Another year of high school football has come to an end. But many Mississippi high school players are still working hard off the field, with the goal of playing football at the next level. According to one college recruiting site, there are 22,779 football scholarships available in the NCAA alone.
And whatever the level, hopeful athletes are becoming marketers as they try to sell their talent to college recruiters. It doesn’t matter how good a player is, to get recruited and be in line for a football scholarship many students feel they need to tell the college coaches who they are and why they deserve to be recruited.
One of the primary ways to sell that talent is through the use of a highlight reel. At one time, coaches and recruiters would evaluate the game tapes from high schools to see what kind of talent a player could offer. However, many players now take it upon themselves to have elaborate highlight reels professionally produced, showing them in their very best light.
“These kids today are used to watching ESPN on television, and their reels reflect that look,” said Aaron Pelch, assistant football coach at Millsaps College in Jackson. “We get reels that have the music, the slow motion and other special effects, which look really great. It’s just a way for a kid to market himself, trying to catch the right person’s attention.”
Pelch said that the flashy reels don’t really make a difference to him. “We’re still always looking for the same thing: quality football players and quality students. But I will say there are certain positions that recruiters may want to see more than what a game tape can offer. Having a camera on a player from a different angle than the one in the press box can better show what he’s capable of doing on the field. Those are the reels that can make the difference.”
Beth Taylor of Letter B Productions in Hattiesburg said she’s seen an increase in students wanting to produce flashy highlight reels in recent years. “College athletics — especially football — has always been ‘big business,’ usually for contributing money to the university or college and its athletic department. Now, we are seeing athletics as ‘big business’ for student athletes, in the form of scholarships,” said Taylor. “Playing at a big public university or college is quite lucrative — roughly $10-K per year for a $40-$50-K education if there is a redshirt year. That’s worth the investment of the parent. Playing at a high-dollar private university or college is even more lucrative. Just take a look at the tuition, housing, meals and other fees at schools such as Tulane.”
Taylor’s started Letter B Productions 16 years ago after working at WDAM-TV in Hattiesburg for several years. In 1978, she became the first female sportscaster in Mississippi. While she has received numerous awards and honors over the years for production and advertising, her services are being sought after by many high school athletes hoping to play sports in college.
“Beth has the sports background as well as the production know-how to produce a solid reel,” said Joe Marquez, a senior at St. Joseph Catholic School in Madison. “I wanted Beth to produce my highlight reel because I knew that she has been inside the head of the coaches. She knows what they are looking for, and how to show my talent in the best light.”
Taylor said she has found, both as a former sportscaster and a videographer, that parents have made a substantial “investment” in the young athlete before ever considering a college scholarship. “There are years of practice where moms and dads have driven their children and attended countless games. Many parents have purchased special equipment for their athletes, such as special shoes, protective eyewear, special pads, shin guards and helmets. Now spending a relatively few more dollars on a highlight video to ‘earn’ the big ‘prize’ doesn’t seem too much.” Pelch agreed, saying that all parents want to see their children do well, whether it’s academically or athletically. “Parents will do whatever it takes to help their children get that extra leg up-that’s part of being a parent.”
Taylor explained that some parents will hire a videographer to attend every game and isolate on a particular player, but that can be very expensive. “A less expensive way is to utilize game footage shot by the school. It may not be the prettiest, or most professional looking, footage, but it is the type of footage with which coaches are most familiar. As a video producer, I would rather work with footage I shot. However, we all are capable of working with footage provided to us. We can’t always make ugly footage look better, but we can — generally speaking — make something out of the video which is provided. We can add graphics, still photos, stats, interviews and other elements to dress-up the presentation … meaning we can help a student athlete show his or her best moves to the college recruiter.”
Bradford Blackmon, a standout running back at St. Andrew’s, has a slick Web site (www.bradfordblackmon.com) and highlight reel that he’s been using to market himself to college recruiters. The process has been a family affair for Blackmon.
“My highlight reel was produced by a video engineer at my brother’s recording studio in Canton, Rich Boy Entertaining,” said Blackmon. Video for the reel came entirely from game tapes. “We have a very talented student at St. Andrews who does the videography at all the games. I had no need to hire someone to shoot video because his was so good.”
Blackmon’s Web site is also courtesy of a family member. “My cousin, Ryan Tortis, graduated from Southern Miss and now has his own company, Tortis Designs. He designs Web sites, brochures and such, and he did my Web site. I think he has done a great job.”
Norman Joseph, head football coach at Mississippi College, said that he’s seeing more and more highlight reels. “One reason is that we are requesting them. The reels are time savers for us. For example, if we’re recruiting a kicker, and we are watching game tapes, we have to watch a lot of tape just to see the two or three times the guy may have kicked in a game. A highlight reel will give us specific plays that feature the player.”
Joseph said that all the special effects are not necessary. “I know that ESPN has a strong influence on what they put together, but the bottom line is that we are looking for how well the player performs. The players can really put together a tape on their own, sometimes with the help of their coaches. But we do see more and more tapes submitted to us by recruiting services.”
Joseph said that they accept either DVD or VHS format, “but the quality may be a little better on the DVD’s.” He also said that they are seeing more Web sites that promote players. “We actually recruited one of our players this year from his Web site. From a coach’s standpoint, it’s just another way to help us evaluate a player. The highlight reels and Web sites have certainly aided in our recruiting efforts. We have a limited number of coaches involved in recruiting, and this makes our job more efficient. And we’re on the right track with our recruiting efforts. We’re making progress, and look forward to a strong season next year.”