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Life Of A College Athlete

Most high school football players dream of playing at the next level, but the transition between high school and college life can be challenging for incoming freshman athletes. Balancing school, football, and the college lifestyle can catch you off guard if you don’t know what to expect. We want to give you some information so you can be prepared for the next level. We’ve surveyed hundreds of college coaches from all divisions in order to understand what the life of a college football player is like at their school.

If you are an incoming freshman student athlete, CONGRATULATIONS! You are part of the top 7% of all high school seniors playing varsity football. On average, D1 schools bring in between 20-30 freshmen, while D2 schools bring 30-40. At a D3 school there will be 40-80 incoming freshmen on your team. You will most likely be joining a roster of between 80 and 120 players at D1 or D3 schools, and between 100 and 140 players at a D2/NAIA school. That shows that many D3 schools have high attrition rates, with less than 50% returning for their sophomore year.

 
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You should prepare for the possibility that you will need to change positions when you get to college. 20-40% of incoming freshmen at scholarship schools tend to play a different position than the primary position they played in high school, but less than 20% change spots at D3 programs.

 
 

Be prepared to spend your first season on the sideline. While most incoming athletes think they will play right away, our survey results show that at a majority of D1 schools only 1 in 5 athletes play during their freshman year. That percentage is even smaller at D2/NAIA while D3 schools can range from a majority to almost no freshman getting playing time right away. If getting to play right away is important to you, you should look past the top programs that are offering you scholarships, and choose a school in a lower division, a less competitive conference, or with a worse record.

 
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If you are looking to play football in college, you will have very little time for outside activities. As a college athlete you will spend most of your time on football and academics. As part of your football activities you will spend time in practices, meetings and workout sessions. Of the coaches we surveyed, 79% told us that their players spend 8 or more hours practicing each week. Time spent in practice can differ greatly from school to school. Additionally, you’ll most likely spend 4 to 6 hours each week in meetings at a D1 program and 2 to 4 hours in meetings at a D2/NAIA or a D3 programs. You will work out between 4 to 6 hours per week at a D1 school and 2 to 4 hours a week at D2/NAIA and D3 schools. Moreover, you will also spend your summer attending team workouts (except D3 programs where only a quarter or less of their athletes are at their team summer workouts).

 
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A comprehensive 2008 NCAA survey of college athletes showed that FBS athletes spent 44.5 hours per week on football related activities, and FCS, D2 and D3 athletes spent around 35 hours per week on football related activities. The majority of those same athletes said that they spent the same or more time on athletic activities in the off-season.

That same 2008 NCAA survey showed that college football players spend approximately 35-40 hours on academics per week.

In-season football players spend about 1 day a week away from campus and miss about 1.4 classes a week due to sports-related activities. Fortunately, there are academic advisor and tutoring options provided by most football programs to help their student athletes succeed in the classroom. 73% of coaches we surveyed reported that their team has dedicated academic support. Academic support services are helpful for incoming freshmen who are trying to find the right balance between the grueling demand of athletics and classroom activities. It is not surprising that the NCAA athlete survey shows that 87% of the NCAA athletes reported that they were coming to class prepared either always or most of the time.

Below is a chart to compare experiences by college football division. While we highlight the differences, what is more important is what they have in common. Being a college football player is a lot of fun, but it is hard work. After school, football, sleep and meals, there is not much time left for other activities. If having a “normal” college social life is important to you, college football at any division may not be for you.

 
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Takeaways:

  • You will most likely not be playing your freshman year but will still have 70 to 85 hours per week of academic and athletic commitments (35-45 hours on football and 35-40 hours on academics)

  • You will likely have academic support provided by your team and should use it because athletes that use the support are much more likely to report success in the classroom

  • D3 programs bring in large freshmen classes with the expectation that many athletes won’t stay for four years.

damir makic