Getting offered a scholarship is one of the most exciting moments for a high school athlete. It means the validation of years of effort, it can be the start of an exciting, if confusing, journey through the recruiting process, and a relief for many athletes and families. When that offer comes as an eighth grader (especially in football), what it means is a little different.
Recruiting is Being Pushed up Earlier and Earlier
If schools and the NCAA could effectively regulate offers, no coach would be able to offer a scholarship or any athlete commit to a school until at least the athlete’s junior year in high school. Because there is no good rules to put in place, more commitments by sophomores, offers to freshmen in high school, and the occasional recruitment of seventh and eighth graders will continue to be the trend.
Prospects should keep in mind that prior to signing an athletic scholarship agreement, any offer is not binding for the school and can be revoked. Prospects should also remember that until they sign a National Letter of Intent, their commitment is not binding, even if they sign an athletic scholarship agreement. An eighth grader accepting a school’s scholarship offer and committing is based only on the word of everyone involved for four or five years.
A lot Can Happen in Four Years
Ideally, an athlete wants to stay at one school and play for one head coach for their entire career. So committing before high school means hoping that the situation with the school does not change for eight years or more. Eight years is a long tenure for even successful head coaches in many sports, not to mention a long time for things like the style of play, playing time, academic interests, desire to stay close to home and more to all stay the same.
When receiving an early scholarship offer, prospects should simply treat it as a high degree of interest from the school. It is flattering to know that a school is so interested so soon, but it can also mean additional pressure. Coaches make additional efforts to keep tabs on prospects they have offered, which means more games with coaches in the stands. If you commit early, the recruiting process might change, but it is not over at that point.
Before Making Any Commitment, Make Sure You Have Done Your Research
That means visiting the school, speaking with coaches multiple times, making sure the coaches have had a chance to evaluate you, and digging into academics and the campus. For most middle schoolers or high school underclassmen, only a dream school they grew up near will normally fit the criteria. For other schools, early scholarship offers should be a sign to start researching the team and school in depth.
Never bow to pressure to commit, especially this early in your career. Coaches are recruiting well into the future and are trying to finish classes as soon as possible, but remember that both their offer and your commitment are nonbinding. There is no way to get real assurance that your scholarship will be honored if you get injured or do not continue to improve on the field. If a coach truly wants you, and not just to fill a recruiting spot, they will wait for your decision.