Athletic Scholarships: Which Should Eric Choose?

Yale kicked off Eric Wilson’s college recruitment journey with an offer last summer, before his junior year at Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School. Since then, coaches nationwide have tried to woo the lineman to their campus. Eric’s 6’4”, 290-pound size, along with his 4.0 GPA and 33 ACT score, make it easy to see why. If that weren’t enough, the senior also sings in the Minnesota Boychoir.

Athletes and their parents dream of landing scholarship offers, but getting them often requires more than having success on the field. Making high school athletes’ abilities and accomplishments known to coaches – marketing them – can become a part-time job.

As his sophomore season unfolded, Eric and his father, Bruce, selected Eric’s best plays on Hudl, the sports video Website that most high school football teams use to record their games. Collecting game highlights, the Wilsons emailed Eric’s Hudl video to about 75 coaches.

Eric took part in several football camps on the East Coast, home to many of the academically rigorous colleges that the Wilsons targeted. The New England Elite Football Clinic, held at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, gave Eric the opportunity to “show his stuff.” In three hot summer days, he ran through drills, demonstrated bench-pressing strength, and competed in 7-on-7 competition to showcase pass-blocking skills.

The demanding clinic, which costs $350 and attracts more than 2,000 players, was “worse than our two-a-day workouts in high school,” said Eric, who caught the eye of many coaches, including those from the Patriot League and Ivy League. Eric left the camp with business cards from 15 coaches who expressed an interest in him.

Twitter let Eric and coaches stay in touch. Eric’s Tweet of Yale’s offer launched a chain reaction of offers from other colleges. The Ivy League does not award athletic scholarships, but their coaches can open doors for highly coveted acceptances. “You are among the select few that we have already made the decision to support for admission,” said the letter from Yale’s head coach. In addition, he wrote that “families that have a combined income of $65,000 and under will be awarded a financial aid package with zero family contribution.”

Eventually, all eight Ivy League colleges made offers to Eric. Their letters typically pointed out that tuition would be only 10 percent of household income for families earning between $65,000 and $150,000.

Coaches began calling Eric in earnest during his junior season. Offers of full-ride athletic scholarships followed, from colleges ranging from Wyoming and New Mexico, to Miami of Ohio and Florida Atlantic. Coaches from more competitive Division 1 programs also contacted Eric, who visited several Big Ten campuses. At Michigan, he posed for a photo with head coach Jim Harbaugh. Coaches for the University of Minnesota rated Eric one of the top recruits in the state, and offered him a scholarship to become a Gopher.

Kate Wilson, Eric’s mom, said that while Eric wanted “to play for a big school, Bruce wanted him to go to the Ivy League.” In April, Eric chose Harvard, announcing his decision via Twitter. Crimson coaches said he would have the chance to play right away, rather than redshirt, or sit out a season, as bigger schools often require. Besides, as Kate noted, in the past two seasons Harvard has “sent four linemen to the NFL.” Now Eric can combine an Ivy League education with whatever hopes he might have of playing on Sunday.