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How to Get Noticed by College Football Programs
Doug Brien
Article posted on 5/1/2006

The world of college football recruiting has gotten very competitive. It is competitive both from a player's perspective and from the school's perspective. There are numerous combines, camps and services available that all claim to be the one that can help you "get noticed." Football programs also struggle in this environment. With coaches jobs becoming less secure there is a need to find the best talent available so that teams can "win now." Therefore, college programs compete aggressively for the top recruits. Colleges send out hundreds of recruiting letters. They are also bombarded with letters and video tapes from high school players. All of this makes it tough for a specialist to get noticed. The question is: as a specialist, how do you get noticed by these programs? The purpose of this manual is to help you navigate the process of finding a college football program that fits your needs as a student-athlete.

My Story: My name is Doug Brien and I kicked in the NFL for the past twelve years. Before that I kicked at U.C. Berkeley. I started for three of those years. I spent the first two as a walk-on waiting for my turn to compete for the job. I had to walk-on because I only played high school football for one year. I played soccer growing up and didn't kick until my dad finally convinced me to try it my senior year; that turned out to be some good advice.

Even though I ended up playing for a long time in the NFL, I started out in the same position as many of you. When I finished high school I was not widely recruited and I was trying to figure out the best way to play in college. I got two offers to walk-on and play both football and soccer. However, these offers came from smaller schools which did not have Division I football programs or great academic programs. My goal was to get into a university that I would not have been able to get into without sports. I also wanted to play at the Division I level. Even though I knew it was unlikely I would find a school with both of those criteria, I was going to try.

First, I asked my high school coach to talk to college coaches. This was an uphill battle; I had kicked for only one year and made 4-6 attempts with a long field goal of twenty eight yards - not exactly exciting statistics. However, I did play for a very good high school program (De La Salle High School) in Concord, CA and I had done a very good job of kicking off. Fortunately, the coach from Cal noticed my kickoffs in the North Coast Section finals. He recommended me for the North All-Star team in the North vs. South Shrine All-Star game. That was huge for me! After that I asked my high school coach to talk to Cal about me playing for them. Cal is a Division I program in the PAC 10 and (more importantly) one of the top universities in the country. Thirteen students with a 4.0 at my high school did not get in to Cal, so if I could get in with a 3.7 G.P.A. and strong kicking leg, I would do it.

Cal already had an All-American kicker/punter that was going into his junior year. That was not good news. However, Cal said they would take me as a walk-on, I could learn for two years, and then I would compete for the starting job when Robbie Keen graduated. They told me if I won the job, they would give me a full-ride athletic scholarship! I immediately said "yes" and told the other coaches I had been in contact with that I no longer was looking for a school. I was set to be a California Golden Bear!

Even though it was very hard to be a walk-on, it turned out to be the best thing for me. By spending two years under Robbie Keen, I learned a tremendous amount about what it took to succeed at the Division I level. If I had played right out of high school I would probably have done a horrible job and probably would not have received a scholarship. Patience paid off for me.

Strategies for Getting Noticed: The best advice I can offer to any high school specialist is: perform really well in high school and have your coach aggressively market you to college programs. For those of you who have the opportunity to showcase your talents and capitalize on it - you are the lucky ones. For those players that leave high school as relative unknowns, you will need to study this manual and do everything you can to get noticed.

One college recruiting coordinator told me that the good news for kickers, punters and long snappers is that "if you can do it in high school, you can do it in college." At other positions there are always questions about whether a player has the speed or size to compete against college athletes. For specialists, you are primarily competing against yourself. It doesn't matter how big or strong you are (except for snappers, for whom this is somewhat important). If you have the ability to perform well in high school, you will be able to compete in college because no one will stop you except yourself. The key is for you to perform well in high school and let college coaches know about it!

First, as a kicker, punter or long snapper the odds are not in your favor of receiving a college scholarship. It is even less likely that you will be among the top prized recruits that most college programs will pursue. As a specialist you must stay patient and create a winning recruiting strategy. You need to open your mind to the possibility of walking-on.

The Walk-On Strategy: A college walk-on is a player who has been invited to attend a school and play for a team without an athletic scholarship. This is by far the most common route for most specialists. I was a college walk-on and so were numerous other NFL specialists that I played with. If you believe in your talents, have patience and choose the correct football program, walking-on can be a great strategy.

As a walk-on you will need to prove yourself. Not many specialists get the chance to really prove themselves in high school. This is part of the reason it is so hard for college coaches to recruit high school specialists - they have not seen enough of them to know if they can perform at the college levels. The other reason is that most college coaches do not know much about specialists. Therefore, it is very hard for them to accurately evaluate your talent. College coaches have a limited number of scholarships so they are often hesitant to use one on a specialist. Many of these schools like to accept walk-ons on a yearly basis so they always have a couple of good specialists available to compete for jobs. This way, the best man wins and the coach will offer that kicker, punter or snapper a scholarship after they have earned a starting position.

Even receiving a walk-on invitation for a high school specialist is a huge win. If you have this opportunity you should consider it an honor. Most of you will have to market yourselves to many schools in hopes of one inviting you to try-out for the team.

Marketing Strategies: There are a number of ways to market yourself to college programs. Some of these methods vary by which type of college program you are pursuing: Division I, IAA, II, III, NAIA or Junior College. However, most of the methods are universal. Here are the strategies I recommend employing:

  • An Honest Assessment: Have a serious and realistic conversation with your high school coach and parents. The most important - and most difficult - thing to do is to determine how much football talent you possess. You need to be realistic about what level you can play. If you have Division II talent, then you will waste your time and reduce your likelihood of playing college football only pursue Division I schools. The smartest move you can make is to determine which level you are suited to play at and pursue those schools. It is fine to still pursue some Division I schools, but definitely have a back-up plan with smaller programs to fall back on.

    Deciding to focus on a certain level football program is especially useful if you are pursuing lower division schools. Those schools often look for the kids left over from the Division I process or look at the kids who send them information. Where many Division I schools painfully work their way through hundreds of tapes and letters, lower division schools often look very carefully at the letters and tapes they receive. If you market yourself well to those lower division schools and you have sufficient talent, you will have an excellent chance to play there.

  • Attend College Football Summer Camps: The best way for college football coaches to assess your talent and your personality is at their school's summer football camp. This allows the coaches to watch you up close and actually get to know you. For specialists, it is especially important to have the right kind of personality and demeanor. Most coaches want to see a kid that is confident, calm, and hard working. They don't want to see someone who gets rattled easily or seems unsure of himself.

    Almost every school has a football camp for high school kids. Once you determine where you want to play, sign up for their camp in the summer. If you cannot afford to attend them all, sign up for your top choice.

    Each summer Cal hosts a Kicking, Punting and Long Snapping Camp. This lets the coaching staff get a good look at the high school kids that attend. On the last day of the camp an intense competition is held in Memorial Stadium using stadium noise. The coaches want to see who can perform well in a pressure-filled environment. Last year Cal offered one scholarship and at least two kids the opportunity to walk-on after seeing them perform at camp. Attending a summer camp is by far the best way to get noticed by a school.

  • Compete at the National Camp Series (NCS) and get a video uploaded to your profile: To augment the letter, VHS tape and DVD I also recommend sending emails with your NCS Profile webpage. This will allow you to more cost effectively communicate with more schools. It also allows the coaches and scouts to watch you perform on the Internet from their own desk. Plus through the Coaches Locker Room at NCS, they can be updated when you have new film available to watch. The technology offers a clear picture and the ability to maintain perfect clarity while advancing frame-by-frame.

    The timing of our events works out well with the college recruiting schedule. College coaches will have access to your "regional" profile on the NCS right after your junior season. The semi-finals happen right before your senior season begins so college coaches will have access to that video right before your senior season begins. This will give the college coaches a good idea of what kind of kicker, punter or snapper you are. If they are interested, they will be able to watch you, communicate with you and follow you throughout your senior season and into the National Finals in January. You can store not only your combine footage online, but you can add your game footage to your profile as well.

    Coaches like to see two types of film from specialists: continuous practice footage and game film. In both instances they want to see the footage in its entirety. They do not want a "highlight tape." Everyone looks good in his "highlight tape." Coaches want to see you miss kicks or snaps and then see how you respond. This is why you should send an entire game in or an entire practice session without any editing. They also want the picture to be clear and to show you throughout your entire kick, punt or snap so that they can assess your technique.

    Showing footage from NCS is perhaps the best type of film to send to schools because it is a pressure situation and it is professionally filmed and housed online. NCS offering is perfect for creating quality footage to demonstrate your talent to college coaches. NCS coaches will see you perform under pressure with no "do-overs" and every kick will be hosted online for their viewing. Your performance can be watched in perfect clarity, frame-by-frame from the comfort of their desk. Now that is recruitment in fast-forward! I highly recommend you use NCS as a way to demonstrate your kicking and snapping ability to college coaches. After all, we created NCS with you in mind.

  • Send in a Letter and Film: After your junior year you should send a letter a video tape and a DVD to the colleges on your list. You should send both a video and a DVD because some schools prefer old fashioned video tapes and other schools like to see DVDs. You should label both your video and DVD with your name, contact information, high school statistics and academic information. Often times the video or DVD can get separated from your letter. If the DVD or tape is labeled they will still know who you are.

    Halfway through your senior year you should send the schools on your list some updated video from the first half of your season. When your senior season is over, you should send the video from the second half of the year.

    The letter should not be too long. Don't spend pages telling about how badly you want to play at a particular school. You should be concise. Tell the school about your high school career, include your academic information, your contact information, the contact information for your high school and kicking, punting or snapping coach as well as why you want to attend the school. Be creative - try to make your letter and video stand out.

  • Pick up the Phone: After you mail your letter and video you should follow-up with a phone call to both the recruiting coordinator and special teams coach. This can be a trying process because these guys are busy. If they don't call you back right away don't get your feelings hurt. However, if they keep hearing your name on their message machine and hopefully speak with you, they will be far more likely to watch your film. Remember, there is a fine line between persistence and annoyance. You don't want to annoy coaches because schools will be likely to deal with you regardless of your talent. You as the athlete should make these calls, not your mom or dad.

    You should also try to have your high school coach and/or kicking, punting or snapping coach call some schools as well. This can be especially helpful since they can give you an honest assessment. Remember, your coach has to be honest with schools or he will lose his credibility with them and hurt the chances or future recruits. So, if you think any of your coaches will give you a good recommendation you should work hard to get them to write a letter and/or call. I think that Special Teams coaches like to hear from outside kicking coaches (the guy that runs the summer camp you attend) because they are usually very knowledgeable about kicking and have seen the talent that is out there.

  • Special Advice for Long Snappers from Patrick Mannelly (Long Snapper for the Chicago Bears and owner of Tell your high school coach that you are interested in playing college football. This sounds odd but there are some coaches who are not sure that the high school player wants to play at the college level. Then have your high school coach contact the college coaches who are recruiting your area and tell them that they have a long snapping prospect. Be sure to let college coaches know what other positions you play and include some footage on your tape. Playing another position is not a necessity but it definitely helps.

I hope that you find this manual helpful along this difficult but exciting journey. Remember to be patient and realistic throughout the process. If you have any questions, don't be afraid to email me at and I will offer any help I can.

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