How Sports Stars Are Found


As a high school quarterback in Las Vegas, Jay A. Snowden '98 was recruited by coaches from the University of Utah, the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and Brigham Young University--the latter a quarterback factory that produced San Francisco 49ers signal-caller Steve Young.

But Snowden also considered offers from the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard.

Ultimately he acquiesced to Harvard's unrelenting recruitment efforts, which included weekly calls from football coaches and a free cross-country flight to Cambridge.

On the visit, players and coaches showed him Harvard from the perspective of a football player. But when Harvard Football Coach Timothy L. Murphy sat down with Snowden, he stressed academics--repeating a line used by dozens of Harvard coaches.

"He told me 'if you say no to Harvard, it will be hard telling people your whole life that you could have gone there and didn't,'" Snowden recalls. "'It's just not the same.'"

Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons '67 says athletic recruiting is similar to the College's efforts to find the best math students or chess champions.


But athletic recruits describe a sophisticated process and tense recruiting culture unlike any experience other applicants may have.

Recruits are intensely aware that applying to Harvard as an athlete means applying to two different places: the academic College in Harvard Yard and the athletic program across the river.

This situation makes recruiting stressful for coaches, who must find prime athletes who can also hurdle the academic standards set by the admissions office. But the relative lack of sway that coaches have over who gets in makes Harvard seem a more relaxed alternative to the high-pressure recruiting of traditional athletic powers like Snowden's alternative suitor, Brigham Young.

"There were situations at other schools where a coach would say 'I need to know if you're going to come here. If you say you will, I'll help you out and put you at such and such a level on the recruiting list,'" says Amy L. Mecklenburg '98, who was recruited for Radcliffe crew.

"Harvard didn't do that," she says. "[Varsity Heavyweight Crew Coach Liz O'Leary] came to me and said 'We'd like to have you come and row, and we'll help you out if we can, but we can't guarantee anything.' It's just not a high-pressure recruiting place."

Early Contact

Some colleges begin recruiting students when they are still in junior high. Harvard generally makes its first contact with prospects during their sophomore or junior years of high school. Then, recruits receive information packets and letters from coaches.

Harvard coaches will also scout players through summer camps or the Olympic Development Program. They also pore over All-State and All-American lists, and sit quietly in the stands at regional tournaments.

"For Canadian recruiting, the coaches take road trips," says hockey defenseman J. Ashlin Halfnight '97, a native of Ontario. "They pick you out on the ice at tournaments and league games."

Many recruits say that either they or their high school coaches had long-standing connections to Harvard athletics. Football captain Justin E. Frantz '96, who grew up in western Pennsylvania, says his high school coach knew Richard C. Corbin, the offensive coordinator under former football coach Joseph Restic.

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