The Pursuit of Collegiate Sports
D1 athletes say there’s a lot to consider before making the commitment
BY KURT DUSTERBERG
When a young athlete shows signs of excelling in a sport, it’s only natural for parents to wonder, “Is my kid good enough to earn a college athletic scholarship?” After all, a scholarship helps defray the cost of higher education, and it can open doors to once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
But determining how to pursue college sports is a complex issue. Many people are familiar with Division I, the NCAA schools with the largest athletic budgets. But there is also Division II, typically smaller institutions that offer athletic scholarships. At Division III universities, students receive nonathletics aid through grants and need-based scholarships. Division I schools typically require the most athletic commitment from students, while Division III schools put less emphasis on sports in general. There are also schools that participate in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, as well as junior colleges.
Beyond the classifications, however, are numerous issues that student-athletes and parents should consider. For most college athletes, the university years will be their last in competitive sports, putting additional emphasis on choosing the best academic experience. For other athletes—football, baseball, soccer and basketball players—the college experience could be a stepping stone to a professional career.
Here are both perspectives from two Triangle athletes who made the most of their collegiate athletic experience.
SETTING THE RIGHT EXPECTATIONS: Apex High School class of 2015 volleyball star loved her college experience, “but it was a job.”
A SHORTSTOP TO THE PROS: 2012 Cardinal Gibbons grad chose college over the pros, and still made it to the majors.
4 Tips for Collegiate Athlete Hopefuls
Joy Caracciolo, a Durham-based food influencer featured in our “Triangle Trendsetters” story on page 29, knows a thing or two about collegiate sports. Before her social media career took off, she played NCAA women’s basketball for Boston College and the University of Delaware. Caracciolo later got a master’s degree in strategic communication from Queens University of Charlotte. She offers these tips to young athletes hoping to play at the college level.
1. Be coachable. College coaches are going to see a lot of talented athletes as they travel across the country to scout players during the recruitment process. They are not only looking for athletes who are great at their sport, but they are also looking to see who has a good attitude, works well with their team and listens to their coaches when they receive feedback during the games. They want players who are coachable and know how to bounce back and move on to the next play after they make mistakes.
2. Do your research. Deciding where you want to spend four years of your life getting an education and playing your sport is an extremely tough decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s important that you not only love the coaching staff and team culture of the school you choose, but that you also choose a school that has the academic program that will set you up for a successful career after athletics. I’m not saying you need to know what you want to major in right away, but you should make a shortlist of careers that you’d be interested in so you choose a school that can equip you with the knowledge you need to enter that field.
3. Set boundaries. The recruitment process can be very stressful and draining if you don’t set boundaries to protect your mental health. Of course, your parents and coaches will play a huge part in your recruitment process, but you will want to be transparent with them when you’re feeling overwhelmed or getting bad vibes from anybody you’re communicating with. You should be focused on enjoying your last years of amateur sports and working to improve your game; don’t allow the stress of being recruited to affect that.
4. Work on your time management skills. Once you get to college you will need to have great time management skills to keep up with your schedule, which will usually include multiple workouts, meal times, classes, team meetings and study hall periods. Start getting into the habit of being at least 10 minutes early to everything.
NOT YOUR TYPICAL COLLEGE STUDENT: Furman athlete combines D1 athletics with military services
Cary native and Grace Christian School alumna Kaeli Braswell is a senior at Furman University who carries a heavy load, literally. The four-year Army ROTC scholarship awardee and D1 volleyball player for the Furman Paladins is the only player in the school’s history who will graduate as a second lieutenant. While most students are sleeping at 4 a.m., Kaeli—who is double majoring in communications and religion—may be in the woods on a 6-mile ruck, or preparing for a volleyball workout.
Kaeli’s ROTC journey started when the U.S. Military Academy at West Point’s volleyball program showed interest in recruiting her while she was in high school. During her official visit there she experienced life as a cadet, which ignited a fire inside her. She received a congressional nomination to West Point, but chose to begin her military journey with the Paladin ROTC program. “I knew I wanted to be a part of something that was bigger than me,” she says.
During her junior year, Kaeli competed on Furman’s Army ROTC Ranger Challenge team, which consists of the school’s most physically fit and mentally tough cadets, since each team member must pass a U.S. Army physical fitness test and compete in patrolling, marksmanship, weapons assembly, one-rope bridge-building, a grenade assault course, land navigation and a 10-kilometer road march. Kaeli led the Alpha team, which won the Ranger Challenge’s small school division, besting 18 other small unit schools in the fourth brigade. Kaeli has also received Furman University’s Military Order of the World Wars award and Iron Paladin, given to the top female cadet for physical fitness.
This past summer, Kaeli was selected to attend West Point’s Air Assault School, where she trained to conduct air assault operations and won the highly coveted Air Assault Badge. Less than half of the participants typically make it through this experience, often referred to as the 10 toughest days in the U.S. Army.
On July 2, Kaeli graduated from Air Assault School and traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky for five weeks of cadet summer training, where she graduated at the top of her class and received the Magellan Federal High Performer award. She returned to Furman University in August to begin volleyball practices and her senior year. She offers these tips to students considering a military path after high school.
1. Do well academically. Develop strong study habits. Good SAT and ACT scores help determine ROTC military scholarship winners.
2. Participate in a sport, or exercise regularly. Prepare for the physical fitness tests required by the military branch you’re interested in. Be disciplined with your workouts and develop good eating habits.
3. Visit and spend time with those who have served in the military. Ask lots of questions. It’s a choice that will change your life forever.
4. Practice your interview skills. Presenting yourself well will serve you well.
5. Never settle for doing the minimum on anything. Always do your best in the classroom, in the gym or on the field.
— Midtown staff