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Rutgers Football: Recruiting the student-athlete

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What if the athletes really were students first? And what if they chose Rutgers because they really wanted to be here....even without football?

rvc73

So, this college football player is eating lunch and talking about how he hates his school.

And his buddy says, "But you play football here and look at you wearing all the swag, all the school clothes."

"Yeah," says the player, "I get it for free.  And I'm going to school for free.  But I can't wait to get out to move on to the next level."

And you wonder why some people hate college athletics.

Am I making this up? The details of the conversation, yes, they're fiction.  But the idea, the premise?  That's all true and I got the story from a very reliable source.  And, yes, it happened at Rutgers.

And I'm pretty sure it happens elsewhere, too.  But the problem is, it goes deeper than just a kid getting a free education and not appreciating the school that provides it.

Playing at "the next level" is a pretty exclusive club.  Sure, just about every ninth grader who puts on his high school's uniform has dreams about "the league", but the reality, of course, is that very, very few ever even get a sniff of the NFL.

Look at the facts:

  • There are 1696 players in NFL
  • According to the NFL Players Association the average career length is about 3.3 years. The NFL claims that the average career is about 6 years (for players who make a club's opening day roster in their rookie season).
  • There are 128 FBS schools carrying 85 scholarship players; that's 10,880 players
  • Add in 125 FCS schools with 63 scholarships for another 7,875 players plus whoever comes out of the woodwork from D2 or D3 and.....

So, how many players get to "the league"?  And how many end up flipping burgers or something slightly less glamorous than playing on Sundays?  What that means, for the vast majority of college football players, is that kids going to college to play football better have a Plan B.  Or their coaches had better offer one.

Enter Chris Ash and his staff of social media warriors.

With most players never playing football beyond college, it's a necessity to make sure all your players are prepared for a life outside of football.  Ash has certainly made a point of not only talking the game of academics but promoting it, publicly acknowledging success and, in essence, putting pressure on everyone to succeed.  The grind?

He's also looking out for that vast majority who don't move on to the next level.  Ash has brought in speakers from varied backgrounds to prepare players for "life beyond the game."

It has been a whirlwind change from the previous regime.  Not that Flood didn't want his players to do well (he may have wanted their success too much), but we are seeing the results of Ash's plan.  And it certainly looks as if everyone on staff is on board. Including learning about how to be a leader.

If you've been in any organization, you know there are "leaders", some by title, some by action, some by both.  A sign of a good leader is that he or she trains subordinates to be leaders, too, both for the opportunity to take on the title as well as to be able to further train others.  That's Ash's idea, and he spoke to nj.com's Dan Duggan.

"In the offseason there [at Ohio State] we met with him [leadership consultant Tim Kight] every week," Ash said. "He trained us and then in turn we trained our players and it's still going on at Ohio State. During my time there, we probably dove into leadership development more than any other program in the country. A lot of guys just assume leadership is going to happen, others are very intentional about making it happen. I don't think anybody was as intentional as we were at Ohio State during those two years to make that happen."

Let's go back to that opening story.  A kid comes to a school, whether Rutgers, Ohio State, or Frostburg State to play football.  But do they have any connection, any loyalty, for the school?  Or is it just a means to an end?  Hopefully, the answer is yes to the first question, and perhaps the reason for the connection are the academics and what the school offers to its students.  Like the way some prominent former Big Ten athletes feel about their schools.  Look at ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit's Twitter page and his self description:

Proud Ohio St alum Not just an alum, a proud alum.

Or how about Michigan's Dan Diedorf? Dierdorf came out of retirement in 2014 to do color commentary for Michigan football.  Before the first game, Dierdorf and play-by-play man Jim Brandstatter were prepping and then this happened:

Dan Dierdorf, a man who had been paid to talk about football for three decades and had trekked hundreds of miles for Michigan's 2014 opening bout with Appalachian State, was speechless — frozen in the moment.

Below him, the band took the field, formed into its usual ‘M' shape and rang in the 2014 season....

It was a typical ritual, but Dierdorf was locked in — and silent.

The new era of Michigan football broadcasting was beginning, and his partner, Dierdorf, was fixated on the festivities below....

"He didn't say a word, just took it all in — he was enraptured," Brandstatter said. "To watch him really swallow and take in that entire moment and that event, to me, was great fun, and I was so happy for him that he had that moment. And I got to watch him fall in love with Michigan."  [emphasis added]

He had been to the mountaintop, but had only been to a half-dozen Michigan games since graduating in 1970.

"I hadn't been in a college environment in 43 years," Dierdorf said. "When I saw the band come out, I just got lost in the moment. I knew what it was about, but I had forgotten what it felt like to be a part of it."

He fell in love with Michigan....again.  The pomp and ceremony, the band, the place.  The Big House.  He was, in the best sense of his coach Bo Schembechler, being a Michigan man.

And that's what we need in Piscataway.  More true-to-the-core Rutgers men.

Rutgers men....who graduate, who are leaders in their own right, who are ready and prepared for the future, whatever that may be.

And who chose Rutgers because they wanted Rutgers.  Or, as our friend/colleague Zuzu RU wrote: