By Michael Sudhalter
By the time you read this article, Jordan Ward will have signed his official letter of intent to play football at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
The Kempner High linebacker is one of dozens of Fort Bend ISD senior student-athletes who made their college destination official, along with thousands of athletes nationally.
But the recruiting process starts long before the first Wednesday in February, celebrated throughout America as “National Signing Day.”
Each year, most high school football coaches send out a “prospect sheet” that lists elaborate information on their best players — from position and height/weight to their weightlifting and speed abilities. It also includes their SAT/ACT scores, GPA, class rank, contact information and notes such as “great hands, can play multiple positions.”
“They look at your top players and compare them to players at other schools,” Kempner High head football coach Darrin Andrus said.
The college coaches use this information to begin sending questionnaires when the athletes are sophomores.
As juniors and seniors, the college coaches often become more serious about the recruits. There are NCAA regulations on the frequency and time periods when college coaches can visit high school campuses.
Head coaches only get so many chances to visit, so if a head coach is on campus, you know he’s there to check out a big-time prospect.
Ward, a 17-year-old Sugar Land native, verbally committed to SMU last June. Verbal commitments are non-binding, and nothing is official until National Signing Day.
But Ward said that his word means something.
“It was truly a blessing to be recruited,” Ward said. “It was a really exciting process. Once the process starts, it’s kind of crazy.”
Ward, who has a 3.9 GPA and ranks in the Top 10 percent of his class, received offers from some of the top academic schools in the nation, including Army, Navy and Air Force.
SMU was his first offer, and the Mustangs coaches were able to build a strong relationship with Ward.
The Mustangs went 2-10 last season under first-year head coach Chad Morris, who coached high school football in Texas from 1994-2009.
“You build relationships with the coaches, and an offer will come after that,” Ward said. “The SMU coaches believed in my talent, and that played a big part in my decision.”
Another big reason was the academics. Ward plans on studying pre-Physical Therapy.
“I have an aptitude for science and an interest in sports,” Ward said. “With the SMU education, there’s no place else I’d rather be.”
The annual tuition at SMU is $65,000. That means Ward’s full scholarship will save $260,000 and prevent him from having to pay back student loans for years.
Social media has brought college recruiting into real-time speed.
Players often post on Twitter that they’ve been offered a scholarship, and it’s not uncommon to quickly receive two direct messages with offers from other schools within minutes.
Although college coaches are restricted in their number of visits, players and their families are free to visit campuses as often as they’d like.
Ward and his family traveled to the Chicago area to check out Northwestern University, the Big 10 Conference’s top academic school, but he decided that he didn’t want to leave Texas for college.
Even after a student-athlete verbally commits to a school, recruiters from other schools actively try to get the recruit to reconsider their decision.
As Signing Day approaches, more recruiters come out of the woodwork with attempts to convince the recruit that their school is better than the one where the recruit has verbally pledged.
Ward said those attempts by recruiters didn’t sway him away from SMU.
Ward, who is 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, said he’ll put education first, but would welcome a chance to play in the NFL.
If he does, he’ll follow in the footsteps of former Kempner standout Chris Banjo, who starred at SMU and now is a special teams standout for the Green Bay Packers.