Marshall Column: Making the Jump to College

Phillip Marshall writes about what football prospects should expect as they leave high school later this year and move onto college campuses.

It's almost over now, this bizarre process called college football recruiting. A week from Wednesday players across the country will pose for cameras and sign their names.

For most, it will be the realization of a dream. They'll celebrate, their families will celebrate. And they should.

But they will learn in a few months that reality is very different from the make-believe world of recruiting

If you are a recruit, no matter how prominent, you'll get your dose of the real world soon enough. It doesn't matter if you are at USC or UNA. It's the same.

The head coach that charmed your parents, told your mom her fried chicken was the best he'd ever eaten, spent hours just chilling at your house, talked football strategy with your dad, won't be the same come summer. He has 100-plus players to deal with. You're just one.

The position coach who showed you film, explained why you were the player he had to have, why you could play as a true freshman, is the same one who will be screaming at you on a 100-degree afternoon in August, the same one who you seemingly can't please on the practice field, the same one who will tell you that you're not ready to play and probably need to be redshirted.

That pretty girl you met on your official visit to campus? She won't remember your name.

You might want to leave all those Internet and newspaper stories lauding you as a great prospect at home with your high school letter jacket. Your new teammates won't give a rip how many stars some recruiting analyst put beside your name. In fact, the more prominent you were in high school, the more you'll be called on to prove yourself. That can be painful, in a lot of ways.

You were the biggest, meanest, toughest dude around in high school. Now you are about to find out what it's like to be around dozens of guys who were the biggest, meanest, toughest dudes on their high school teams. And those who have been in the program for a while are going to be bigger, meaner and tougher than you are.

A piece of advice: Don't brag. You might become a star, but you probably won't. As former Auburn coach Pat Dye used to say, the less you say, the less you have to take back.

Football used to be for fun. Now it's going to be grueling work, a low-paying, year-around job. The rules say you can't be required to put in but 20 hours a week. If you want to get a really good laugh from some of your new teammates, ask them about the 20-hour rule.

Don't believe the popular theory that athletes can cruise through college without being legitimate students. The opposite is true. It's easier for non-athletes to cruise through college than it is for athletes. It sounds trite, but education really is what matters most. You probably think you are going to play in the NFL. You are probably wrong.

It's natural to want to be like your friends. You can't be like them anymore, at least not like the ones who don't play football. They can act like college freshmen. They can get into trouble and few will know. If you get into trouble, it's going to be in headlines.

It was fun talking to the recruiting services that called your house, the reporters from the local newspaper. It might not be as much fun in college. Be careful what you say. It might sound funny when you say it, but it might sound totally different when it shows up in a newspaper.

Most of all, enjoy the ride. If you make it, it'll be the hardest thing you've ever done, but you'll have memories for a lifetime.

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