Most of the top high school athletes are rewarded with full-ride scholarships at the top universities in the nation, but there are many who have the talent to play college sports, but for one reason or another, don’t receive a scholarship. That does not mean that they will be forever shutout; they just need to have a plan.
Santa Monica College Academic Counselor Byanca Barajas and B2G Sports Community Relations Director Jabari Ali have worked with a number of student athletes who took the junior college route and made it to the university level.
B2G Sports trains a lot of the top high school football players in the greater Los Angeles area, and many of them get scholarships right out of high school. But they also have a plan for those students who were not recruited. The first thing Ali has those players do, is to take an assessment exam at the junior college they are interested in playing for. Barajas concurs with that plan, and she believes it is better to handle that now, instead of waiting until after high school graduation.
“I’ve already seen some students this year, and it makes it a lot more helpful,” Barajas said. “They come in and take the assessment, even though they are still in high school, just so that we can have an idea of where they are. If they only need one remedial course, then they can take it in the summer, prior to the start of the actual school year.”
By taking the exam now, a student can hit the ground running with college level courses in the fall, instead of having to take the remedial classes then. It is important to be properly placed, because some students are not ready to write college level papers, or take college level courses.
Both Ali and Barajas recommend that athletes take a gray shirt season, which means that they do not play their first year out of high school, but they can still train with the team. Athletes have five years to play four seasons, but by taking a gray shirt year, the athlete’s clock does not start. This can be beneficial for several reasons.
“If you did qualify for college, and you weren’t recruited out of high school, it was probably because you’re really young,” Ali said. “A lot of kids who graduate from high school in California are 16 or 17. That’s a disadvantage because everybody else that’s being recruited, they’re 18 and will be 19 going into college. Especially in the South and other parts of the country. They start school later, and some of their parents take advantage of holding them back in the 8th grade so that they can mature, academically and physically. It gives them an edge.”
Ali points out that there is a huge difference in an athlete who is 16 and one who is 18.
“You see it when you’re out on the field,” Ali said. “Some of these kids are coming into their ‘man’ body. And then you have kids who look like they’re just kids. That’s a disadvantage. So if you’re going the ju-co (junior college) route, why start your clock at 17, when you can start your clock at 18 as a freshman in college. That’s where you want to be.”
During that gray shirt year an athlete can spend their time training and becoming a better athlete without using a year of eligibility.
From the academic side, Barajas sees a gray shirt year as a time where an athlete can become a better student because he or she does not have to worry about playing a sport.
“I usually recommend a student not to take 12 units, and not to compete their first year if they are not at college level in English and math,” Barajas said. “To be fair to the student, and give them the best possible opportunity, they should really hold off a year, so that when they start their clock they are able to move forward and move on just like any other student would be able to.”
To gray shirt, a student would take up to 11 units during the first two semesters of college. Twelve units or more is considered full-time. A student can take courses during the summer and winter sessions, so they can still be on course to graduate on time after the gray shirt year. A student can gray shirt and still have 30 units under their belt heading into their second year of college, before they even step on the field or court. That is halfway to graduation.
Athletes who take the junior college route also have to realize that they may be in that situation because they were not a good student. If they did not qualify for college right out of high school, they need to make some major adjustments academically.
“Most kids who don’t qualify out of high school, they weren’t good students in high school,” Ali said. “There’s not going to be a drastic change when they have way more freedom to become this great student all of a sudden. They’re in that situation because they lack study habits. They lack time management skills. It is very challenging, but it can be done. I did it. I went to Bakersfield Junior College, I signed a Division I scholarship to Cal State Northridge, I graduated in ‘94. It can be done, but man, it’s like a serious journey and a serious grind.”
Barajas has seen students who made a major academic turnaround.
“They have to really set their mind to it,” Barajas said. “I had a student who hasn’t always done well. It’s not that he’s not capable, he’s just never put his mind to it. He’s made a conscious effort and now he’s doing very well.
“I’ve seen a lot of students not know how to deal with time management. They end up hanging out with their friends because they think that they have all this time, but then they never get to the library to study. Then they end up not doing well. Time management is directly tied into their goals, and how they are going to carry those goals out.”
Both Ali and Barajas recommend that athletes take advantage of what the school has to offer, and to take the classes more seriously than they did in high school.
“As long as they take advantage of the resources on the campus, and implement a serious time management situation for themselves, then the sky is the limit,” Ali said. “That’s what I had to do. I had to refocus. It wasn’t like high school, where I didn’t have to study to get an A or a B on an exam. College is not like that. It’s way more reading, so you have to apply that reading time, or it’s not going to work.”
It is also extremely important to work with the college counselor. Barajas has seen students who selected classes based on the units needed, but those classes ended up being non-transferable. Those students ended up wasting valuable time on classes that did not help them make it to a university.
The road has not come to an end for athletes who did not obtain a college scholarship, but with proper planning and becoming a better student, these athletes can still realize their dreams of playing big time college sports while getting their education paid for.