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College recruiting: Navigating a complicated process

Emily Heslin moves the ball up field during a game last fall against Michigan. Photo by University of Minnesota Athletic Communications

Editor's note: This is the third article in a three-part series about the recruiting process and college athletics.

If recruiting of high school athletes is starting earlier and earlier, the preparation to play at the next level is starting at even younger ages.

Some kids may see peers getting recruited at 14 years old and think their chances at competing collegiately are shrinking if they aren't also getting recruited.

If that's not the case, an athlete's dreams are not doomed.

NCAA rules vary from sport to sport. In many sports, coaches are not allowed to call players directly and speak to them for recruiting purposes until an athlete's junior year. Instead, the recruits have to initiate contact with collegiate programs. College coaches often approach high school and club coaches about prospective athletes, which is how a sometimes intimidating process begins.

With the school year beginning in less than a month, a few athletes who will be competing at the collegiate level in their respective sports shared anecdotes about their personal recruiting experiences.

The trend for girls soccer players is to select their future colleges earlier and earlier in their high school careers. Emily Heslin, a junior captain on the University of Minnesota women's soccer team, made her college decision going into her junior year of high school. Initiating phone calls with college coaches was not something she was used to doing.

"I remember being so nervous to call them," said Heslin, who is a Woodbury resident and graduate of Hill-Murray High School. "I talked to the U of M coaches a lot, so I would call them and talk to them for an hour. Usually, the coaches are pretty good about leading the conversation, but as a freshman or sophomore in high school that is very intimidating."

Former Prescott basketball player Owen Hamilton said it was strange the way recruiting conversations would be started by AAU coaches. Hamilton will be a freshman at Northern Illinois in the fall. He said that most conversations with college coaches began when an AAU coach would tell him to call a certain number. A college coach would be on the other side to take the call.

Prescott senior-to-be Peter Brookshaw said the conversations are pretty one-sided.

"It's exciting," said Brookshaw, the 2017 Wisconsin Baseball Central Player of the Year, of the recruiting experience. "They pretty much just introduce themselves and let me know what their program has to offer and why they think I would fit well. Then they start asking me what I am looking for in a program. It's nothing really in depth. I just usually say something that feels like home and is a good fit."

The definition of a good fit is different for each kid, though.

Ellsworth senior-to-be Morgan Kummer committed to play softball at George Washington University in January. She was drawn to the campus being immersed within a professional setting in Washington D.C. She thought that would be a great opportunity to get ahead for professional reasons.

After spending a week with her future teammates in December, Kummer knew George Washington was a school she wanted to play for.

"It is kind of crazy that after meeting people once you know they would be super cool future friends, but that's what happened," Kummer said. "I think a lot of it was just from the first time I met them, I was so comfortable with them. We already have a lot of the same interests if we're interested in the same school. A lot of it was because the girls are so similar to me.

"I felt like off the field I could be friends with a lot of them. We were able to build a solid connection right off the bat, so it was really a great feel."

Finding like-minded athletes to share the collegiate athlete experience, which each of these athletes acknowledged would be grueling at times, will be key to success.

Tyler Leach, a golfer at Spring Valley who will be a senior this year, referenced a Bronson Koenig article on Player's Tribune when discussing his future as a potential college athlete.

In the article, Koenig said actor Michael B. Jordan told him he would need to learn the art of being anti-social to be a successful professional basketball player.

Leach said that lesson in work ethic and commitment to mastering his craft was something he could see being important if he wanted to be successful.

"In college it will probably be like that for me," Leach said. "I'll just need to stick to golfing and stick to studying. To a certain extent, that'll be something I need to do in college."

For an ordinary golfer or athlete, focusing on the intricacies may get boring after time, but Leach has been doing that for two years now.

"I can still remember the day I first told my dad I wanted to get a Division 1 scholarship," Leach said. He said it was in the middle of the winter before his sophomore year when he committed time every day to work on his golf skills. "I would see other guys work hard from March to September and then they wouldn't golf in the wintertime. I thought my time to catch them or get better than them was in the winter. I really worked hard that winter. I hit golf balls just about every day."

Brookshaw had a similar growth period between his sophomore and junior year.

"I knew I had to get bigger," he said. "I saw Mike and Billy, (his older brothers), and realized I needed to be like them. I always worked out in like middle school and stuff, but then Tim Harris, my trainer, started to get on me a lot about eating and stuff. I eat a lot of protein now, and my nutrition has gotten a lot better."

The difference between someone who wants to get recruited to play college sports and someone who will play college sports is the commitment to the finest details.

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