As coaches, we should help our players succeed on and off the field

By MARK FREEMAN | Guest Columnist

This is an opinion column. 

As a high school football coach, National Signing Day is one of the most exciting events of the year. I’ve coached many of these seniors since they were in ninth grade and have watched them grow into young men, who are now ready to take the next step in their athletic careers. It’s rewarding to watch these hardworking players on signing day—when they’re surrounded by their family, teammates, and coaches; when they throw on the baseball hat of their chosen college; and when they officially commit to a new team.

But there’s also something happening on signing day that doesn’t make the news or the Facebook highlights. Elsewhere in the room, there are hardworking seniors whose football careers are over. Too many players don’t get the chance to play at the college level because they were academically ineligible for recruitment. I’ve been a high school football coach in Alabama for 20 years, and this disappointing situation happens too often.

The NCAA eligibility process is notoriously tricky. High school counselors are typically responsible for tracking students’ grade point averages and eligibility using the association’s sliding scale, which can be difficult and time-consuming to interpret.

There’s a gap in understanding how the NCAA eligibility process works for students and administrators—I’ve witnessed it firsthand. The result? Student-athletes with college hopes don’t realize they’re ineligible for scholarships until it’s already too late.

As coaches, we’re responsible for leading our players on and off the field. GPAs are just as important as athletic ability when it comes to college recruiting. By getting involved in our players’ academic standing at the beginning of high school and holding them accountable until graduation, we can help them prepare for an athletic career in college.

In a 7A school like Thompson High School, trying to engage with hundreds of students’ individual academic records is pretty overwhelming. But there’s a new software making it a whole lot easier for us to stay involved.

Hi.ed is a web-based cumulative tracking tool that tracks students’ progress toward graduation.

It records up-to-date grade point averages and transcripts as well as NCAA eligibility and the sliding scale, so students will always know where they stand.

The program is easily accessible for not just students—their administrators, teachers, coaches and parents can check their children’s progress too.

With this encouraging team behind them throughout high school, our students are set up for success. Then, every deserving student-athlete will be putting on a baseball hat and committing to a college team on National Signing Day.