LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) — National Signing Day marks the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of high schoolers who commit to play sports in college. Some, however, never get to see how the story unfolds.

Just a few hours after a ceremony for the three players who signed college scholarships on Wednesday, Joe T. Robinson head football coach Todd Eskola held a meeting with some of his Juniors and their parents to talk about their pending recruitment.

“Our goal,” Eskola said, “is, at the end of the day, we want to be able to look the kid and the parent in the eye and let all parties involved know that everybody did everything they could for the benefit of that child.”

Eskola felt that he and his staff had not done enough for their players in the past. In 2017, nine Senators took part in the yearly signing day event, but three of them never set foot on their respective college campuses.

After some self-evaluation, Eskola decided to try a new approach, which he debuted with his star Juniors.

“And, so, it’s a process that I think, we, as coaches, have got to do our part and educate the parents and the kids. And everybody’s got to be honest with one another,” he explained. “You know, if you’ve got a 1.0 [grade point average] and you’re wondering why nobody’s recruiting you, well, there’s a reason for that.”

The Senators held a meeting in the fall with the head of compliance from the University of Central Arkansas. Eskola said 120 parents attended to learn about the academic requirements of the NCAA, which vary depending on the level of competition. Division I, for instance, requires that players carry a 2.0 GPA in 16 core classes. Of those, the player must complete at least 10 by the end of his junior year, with at least a 2.3 GPA. Eskola mentioned that one of his best players could not be recruited this season because he failed to complete those core classes, something that is completely avoidable with enough planning.

“Every high school in the state, and probably the country, has kids that are athletically good enough to play college sports,” Eskola said. “For whatever reason, they’re not able to, and most of the time, that’s academics.”

He warned his players and their parents about those recruits who are more in it for the momentary fame that comes with Twitter followers, commitment announcements, signing ceremonies. Those are the ones who most often flame out, he told them. To prevent that, Eskola gave every family a questionnaire to help them figure out which schools are realistic, and what the player really wants.

He asked the players if they knew what they want to major in when they get to college. One immediately said pre-med. “If you know what you want to major in,” Eskola responded, “you need to cross off every college that doesn’t offer that.”

Aside from academic fit and eligibility, Eskola said money is the other primary reason that some recruits do not end up attending the college they sign with. Division I schools, such as Arkansas and Arkansas State, may only provide full scholarships, but schools at lower levels do not.

“If you’re a Division II prospect,” Eskola said, “it becomes: what can your family afford? You know, because it’s not going to be a full ride. And that’s an important conversation that parents and coaches need to be able to have.

“We want to make sure that we attack those scholarship opportunities that are going to be real for that family and benefit them long-term.”

Eskola thinks his Junior class might surpass the Class of 2017 and set records for the number that get college offers. He told his Juniors that he does not care where they sign, so long as it is the best school for them.

“Ninety-eight percent [of high school football players] don’t ever get to enjoy that. It’s a very small percentage that actually signs on Signing Day,” he said.
Wednesday’s meeting was only for Juniors, but Eskola plans to hold a similar meeting for underclassmen later this spring.