High School to D1 College to NFL:  My Experience

It’s been almost 16 years since I received my first college recruitment letter. I remember being so filled with excitement and energy that I was literally floating! From the first time I knew I wanted to play football, let alone big time college football, I thought I was set when I opened that first letter. My first thought was “man this process should be easy”…and boy was I wrong!
At that particular time I was around 5’10’ 225 lbs. playing linebacker and fullback. I had started my sophomore year on varsity (we were a three year high school at the time so it was a big deal to be able to come in and start like I did) but what I soon came to realize was that the process of being recruited by your favorite school, or just a school in general, was a lot tougher than I first initially thought.

Growing up in Kent, WA, a suburb of Seattle by 30 min, I was playing at one of the best public high school programs in the state.

Since it first opened in 1980, Kentwood High school has never had a losing season. And it still stands to this day. The football program has given numerous players the opportunity to play at the next level. D1, D-1AA, D-2, so on and so forth, even four guys went on to play professionally, myself included. The state of Washington isn’t known for being a big time state when it comes to high school football unlike Texas, Florida, and California. So, when you receive letters from colleges all across the country and even the big time schools, you are doing something right. But it didn’t mean it was a done deal either.

The typical process back then is still the same today. It actually seems much easier to get recruited these days due to all the social media, websites, magazines and recruiting gurus like Tom Lemming who was around when I was in high school. There are still the companies, who you have to pay, who will help in promote your name to any and all colleges. I personally never believed in paying for the services of one of those companies because I truly felt I didn’t need it and thought it might be a waste of my parent’s hard earned money. If I wanted to get my name out to college recruiters it was going to be because of my play on the field and nothing else!

Here is a training video I made for Running Backs
I learned quickly that you can’t depend on anyone but your parents/guardians and yourself. I simply thought that the “normal recruiting process” would just take care of it for me. During my junior year, while still receiving letters nationwide, I wasn’t thrilled anymore by just getting a letter. After awhile I started to catch on to the process. A very close friend of mine, who played at our cross town rival high school, was a standout running back who had more than 30 scholarship offers and ended up being our Gatorade state player of the year. I was fortunate enough to learn from him of his plan to get his name out regardless of whether he needed it or not. He was the best player in our state, hands down, and everybody wanted him!

The list of schools recruiting him was long but the one thing he did was to take the time to write letters to his favorite schools.

He would introduce himself and give valuable information about his high school career and his goals of moving on to college. He didn’t need to do it but he felt it was a good way to let schools know he was serious about playing major college football. I remember the day he told me I should start doing the same thing. For me, the hard part was coming to terms with hearing that and then understanding it was the right thing to do!
I was fighting myself with the thought of “I don’t need to do this, it will happen anyway, right?” “I’m getting the regular weekly letters and my high school coach is taking care of it.” Boy was I wrong! I wasn’t rated very high on all the recruiting sites or magazines locally or statewide (that changed once I verbally committed to ASU before my senior year) but always thought to myself “it’ll be alright, they’ll notice me”. I was wrong again!
I found out the hard way as my friend kept receiving more and more attention and getting more offers from all over the country. I finally figured it out as I was not in the same boat as he was. I WAS GOING TO HAVE TO BE CREATIVE AND IF I WANTED IT TO HAPPEN, I HAD TO MAKE IT HAPPEN, PERIOD!
I was not going to let the system fail me. I slowly started to see that the weekly letters I was getting were just copied letters. They were just adding my name to the letter head, along with thousands of other potential high school football players across the country. Every time it read almost the same thing no matter what school it came from. It became very frustrating and I was getting more and more discouraged by the process.
I eventually received some hand written letters and began to understand that THE LETTERS THAT MEANT THE MOST AND HAD THE MOST CREDIBILITY WERE THE LETTERS THAT WERE HAND WRITTEN. THOSE WERE THE LETTERS TO TAKE SERIOUS AND REPLY TOO INSTANTLY. So, I began by putting together a list called “my top 25”.

karneyx-largeKnowing that I was best suited to play fullback in college, I needed to research which colleges at that time were utilizing the position. I put a list together, sat down at my computer and, in business letter format, starting writing to the 25 schools I had researched. I went into broad detail as to who I was, listed my height, weight, accomplishments, my goals and why I wanted to play major college football. I sent one full game tape along with newspaper clippings of highlighted articles I was quoted in. I spent one day writing the letter, another day coming up with all the addresses and recruiting coordinators names, and then made copies of all the newspaper clippings and game tapes. I signed the letter and put everything into envelopes and sent them out to the respective schools.

The next step was to wait and just get ready for my senior season. All I thought about was improving every day, picking a weakness I had and improving on it daily. I was never considered the fastest or the strongest but I worked tirelessly every day at improving in those two areas. As the weeks went by I began to receive more and more recruiting letters regarding what I sent out. I was getting more positive responses because I was the one who sent them out. I was receiving far more hand written letters by recruiting coordinators, position coaches and even from head coaches of the program!

The last school on my list was Arizona State University. ASU WAS THE FIRST AND ONLY SCHOOL TO VISIT ME AT THE END OF MY JUNIOR YEAR. MY OVERALL PHILOSOPHY WAS THAT I ONLY NEEDED ONE SCHOOL TO OFFER ME A SCHOLARSHIP. That was the only thing that mattered. I didn’t have the luxury of picking from a list of schools who had offered me a scholarship. I wished it was that easy. When it’s all said and done, you can only play for one.

Don’t get caught up in how many schools are recruiting you. Concentrate on the one that best fits what you want.

That was my goal. It feels like yesterday when I first met with the Offensive Coordinator from Arizona State. I remember being pulled out of Spanish class by my head coach and being told they were here to see me. Making that walk down the hallway and into the office, feeling nervous but overjoyed at the same time that they were hear to see me, was a feeling I will never forget! What made it even better was that it was one of the schools I’d written to myself! I had received no help from a website, recruiting outlet, or even my high school head coach. I had done it all myself! IT WAS ONE OF THE MOST FULFILLING TIMES IN MY LIFE!
I sat there and listened so intently, knowing that this was all I ever wanted, a chance to be noticed, a chance to get the opportunity to be in front of a particular individual who could make the decision I always wanted. It was very surreal! I wasn’t expecting anything from him other than for him to get to know me and visa versa. At the end of the meeting I had been offered a full-ride scholarship to play at Arizona State!
I will say this to all the high school football players out there who aspire to play college football. HAVE A PLAN IN PLACE. ASK YOURSELF “WHAT DO I WANT OUT OF THIS OPPORTUNITY?” I ask this question in respect to my buddy from high School that I’ve spoken of previously. He ended up going to Nebraska. At the time, Nebraska was the Nebraska of old. At that time all the big time running back recruits went to Nebraska. He had 30 plus scholarship offers, including almost every Pac-10 school. He could have played as a “true freshman” and started for any one of them. He chose the school with the biggest tradition and the biggest name but, at the time, he didn’t have a plan of attack as to what he wanted to accomplish in making that decision.

He sat on the bench most of his career and he didn’t crack the starting lineup until his fifth year as a redshirt senior. When he played it wasn’t at running back but at fullback. He had lost his love and passion for the game due to not getting the opportunities he was promised and had hoped for. Don’t get me wrong, he left Nebraska with a great education and experience of the “college life” but he did not get out of it what he wanted to on the field. I remember a conversation I had with him half way through his college career and how he said “I could be starting anywhere else, Mike”. He could have transferred but he stood strong and always had the hope that it would pan out. Unfortunately, relative to football, it never did.
What I wanted out of my college opportunity was the chance to play right away. During my conversation on that spring day in May of 1999, I told the Coach who came to see me that “I want to have a chance to play as a freshman so will I have that opportunity?” His reply, as any recruiter would answer was, “you will play”. Looking back, I now realize that he would say exactly what I wanted to hear at the time. More importantly, for me, I wanted him to know I was serious about playing early and that I was going to Arizona State with those intentions! In the fall of 2000, my freshman year, I was given that opportunity and played as a true freshman! And the rest is history!

5 things to keep in mind when going through the recruiting process:
Have a plan of attack
Be personable and proactive with the process
Respond to ALL the recruiting letters, let them know you have received the letter
You can only play for one college so pick the one that best suits ALL of what you want out of the experience
Understand that what is promised to you during the process may or may not happen. It’s ultimately up to you to make it happen!
ENJOY BEING RECRUITED, YOU HAVE EARNED IT!!!  To see a my video sample on running back basics click here.

    Here is a training video I made for Running Backs

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