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Groundwork laid for opportunity

It was National Signing Day Wednesday and thousands of high school football players from across the country faxed in newly-signed letters of intent to continue their gridiron careers for at least a few more years.

College football’s recruitment period has thus far seen four signees from within Marengo County. And then there is DHS senior Madison Bozeman, who inked a shiny new offer from Jefferson Davis Community College to continue her softball career.

Each player is worth celebrating, deserving of his or her share of praise. But it is not because they lucked out and happened to get an offer. Or because they just happened to be born with athletic ability. Both athletically and academically, each of these student-athletes worked hard enough to give themselves an opportunity.

So, as we sit some 52 weeks from the next National Signing Day, here is a list of indisputable truths that I have learned as it pertains to high school athletes jumping to the next level.

1. Getting a scholarship offer is not a happy accident. Nobody woke up one day and found themselves with an opportunity that big. A college education is expensive and coaches can’t afford to throw away gobs of money on someone who is unlikely to pan out.

2. Virtually no one can decide in the middle of their senior year that they want to be a college athlete and land an offer. That decision is likely to result in walking on or just in general being frustrated. The individuals who sign athletic scholarships decide well ahead of time what they want to do for the four years following high school.

3. The ACT/GPA is as important as the 40. Plenty of guys out there can run a 4.4, but how many can make a 4.0? A talented, hard-working athlete who is academically responsible is rare. And, for those on the fringe who want to play but don’t know if they will have an opportunity, getting the ACT score and GPA in order early clears the first and greatest huddle. Plenty of great athletes go by the wayside every year because they couldn’t qualify academically.

4. DI, DII, DIII, NAIA, JuCo — who cares? We live in a sports-centric society that is enamored with 5-star players and Top 5 recruiting classes. And while all of that has its place, the truth is that the kid who goes to Shelton State to play has as much right to be proud as the kid who is going to Florida. The truth is, they are both guaranteed virtually the same thing: nothing. Going to Florida doesn’t mean you’ll play. And it doesn’t mean your scholarship won’t be pulled in the future. Going to Shelton State doesn’t mean you won’t have a chance to shine. And, in both cases, somebody is paying for that really expensive education you otherwise may not be able to afford.

5. Getting there means you have to push yourself. Very few are born with these nearly superhuman athletic abilities. Most have to work for them. We can’t all be 6-5, 215 pounds with a 37-inch vertical leap. But there is a place for other, less freak of nature type athletes as well. Those athletes just have to work a little harder to get noticed. Put in the extra time. Do what no one else will. Go to the camps. Learn what you have to do. But, while you are doing all of it, make sure you are pushing yourself in the classroom. If you cannot handle high school classes where it is 30:1 and the teacher can help you, then you cannot handle college classes where it is 95:1 and the teacher has to help you and 600 other people. Plus, collegiate student-athletes have tremendous demands on their time and have to be able to balance it all. If your life is school, practice and Xbox, you’re probably not going to be ready for the next level, no matter how fast you run.

Finally, remember that nothing is guaranteed. You may do everything right and never get the attention you deserve as an athlete. Nothing guarantees you scholarship money like a high GPA and a strong ACT score. So take care of those things along the way and make sure to focus only upon what you can control.

Jeremy D. Smith is sports editor of the Demopolis Times.