout. And competition is fierce.

“I’m down in the mail room every day and there’s probably 25 requests a day,” explained Dee Menzies, Director of Compliance and Eligibility at the University of Idaho at Moscow. “During a given year, we’ll hear from hundreds of students who want to be considered for a scholarship here.” U of I Moscow offers scholarships in 16 sports, with 25 handed out each year for football. Those 25 are highly prized, as they’re a full ride offer to become a Vandal. In National Collegiate Athletic Association schools, there are 21,537 scholarships available just for football.

For a student wanting to apply for scholarships, the first thing they should understand is that the athletic programs of almost 1,000 colleges and universities are governed by the NCAA, which puts out a 480-page manual full of rules regarding recruiting and scholarship offers. There are people like Menzies in every Division I school whose job is to make sure those rules are followed.

“When students send in their information, they need to direct it to the right person,” Menzies explained. “For example, the athletic director is not allowed to recruit students and can’t be involved in that process.” At U of I, each sport has a person assigned to recruitment, and applications should be directed to that person, or to the coach of the sport the student wants to play. “If they’re from a small school and have played several sports, and are good in more than one, they should apply for athletic scholarships to each different sport instead of just sending in one piece of information,” Menzies added. At the college level, one size does not fit all.

Over 300 smaller colleges fall under the guidelines of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. Their rules are slightly more lenient than NCAA rules, so a student following NCAA guidelines should pass muster wherever they apply.

Rule number one? Start early. The recruiting deadline at U of I, for example, ends February 2, with all college visits taking place in January. That means coaches are making final decisions on who they want to meet in December—which would not be a good month to begin your process.

Your total package of information will take time to put together and some parts of it—like making sure you’ve met eligibility requirements for NCAA schools in terms of core credits—begin your freshman year of high school. NCAA schools require 14 credits in core subjects (English, math, science), which is a higher requirement than many states have for graduation.

To begin, meet with your school counselor, your school’s athletic director, and the coach of the sport for which you’re applying for scholarships. Although it’s not part of the coach’s job description to guide you through the scholarship process, many local coaches have made contacts with athletic departments in colleges and universities through the U.S. and generally put in a lot of time supporting their athletes in obtaining scholarships.

Visit the NCAA website (www.ncaa.org) and the NAIA website (www.naia.org) and read through the eligibility requirements. Register online with the NCAA initial eligibility clearinghouse. “Students must indicate they’ve registered if they want us to consider their information,” Menzies said. “We are not allowed to determine a student’s eligibility to play—only NCAA can do that. An application from someone who hasn’t registered is going to go to the bottom of the pile, because until they do, we don’t know if they’ll even be able to play for our school.”

Next, prep like hell and sign up for your SATs. SATs can be taken for the first time in your junior year and should be—if your scores in your junior year are less than exciting, you’ll know where you need more attention and will potentially do better on the test in your senior year. “We’re not allowed to invite a student on campus who hasn’t yet taken their SATs,” Menzies explained. “If an athlete sends information that doesn’t include test scores, they should indicate that they’ve registered for the test and give a date when they’ll be taking it.”

Once your academic eligibility is taken care of, it’s time to put together information on your athletic prowess, and explain why an offer to you will be of benefit to the team of the school you’re applying to. “Each submission needs to include a video,” said Menzies. “Stats are important, but stats indicate how you’ve played against other athletes in your division. If you’re a rural student, the coach wants to know how you’re going to play in a bigger setting. A video allows the coach to watch how you move and how you play.” Menzies recommends a short video—”highlights only”—and advises students to pay attention to quality. “If they put the tape in and it doesn’t work, or they can’t really see the picture, they won’t look at it,” she said.

A cover letter should indicate what your strengths are in the sport you’re applying for. Your high school coach can identify for you which abilities will be most appreciated by the college coach—listen to what he or she has to say, and make sure to include that information. Be aware that coaches are looking for versatile players—include any information on your ability to play a position other than that you played in high school. Ask your coach to write a letter of recommendation for you to include with your information. If you have any contact with coaches from other teams, see if they would be willing to write on your behalf as well.

Get a letter from your school’s athletic director as well. A good AD has spent a lot of time cultivating relationships with coaches at colleges and universities, and is one of your strongest supporters when it comes to obtaining scholarships. His opinion as to whether you have the athletic skill to play at the level of the school where you’re applying for a scholarship will carry a lot of weight.

Speaking of weight, eat up and thank your parents if you have “big” genes—colleges are looking for players over six feet.

Other supporting information can include press cuttings from your high school career, and any extra honors you might have received in your sport, like participation in All-Star games. In sports like football, take advantage of opportunities like the Combines at Boise State University, where you have the opportunity to show scouts your ability against players outside your division.

Make sure your information is directed to the person in charge of recruiting. If you don’t know who that is, call the college’s athletic department and ask—they’ll be happy to give you the name. 

Personalize the information you send for each school you apply to. Research the school, via the Internet or through telephone calls, and find out the type of student athlete they’re looking for. Make sure you emphasize the strengths you possess that match what they want in a student.

Although large schools may attract scouts to watch their actual games, attendance at a rural high school doesn’t put you out of the market for college scholarships. All it takes is a little extra effort on your part, along with some actual athletic skill, to put yourself in a position where the offers are rolling in.

Clark Fork’s Wampus Cats will play their second divisional game with a home field advantage on Saturday, November 13. Visitors are invited to come watch Clayton, plus a team-full of players sure to impress any number of college scouts, play at 2 pm.

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Landon Otis

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education, college, Clark Fork High School, scholarships, Clayton Hewitt, Frank Hammersley, Brian Young, University of Idaho, Dee Menzies, NCAA, football, athletics

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