MOVING UP TO COLLEGE FOOTBALL IS NO EASY TASK
When a high school football player moves up in competition to play college football, in most cases, the student-athlete experiences an initial shock.
Everybody is good.
Everybody is fast.
It’s how a player adjusts that makes or breaks a college career. Many players find it is too steep a mountain to climb again and move on from football.
Many realize that they were just a big fish in a little pond playing high school football. Now it’s the opposite.
Former Williamstown (NJ) standout Rich Stanzione talks about making that jump when he started his first practices at Stetson University. The Hatters compete in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and are members of the Pioneer Football League.
The 6-foot-0. 198 pound linebacker said it was an awakening when he realized how tough it was going to be to compete at this level.
“Four sure, it is a lot different than what you’re used to at the high school level,” said Stanzione, who is entering his sophomore season. “Here, more is expected of you. It is more demanding, so you have to love it. High school players need to know what they’re getting into.”
What they are getting into is the business of college football. Most of these players are on scholarship. So the student-athlete is getting a $150,000.00 to $250,000.00 college education and the school wants every player to earn it.
“You must be disciplined and realize the coaches aren’t going to worry about your feelings,” Stanzione said. “You should expect to be yelled at for mistakes and be able to respond to that directions and be willing to work harder than they ever have in the past. This is like a full time job.”
Stanzione said he has been impressed with Stetson’s commitment to academics with student-athletes.
“They are good at making sure grades come first,” he said.
Stanzione said he came to Stetson thinking his coaches and teammates would be impressed with the awards he won as a high school player from a tough, successful program.
“Your awards in high school mean nothing here,” Stanzione said with a laugh. “It is all about how well you can play. Nobody cares about how many all stars teams you made.”
Stanzione talked about how players are challenged in practice to learn new and complicated schemes.
“In a high school secondary, you have “cover 2” and “cover 3” and maybe some man coverage,” said Stanzione, who has moved from safety to linebacker this year. “But at the college level you have so many variations of those coverages. There are so many fronts I did not know even existed. You have to learn all the defenses that are demanded of you to react to.”
To learn these schemes, that can fool the best of athletes, a player has to make the commitment needed to do that.
“The coaches will definitely test your skills,” Stanzione said. “These schemes really challenge you. If you are a running back in high school, you’ll see a wide gap to run through and the gap usually stays there for you make a big gain or score. Here that gap is a mirage making you think there is an opening. In reality, there is a linebacker waiting for you to fall for the mirage and get taken down for a loss. Everything that looks too good to be true up here is too good to be true.”
How do these schemes work so well?
“Speed,” Stanzione said. “Speed up here is so important, even the linemen are really fast.”
Stanzione said he knows playing football is a grind. It is mostly hard work with little glamour. But the payoff comes during games.
“Nothing beats Saturday,” Stanzione said. “That is when the glory happens after you make a big play.”
Stanzione said he knows he will look back and remember all the work and sacrifice. He will also remember the payoff.
“It has already has paid off,” Stanzione said. “I’ve had life lessons I will carry forever. Football has helped me build character and teamwork that will help me with whatever I do the rest of my life.”