According to NCSA, there are currently 893 college football programs in the country. These programs compete at one of five different levels which consist of NCAA Division I, NCAA Division II, NCAA Division III, NAIA and NJCAA (Junior College). The total number of programs changes frequently and does not account for post-graduate prep schools which seem to be popping up left and right. In NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), there are currently 130 football programs. In NCAA Division 1 Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), there are currently 129 football programs. Due to the early signing period and the transfer portal, the world of recruiting is evolving on a daily basis, but most of these Division I programs are usually finished with senior recruiting on National Signing Day or shortly thereafter. National Signing Day takes place on the first Wednesday of every February, so this year it is on February 2nd.
Every program and coaching staff is different, but the majority of the remaining 634 smaller schools get more aggressive with recruiting in January after the recruiting landscape has pretty much sorted itself out. Then right after National Signing Day, a stretch of recruiting fairs takes place in some parts of the country. Being a football hotbed, Florida is one of those places. And here in the Tampa Bay Area, we are lucky to host two recruiting fairs every winter. This year, we have The Tampa Chapter of the National Football Foundation’s 22nd annual Small College Recruiting Fair on Saturday, February 19th and Sunday the 20th at Jefferson High School. Then on Monday, February 21st, there will be the 30th Annual Central Florida Small College Recruiting Fair at Lake Wales High School. Due to Covid, his year’s fair at Lake Wales is only for coaches to attend. However, zoom meetings and off-campus meetings may be possible. Most of the colleges that attend the fairs are either Division II, Division III, or NAIA. The total number of colleges that attend the fairs varies. I have seen around thirty show up, and I have also seen close to sixty show up.
Prior to these recruiting fairs, high school coaches create prospect lists, profile sheets, and make sure highlight films are ready to impress on Hudl. We also make sure to have the most up-to-date transcripts ready for colleges to review. Here is a general idea on how things will go down at Jefferson High School this year.
Day 1: The high school coaches arrive early in the morning, register, and then set up a table however they’d like. Within an hour, college coaches register and begin walking around to evaluate each and every player that the high school coach presents. From many years of experience, I can guarantee you that the very first thing that is discussed in each college’s academic requirements. This is the very first step in trimming down each high school’s list of prospects. Then film is reviewed on each player who meets the specific academic requirements. Upon finalizing their evaluation, the college coach will give the high school coach the names of players he would like to meet with on Day 2. This process repeats itself for several hours with every college coach that attends. At the end of the day, high school coaches compile lists of colleges for each player to visit with on Day 2. If a college sees a player as a valuable recruit, they might make contact that same night to introduce themselves and express their interest.
Day 2: College coaches arrive around noon and set up tables with graphic displays, uniforms, video and whatever else they need to market their program. Some colleges bring tablets or computers for completing applications on the spot. Players should dress as if they are going to a job interview because that is essentially what it is. If your coach provides you with a list of schools that requested to meet, then research each college prior to attending the recruiting fair. Gathering background knowledge and writing down questions can make your meeting with each college much more productive. Sometimes, players might eliminate a school from their list due to its location and distance from home. Narrowing down your list in advance will give you more time to meet with schools that you would like to give more serious consideration. Most high school head coaches do attend on the second day to supervise, but you should bring a parent, guardian, or another adult who will be essential to your post-secondary decision-making. There will be a significant amount of information to gather, so it can be overwhelming. Having someone close to you that knows all of your personal information is vital to processing this information and taking the next steps. Plan to arrive by 1:00 in order to register and enter the recruiting fair. It will be crowded and you will likely have to wait in line to enter. Once you get inside, your best bet is to pick a starting point and then work through the tables clockwise. Jefferson High School’s large main corridor makes this fairly easy. If you have a list of schools that requested to meet with you, you should be able to identify them as you work your way around.
Expect to communicate with coaches regularly from this point on. Write everything down. Research as much as possible and develop questions. Many will ask you about coming to visit campus. If you have the means of doing so, that is very important. If not, they may provide links to virtual tours. Again, every college is different. Communication and organization will be key.