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The huddle

August 15, 2018

Recruiting Horror Story: I Signed the NLI Then They Cut my Sport

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Photo by The Writers Bloc

 

Hi, my name is TJ and I am the victim of a college athletics recruiting horror story.

*Unenthusiastic crowd murmurs back “Hi TJ” *

Let me start off by saying that I was not a five-star recruit that every college in the nation was looking at. Was I a good enough track and field athlete to go DI? Yes. Good enough to get a scholarship to most of the schools that I talked to? Yes. But, most of the schools that were interested in me were small DI schools in North Carolina, where I’m from. Some schools contacted me, while I had to initiate conversations with some coaches to put myself on their radar.

My recruiting essentially started in June right when my Junior year of high school was ending. I knew I was good enough to run in college but was scared that college coaches wouldn’t want me at the same time. I got my first college recruitment letter on June 1st from UNC-Asheville, a smaller division 1 school. I was ecstatic. There is no way to completely tell you how I felt because being a college athlete is all that I had ever wanted. I grew up playing sports and I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to continue that in college.

Throughout the summer and fall of my senior year I was in recruiting mode 24/7. I was emailing a coach. On my phone? Leaving a voicemail for a coach. Sleeping? Dreaming of competing in college. I went on some amazing college visits that fall and not once did I ever worry that I wasn’t going to compete in college. I had several offers from some incredible programs with even better coaches than the one I was looking at.

I decided to sign my National Letter of Intent in the early signing period in November of 2015. Looking back at it, the decision was totally rushed. I wasn’t 100% ready to commit to any college, but I had worked so hard the past two years and especially during the summer and fall trying to get recruited. I just wanted it to be over so it would be one less thing I was worried about. My parents also wanted me to sign in the early signing period to secure a scholarship because most of the coaches that I was getting recruited by had told me that the scholarship wasn’t promised if I waited until the spring to sign. I was getting pressured by coaches, my parents and worst of all I put pressure on myself.

This recruiting horror story is probably different than others. I didn’t have a problem with any of the coaches, my parents weren’t the devil reincarnated trying to make me go to a school I didn’t want to go to and all of my visits were perfect. So, what went wrong?

I signed my NLI in November 2014 to UNC-Wilmington for a scholarship for track and field. I loved the school. The thought of going to class or practice and then being able to lay out on the beach was a dream come true. It was one of the best days ever. I signed my NLI in front of my family and friends among a few other student-athletes signing NLIs in my high school’s library. There was a cake with my name on it. My freaking name on it! I did it. I was going to be a college athlete. Case closed, scene over, court dismissed. Or so I thought.

Two weeks after I sign my NLI and only a week after my last conversation with my future coach, I get a call at 10 PM on a Sunday. It was the UNCW assistant coach who was the main coach that had recruited me. I thought he was calling to check up on me or to schedule another visit to the school. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Have y’all seen the Miley Cyrus Wrecking Ball music video? To sum it up, my life was the wrecking ball. I was the wall that got crushed by the wrecking ball one minute into the video.

The next thing I heard was, “The athletic director has decided to cut several UNCW athletics teams due to budget cuts and men’s track and field is one of them.”

I’m gonna be honest; I can’t remember much of that night except for excessive hyperventilating and tears. Lots of tears. I do remember that he said they are going to do their best to fight and appeal the decision including fundraising. He also said that my NLI would be null and void and I would no longer be able to receive an athletic scholarship if I still decided to attend UNCW if the decision doesn’t get overturned.

This is like the part in the movie where the princess (me) is like crying or dying or something, and then some magical thing happens, and everything turns out great! Not the case here. I woke up the next morning, skipped school and sat at Starbucks for 2 hours with my mom in a complete daze not knowing what to do. To make things even better, one of my teachers asked me in class the next day, while the whole room was silent, about the situation. I gave a class presentation about how I no longer had a scholarship or anywhere to go to school going into my last semester in college and did not get class credit for it. The embarrassment was at an all-time high.

I didn’t mope around forever, though. After a few days, I had to get up, dust off the embarrassment and build a bridge over my river of tears I had made. That last one took a while, but we got there eventually.

I started to do what I did in the fall. I was contacting coaches, letting them know of my situation, contacting coaches that were recruiting me before and training hard. Even harder than before I signed. The coaches at UNCW also kept in contact with me to keep me updated on how the program was looking, but sadly I had to let them know that I was no longer interested. I needed a program and school where I wasn’t looking over my shoulder and scared the team was going to get cut.

My senior year indoor track and field campaign was something. I went on a complete rampage because I knew what was at stake. In my main event, I only lost twice (coming in second place both times) throughout the whole season as I competed in 10 different meets.

I was a state champion that year in February at indoor states. I came into states ranked 2nd in the 500m dash and finished 1st. It was so damn lit. I cried there too. If you can’t tell, I’m a big crier. That win put me on a lot of coach’s radars. Some schools that said they didn’t want me before had even reached out. But, I knew I didn’t want to go to any of those schools. I hadn’t chosen them previously, so why would I pick them now?

I can only imagine other kids are this way when they are incredibly young because I was this way, but the one school that I always had wanted to go to was the school that I grew up cheering for. The school that both my parents had attended. That school was the University of Maryland. By the time I was even old enough to have a thought about college, the only place I could think of was Maryland. Saturday football? My family was watching Maryland. Weeknight college basketball? Maryland was on. The random Women’s lacrosse match that comes on now and then on some weird ESPN channel? If Maryland was on, then my family was on the couch watching them.

I never reached out to the coach at Maryland during the Fall. I don’t know why. Maybe I was afraid he would say he isn’t interested. Or perhaps I was worried that he would ask me to be a walk-on; I was in no financial position to be able to accept a walk-on position, especially to an out of state school.

With a state championship under my belt, I felt confident that I could get a scholarship to most schools within reason. I contacted Maryland’s head coach, Olympic gold medalist and current world record holder in the 4×400 meter relay, Andrew Valmon. Yeah, with that kind of resumé, I was scared of rejection.

His first email back to me was one question. “Are you serious about coming to Maryland?” I wasn’t sure how to respond. Did I need to reply “yes”? Was he looking for a full essay in MLA format with at least five sources? Something in between? I was just as lost as you are right now.

The timing was perfect, as Maryland had just transitioned into the Big Ten Conference and was no longer in any debt to the Atlantic Coast Conference. The university was in good financial standing, and the athletics teams were benefitting.

We were able to exchange emails back and forth and soon enough (but not fast enough) in March I went to Maryland for an unofficial visit.

I loved it. The facilities, the tight-knit team, the coaches, the school, all of it. I couldn’t think of anything that I did not like. My Dad knew that as soon as we left campus that day that I was going to sign there. About a week later I was offered a scholarship to the University of Maryland for track and field. Again, there are no words to describe how I felt, except this time I mean that even more than when I last said it. Because this time, I beat all the odds. Life threw everything it could at me, but I still came out on top. Maybe with a broken rib, fat lip, and some stress acne. But, I did it.

My signing day was a special little day at home with just my family, and we took pictures and went out to dinner afterward with some close friends to enjoy the night. The war was over…or so I thought.

I’m totally kidding, can you imagine if something after all that mess happened? That would be wild.

Now, I’m going into my senior year at Maryland, and I couldn’t be happier with my choice. Coach Valmon, Coach Siebert, and Coach Travers are just what I needed in college coaching and I’m so lucky I’m also able to attend a great school.

 

Go Terps!

YOUR JOURNEY STARTS HERE