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Closer Look: Athletes, parents need a plan for college recruiting

ROB ROSE
717-505-5418/@robrosesports

When Brayden Long was first contacted by a college coach about playing football at the next level, his feeling was pure joy.

He rushed to show his parents the Twitter message and enjoyed the idea that he could potentially play college football. It was the winter of 2018 and he was a junior. For the New Oxford High quarterback, it was the beginning of a yearlong process that tested him in ways he couldn’t imagine.

Six months later, Long started receiving messages from more coaches and schools wanting him to visit for junior days and camps. 

Brayden Long, center, is flanked by his parents Kathy Long, left, and Chris Long, as they pose for a photo during signing day at New Oxford High School in New Oxford, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. The senior will be playing football for Slippery Rock University. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Then came the scholarship offers, and that was before his senior season began. What started as exciting messages from coaches had transformed into an overwhelming process.

More:Closer Look: For many athletes, college recruiting takes joy out of sports

“At first it was definitely that fun, 'this-is-going-to-be-awesome (feeling),'” Long said. “Not saying that it wasn’t, but as we got into my senior year and my senior season, that’s when it started to get stressful.” 

Create a plan: York-based school psychologist Nick Kenien said one of the keys to making the college recruiting process less stressful ​​​​​for athletes is creating a plan for communicating with coaches.

Long, who had two older siblings go through the college sports process, discussed with his parents how he would contact coaches before things really picked up. 

His main focus was on school and high school sports. Long also plays on the basketball and baseball teams at New Oxford. After he got home from school, it was time for homework and studying. Messaging coaches came after he was done with school work.

“Sometimes I wouldn’t even get to reach out to them because I would be studying for a test the next day or doing homework from class that day,” Long said. “School always came first, and if I had time, recruiting came after that.”

Do not disturb: Long said that making his Twitter account was among his best decisions because it offered a direct line to college coaches, especially those looking for highlight reels or game footage. But even so, managing it was like a full-time job, he said.

Long had interest from a number of schools, including Villanova University, Bucknell University, Marist College and his eventual choice, Slippery Rock University. Managing all the messages became a difficult task on top of his sports and studies.

“Every day, something on my phone. Many things on my phone,” Long said. “Text messages, calls. That’s when it really started to get stressful.” 

Division I dilemma: For a lot of athletes, an offer from an NCAA Division I school has been a goal. Having realistic expectations, though, can ease the process and the stress, Kenien said.

Sports psychologist Nicholas Kenien, PhD., is shown in his home office in Spring Garden Township, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. Kenien, of Kenien Counceling, LLC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Nationally Certified School Psychologist. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“Is it Division I where they might be spending much more time on the bench vs. Division II where they might get more playing time?” he said. “Do they want to have more of that playing time or do they want to have more of that prestige from playing for the more prominent Division I school?” 

Long faced this type of choice. He held offers from NCAA Division I schools Central Connecticut State University and Marist College but opted for NCAA Division II Slippery Rock.

When it came time to make the decision, Long weighed the entire package the schools presented to him. When he removed football from the equation, Slippery Rock’s sports management program, his preferred major, and the feeling he got when he stepped on campus were bigger factors than saying he plays for a Division I school.

“To me, it didn’t really play into it much,” Long said. “Both levels of football are very similar in my opinion. It’s just all about how you fit and what feels like home. You want to go to a place where you can picture yourself without football.”

A wild ride: Now that he is at the end of the recruiting process, Long looks back on it with more joy than he did while he was in it. He tried to remind himself throughout to enjoy it because he will go through it just once.

New Oxford High senior quarterback Brayden Long drops back to throw a pass during a workout. Long signed to play football at NCAA Division II Slippery Rock University.

Long is grateful for all the colleges that were after him and the offers he received, but for now, he’s ready to stop seeing notifications for Twitter messages from coaches on his phone every day.

“It was awesome. Crazy, but awesome,” Long said. “I was so thankful for all the opportunities that came my way. I know not many people can say they had all the opportunities I did. There were some hard nights, but we got through it together. Looking back on it, it’s awesome, (but) it’s definitely a relief that it’s over.”

— Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.