How to Play College Football – What College Coaches Want in a Student-Athlete

By Steve O’Brien – Goal: College Athlete

What do College Football Coaches want in a Student-Athlete?

AT GCA, we have asked hundreds of College Football Coaches this question:

Describe the qualities that your program is looking for in a potential student-athlete?

We have received a range of thoughtful and relevant responses from College Football Coaches across Divisions I, II and III. We wanted to share some of the best answers to give young/high school football players some perspectives that they might be overlooking and motivating them to put more emphasis on these qualities to reach their goals and become a College Football player:

Kevin Bolis – Sacred Heart University – Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line

When determining whether a player will be an asset to our program, I ask myself one question: Will this young man do what it takes to earn an honorary “AAA” Membership?

To me the 3 “A’s” mean: Attitude, Accountability and Action.

ATTITUDE: This is everything in a team sport. A player must realize where he stands within the program, knowing that one bad apple can spoil the bunch. Way too often I see great talent that isn’t realized because the player separates himself from the rest of the team due to a belief that his personal success is more important than that of the whole. Young athletes need to model themselves after the team player or unsung hero. Unfortunately, the media doesn’t allow young people to see the right ones in the spotlight, as the news is overrun by the mishaps of players like Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. A player that will give all he has every day, in any role, is the player that I want in my program.

ACCOUNTABILITY: It’s easy to point a finger at a teammate or coach when things aren’t going your way. However, it takes great character to accept your mistakes and correct them, no matter how much work you have to put in or how much pride you have to set aside. This applies to all aspects of a student-athletes college career. Professors don’t give grades, students earn them. A young man that says, I shouldn’t have gotten in trouble because it wasn’t my party, should realize that it was his decision to attend the party in the first place. Anyone aspiring to compete in athletics at the college level should ask themselves if they can be accountable. The player that can point to himself and put in the work to get better is the player that I want in my program

ACTION: It speaks louder than words. Players will come to my office and tell me why they deserve playing time, or recruits may tell me why they deserve a scholarship. My reply is, don’t tell me, show me. The film doesn’t lie! This is also a valuable life lesson. You can’t talk your way to the top, you have to do the work day in and day out to earn the promotion.

Omar King – Long Island University – CW Post – Assistant Coach/Running Backs

Primarily, in any case you’re trying to find the best talent available at your targeted positions. Once you’ve identified the top talent in your specific recruiting area, a program must decide whether he fits your needs athletically and academically or is there something that he does that can help your program become better. Here at CW Post, it’s important that we find out if a kid will survive here academically. We come to find out that if you bring kids in that are academically at-risk, they can potentially ruin your program because they don’t stay academically eligible or in some cases fail out, subsequently giving your program a negative reputation and that’s not what we want here. Although we have academic resources to help our players, we still target self motivators who believe in hard work both on and off the field. Thirdly, is his character. Football is the kind of sport that test character daily and someone who lacks character/ discipline can potentially lose a game in key situations when you need them the most. A talented athlete that doesn’t feel he has to develop his body or mind does us no good as we continually want to develop our program annually. Social character is very important as well. We need our SA’s to understand that we need them to be model citizens on our campus. As you know, people know who you are because we’re more publicized than the normal student, so with that recognition comes the responsibility of representing our football program on/off the field. We tell our kids: “be great when no one is watching,” because true character appears when you’re “alone.”

Michael Ferzoco – University of New Hampshire (UNH) – Assistant Coach/Running Backs

First the prospective student athlete must be a good citizen (behavioral issues that we know of, no arrests, trouble in school etc.). We will not recruit people who will compromise the character of our program. Secondly we look for players that are tough and athletic. Obviously they need to have the skills and talent to help us compete, but if all those are equal we will take someone who plays hard and with a high motor. We also look for players that can develop as we don’t necessarily get the 5 star recruits who are ready made for college football. We tend to look at the growth potential of each athlete to see if they can project to another position, such as a receiver growing to a TE or a safety growing to a Linebacker. Also, while today’s recruiting has become so highly covered in the media, we will evaluate players on their film, both highlights but more importantly a full game tape, to see if they play the way we want them to. While combine results and camp performances play a role in the recruiting process, if the player does not perform well on film, it becomes difficult to recruit him. Lastly, the recruit must be a good student. We find that student-athletes that are not serious about their academics tend to give us problems on the field as well, as they usually lack the competitive nature or the ability to commit and buy in to the basic tenets of our program.

Frank Sheehan – Brown University – Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line

1) Qualities of a recruit:

A) Physical Measurements:

  • Height
  • Weight
  • Strength
  • Speed
  • Explosion
  • Athletic ability / Change of direction / Flexibility

All of these are predicated on a position etc, along with playing the gene pool card (will he or she grow??)

B) Other Intangibles

  • Toughness
  • Effort
  • Intensity
  • Health history
  • Character
  • Work ethic
  • Other sports
  • What do people say about him or her ????????
  • How does he treat his parents
  • 1st impressions are everything to me ( hand shake, eye contact, posture, overall engagement)
  • Accountability – never misses a practice or a day of school

C) Academics are huge for us obviously

About Steve O'Brien
Steve O'Brien is the co-creator of Goal: College Athlete (GCA). The website was built to inspire young athletes to reach their goal of playing college sports. Information includes a pro-active plan to get the attention of college coaches and also insight from college coaches on what qualities they look for in a potential recruit. Steve played College Hockey at the University of New Hampshire, graduating in 1999. Questions? Send Steve an email at [email protected]

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