Sending your letter of intent may create an agreement, but it doesn’t give you freedom from responsibility.
I’m happy for everyone who put pen to paper yesterday, everyone who’d already done it earlier in the school year and everyone who plans to do so in the next few months. I know I wrote a takedown of the national letter of intent last month but I’m holding out hope that none of you will ever have to worry about coaches bailing and programs restructuring and you losing your way. And since National Signing Day was yesterday, I think now’s as good a time as any for some advice to our future collegiate athletes.
This time, it’s simple: keep your head.
Now that you’ve signed your letter — heck, let’s also include those of you who are seeing offers come in — I hope you don’t think you’ve just signed up for a free pass to cruise for the rest of the school year. If you do, I’ll tell you right now that you’ve got too much dip on your chip. Stop that.
Signing your letter doesn’t guarantee you as much as you might think. You still have to show your coaches that they got what they were looking for and not an unpleasant surprise. Letting your grades slip is only going to tell coaches that you get lazy when you think no one’s looking. Letting your ego run wild in high school because you’ve got college programs competing for your signature won’t do you any favors in college, where you’re going to be nothing but a warm body with a roster spot unless and until you prove yourself to your coaches and peers. Thinking you’ll come out OK if you get into trouble because you’re a star athlete won’t do you any favors — we live in a small town, but not Varsity Blues small where you could steal a cop car and not spend the rest of the year in jail because you’re a good wide receiver.
In a way, you’ve got more of a microscope on you than ever before. You may not have to worry about the hustle and bustle of the recruiting process anymore but it’s like they say about sports in general: defending what you’ve earned is harder than getting it was. Coaches will swear up and down that they care about you as a person but mark my words, if you give them any reason to believe you’re going to be a liability, they’ll start planning to get you out of the paint faster than you think they will.
In this business (it’s definitely a business, no matter what the NCAA wants to call it) there’s always someone who can be brought in to compete with you, take your spot and maybe even convince you (indirectly, of course) to straight up quit the team. You have much more to lose than the coaches do, much more than the program does, because you’re replaceable. If you get the feeling you’re not replaceable because you got a lot of hype and attention in high school, you’re wrong. The bigger the program, the easier you are to replace. The smaller programs might be more tolerant at first but, if you’re not a living, breathing deity of your college sport, you’re gone eventually. And unless you’re a carbon copy of Randy Moss, Mike Trout, Serena Williams, Wayne Gretzky, Mia Hamm or any other world-class superstar athlete, you’d have something to worry about. If you’re serious about playing college sports, don’t call my bluff.
Just know that you haven’t made it yet. This is a big milestone, sure, but it’s a stepping stone. If you can play college sports and say later in life that you went out on your own terms, whether that’s because you turned pro or decided college was as far as you wanted to go, you’ll be a success story. Control your own future to the best of your ability. How you can do that?
It’s simple: keep your head.