Student-athletes strive to make Division I teams. They have the highest reputation in college athletics. Athletes train their hardest to achieve a scholarship from a successful program and play out their four years of higher education.
It works differently for the Drake football program. As a member of the Pioneer Football League – a non-scholarship Division I conference – coaches have to recruit with another approach: find students who want to be athletes whether they receive a full-ride scholarship or not.
“The premise is guys who are going to really any of the schools in those three conferences are going because they want the best of both worlds,” said head coach Chris Creighton about non-scholarship football leagues. “They want a great education, and they want to be able to play Division I football.”
Drake football is coming off a great year. It won a share of the PFL title this fall, played the first-ever American Football game on African soil in May 2011 and had 61 players with grade point averages that were over 3.0.
These are factors players can’t ignore, Creighton said.
Assistant head coach Rick Fox said the staff focuses its recruitment efforts on the program’s five goals: Academics, to be the best they can be, creating a “family,” having fun and being impact men.
Fox said being “impact men” refers to leadership, character and community service.
Stoy Hall, a fifth-year senior who graduated this fall, was named to the Allstate Good Works Team. Twenty-two players were chosen from over 600 colleges and universities to be honored at the Sugar Bowl for their outstanding community service.
“If that’s not something you’re interested in, then you’re really not going to enjoy being a part of our program because that’s what our guys do,” Fox said.
Michael Lahart, a third-year pharmacy student who finished up his fifth year of eligibility this fall, said many of these factors are what helped him choose Drake.
“You’ve got 100 friends before school even starts,” Lahart said. “The tight-knit group of friends you make through football is really what makes it special. In a way, it’s our own type of fraternity.”
Creighton said that many players on the team were originally offered scholarships from other schools, but they turned them down because they see the tradeoff at Drake as more worthwhile in the long run.
“Instead of compromising on the education and getting some football money, look at the next 40 years, not just the next four,” Creighton said.
Lahart also pointed out the commitment to academics that is instilled in Drake’s football program.
“Your stereotypical football player doesn’t care about classes. He takes the bare minimum, has his grades handed to him,” Lahart said. “That doesn’t happen here. Overall, the kids that stay here really do work hard in the classroom.”
Fox said the recruitment process begins in early February, a year and a half before students would potentially come to Drake. During that time, players contact the coaching staff, the coaching staff contacts players and the coaches visit and evaluate players.
He also said summer camps are a key part of the recruitment process. He estimates 230 upcoming high school seniors will attend the camp this year. The freshman class for the 2012 season has already been determined. Right now, the staff has begun recruiting high school juniors for 2013.
“We feel as though our program is on the rise,” Creighton said. “The 2011 season was another step forward on the rise; it was not the end all, and it was not the top. We’re going to pursue getting better.”