A few years back I received an email from a parent/coach of a son who was a junior football player at the time. This parent was realistic about the abilities of his son and was informing me that his son had been invited to a Junior Day at a Division I school. But what struck me as strange is that the parent/coach was honest with me and said that he likely cannot play at that level. This was the first and last email where I received a parent saying something like that.
It should come as no surprise that this two time All Stater ended up picking a Division III school close to home. He just did not have the size needed to play at the Division I level and was honest with himself about that. But if you know or believe your eventual location will be a smaller school, should you visit bigger schools? Or should you be shooting for the stars and trying to play at the biggest school you possibly can?
These are both tough questions to answer. Just for the record, this athlete was a 6-foot-1, 195 pound defensive end who played at a very small school. That is why this coach/parent was honest with me about it. He was informing me of the invite and made sure to make it clear that the school would likely never offer a scholarship (which it didn’t).
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While this is a perfect example of a mass invite to Junior Days (and it happens all over the country, just ask Louisville, Kansas State, Iowa State, and so many others), I know that it is tough to go from a Division I to Division III visit and try to compare the two places. The Division I school should be much bigger as well as should have much better facilities.
So why should I NOT visit larger schools if I am going to play at a small school?
If you see something that is so much better than where you are likely going to end up, are you really going to be happy at that smaller school? Say you take an unofficial visit as a senior to a program that sells out their stadium to 50,000 fans. The crowd support is amazing and the fans are living it up. The next weekend, you go to a Division III program where there may be a total of 1,000 people there (including players and coaches). Can you bounce back and be happy with that?
Some athletes just want to play their chosen sport. At the Division III level, you basically have to have a major love for the game if you are going to play it for free and invest so much time in it. If that is you, then it won’t matter one bit what you see. You will understand that the levels are much different and you are going to give it your all every Saturday, regardless if there are 10 or 10,000 fans watching.
Other athletes are spoiled by the larger school. A few years back I remember an offensive lineman who was solid but not great. He would have done a nice job at the Division III level but had eyes much bigger than that (it may have been because he had a number of Division I teammates). Basically the lineman kept saying he either wanted to play at Oklahoma or not play at all. Shockingly the Sooners never came calling and he hung up the cleats after his senior year.
So why should I not visit larger schools if I am going to play at a small school?
If you understand the difference in the levels and knows that playing small school college football will never get ten of thousands of fans there, then you might as well go for it. If you are going on an unofficial visit, it is free tickets and in some cases they are going to feed you as well. If the travel is not too far, you might as well enjoy a Saturday in front of a large crowd and check out the school.
This may also the school you have dreamt of playing for. If that is the case, then you will likely get tours of the facilities that most of the public has never seen before. It is worth it for all the cool stuff that you will see. But again, it boils down to you understand that this is likely a pipe dream for your future. It can get hard sometimes but at the very best you may get an offer as a walk-on. And that is at the very best.