The best advice I ever received was this: “When making your college decision, pick a school you would go to even if you were NOT playing football.”
I remember being a sophomore in high school and seeing all the older guys having college coaches come visit them at school, collecting offers and getting stars and rankings… I was hooked. I knew that I loved football just as much as those guys. I started to fantasize about when my time would come, and I told myself right then and there, “The biggest school to offer me, even if it’s a walk-on spot, that’s where I am going. I will earn a scholarship freshman year if I have to” (as if it were just that easy).
I worked very hard in high school. I was constantly in the weight room, on the field or doing something to get better. I went to a fantastic high school, with a great coach to help with recruiting and getting coaches to visit the school (I was most fortunate because a couple of the underclassmen were certified freaks at a young age – so seemingly everyone in the country was stopping by). As I moved towards my senior year, I started to learn how very hard it was to earn a scholarship offer, at any level, let alone at the biggest schools. With that being said, I was fortunate to earn some scholarship money at a few of the smaller schools and a couple PWO opportunities at those “big schools” that I told myself as a sophomore I would play at.
So, there it was, right in front of me, a chance to finalize the decision that I had made as a naïve sophomore. Until I got that advice. “Don’t go to a school that you wouldn’t otherwise go to if you weren’t playing football.”
At the end of a long process, my parents and I set out to make a list of pros and cons about each school I was considering. As we worked through that list of what we were looking for, it became more and more apparent that some of the smaller schools were the ones checking off the most “pros” on our list. It was difficult to say goodbye to that dream of playing at the “highest level” – but it was also the best decision I ever made.
Fast forward to midway through my freshman year of college. I was redshirted and playing on the scout team, really enjoying helping get our defense ready for the games. That October, after catching a pass at practice I stepped wrong and blew out my ankle. Without going through the specifics of the next few years, I suffered the same injury three more times in the following 2 years.
After the last injury/surgery – I was told that it was not safe for me to continue playing football. I remember being absolutely devastated – I loved football, I loved my new friends, and I loved my new school. I did not know what I was going to do now that football was over.
The answer was simple – do nothing different. I did not need to go home, or transfer. I chose a school that I would have otherwise chosen, even if I were not playing football. So, what did I do? I turned to those new friends for support (one of whom became my wife), I stayed involved with the team as much as I could (ended up becoming a full-time coach after graduation) and, most importantly, I graduated with the degree I set out for.
Choosing a college is not a 4 or 5 year decision, it is a 40 or 50 year decision.
How different could my story have been if I would have chosen to go somewhere, that I otherwise would not, if I were not a football player?
Need help choosing a college?
The Athletic Academy provides tons of tools to help high school student athletes reach their dreams of playing athletics at the next level. Most recently, The College Search Tool has proved to be a fantastic and affordable tool to assist in targeting and reaching out to schools across the country. Also, The Athletic Academy coaches serve as personalized mentors and counselors for those interested in individualized plans and attention. Please reach out to us for more information.
About the Author
Kane Keirnan started his football playing career at Illinois State University. Afterwards, he worked as a Graduate Assistant coach at the University of New Mexico, then returned back to Illinois State as full-time coach, coaching the Wide Receivers. Kane’s philosophies focus on developing great relationships with student-athletes, coaches, and parents.