Playing the Field

Playing the Field

An explosion in the number of potential athletic recruits
has coaches searching for ability,and intangibles

By Gerry Boyle ‰78 | Photos by Fred Field

And the stakes are high, as students—and parents in many cases—have worked for years toward college athletics. Unlike Division I colleges and universities, NESCAC schools do not award athletic scholarships. NESCAC appeals to skilled athletes with strong academic records because they know the conference is among the most competitive in Division III, both athletically and academically. In fact, in a recent ranking of Division III colleges by the National Collegiate Scouting Association, using a rubric of academic and athletic strength and student-athlete graduation rates, Colby placed 11th nationally. Ten of the 11 NESCAC schools were in the top 17.

Head Football Coach Ed Mestieri eyes potential recruits during a skills camp last summer.
"We offer these kids a world-class education with a great football program in a dynamite setting,— Mestieri said.

Parents know that. Students know that. But they also are aware that, in many cases, these athletes have what colleges like Colby want.

It's an odd dance, a sort of mutual wooing. Parents and athletes attend camps, contact coaches, bring professionally prepared videotapes and DVDs of the athlete on the field. High school coaches, often former Colby athletes, recommend players, sending e-mails like this one, from a soccer coach at a New Jersey prep school: "She's a good player and could have an impact at Colby her first year.— Or another, from a Colby alumna now coaching the next generation of players: "She's a great soccer player and a great kid.—

Colby coaches carefully "watch tape— to discern strengths and weaknesses and to determine whether a player would be an asset to a Colby team. Parents often act as agents, a role that Holsten says can be unhealthy if an athlete is performing only for mom or dad. "Are you playing because your father is a fanatic with eighteen tapes on his lap?— she needs to know, or do you have your own passion for your sport?

Even when drawing from a pool of talent that includes all-conference and all-state teams, Olympic Development and premier leagues, and touring all-stars, it can be a mistake to recruit based solely on skill and academic qualifications. Mestieri, watching a lineman at the Massachusetts camp, said, "He's a tough kid. He's our kind of guy.— Or, as Holsten put it, "Heart is a huge factor. Is this a player who's going to go through a brick wall for you? Is she going to do four years for you? Is that more important [than skill alone]? I think yes.—