From the desk of Wally Dawkins, Athletic Director:
Several years ago, and for many weeks, I had numerous people stop by my office and tell me about this little kid who was playing in the 1st Grade Division of the Whitehouse Youth Basketball League, and how many points he was scoring per game. Being the Head Basketball Coach at Whitehouse at that time, I decided to check this kid out during the League Championship Game the following Saturday. After all, as the basketball coach, I was certainly interested in finding such a youngster who had the propensity to “fill it up.” As I made my way into the gym for the game that had already started, it didn’t take me long to figure out who the kid was everyone had been talking about.
After walking in the door, the same player on the Buckeyes team scored 6 consecutive points, so being the “acutely aware-notice everything” type person that I am, I immediately recognized that this was boy creating the buzz. Staying to watch him play for the remainder of the game however, it wasn’t his scoring ability that caught my attention; it was the way he played the game. I had never seen a kid at that age…at any age really, compete with the focus, intensity, and will to win that this kid was displaying. It was “freakish”.
Fast forward to today; I hear many student athletes talk about how they want to play NCAA Division I sports, or have parents tell me they believe their child is a D-I athlete. I have been fortunate enough to have coached several players in high school who have signed with a Division I schools and received full athletic scholarship to display their wares. These kids however were the exception to the rule since I also had the privilege of coaching hundreds of kids who did not play at the next level.
The road to being a successful Division I athlete may be a tougher journey than most realize, or are willing to take.
If you have read any of my previous blogs, you know that my philosophy as to the primary reason for participating in sports is for the relationships you will develop and for the experiences participating in sports will offer. Many play, and rightly so…”just for the fun of it”.
To be a NCAA D-I scholarship athlete, you first have to recognize that you are thrusting yourself into the world of “competitive big business”.
When D-I schools give a player a scholarship, they now “own” the athlete. Athletes are required to get up at 5:00 AM for conditioning, you are enrolled in the classes that fit the sports schedule, your time is controlled in the afternoons, evenings, and weekends, your weight room workouts are mandatory and daily, and you are given instructions concerning the two hour study hall you are to attend each night. Basically, you become the property of the school who gave the scholarship, and they are going to do everything they can to ensure you perform at a high level on Saturdays…or Wednesdays, or whatever day or days your sports play, so that their wise investment in you…pays off. This rigorous routine is a far cry from the 8 hour per week after school regulation that many state high school organizations impose on member schools.
The second thing to realize concerning D-I level athletics is “you’re not in Kansas anymore”. D-I athletics is not the warm and fuzzy environment high school programs tend to be. Coaches at the D-I level tend to be far more demanding, less restrained when it comes to the use of the English language, and expect immediate results from the athletes they coach because “if you don’t do it, we recruited three more at your position who will.” It is a tough environment for young people to exist in, especially if they equate the expectations of college athletics to be similar to the expectations that were present at the high school level.
Another huge attribute of NCAA Division I athletes is that the majority of these athletes are physical beasts, usually possessing a tireless work ethic who have developed the ability to play with real pain, even injured pain, and see athletics as their “only hope” of a successful future. Athletics is the “end all” to most D-I athletes. Take for example a really good high school linebacker who stands 6’2, weighs 195 and runs a 4.6 40 yard dash and is the best on his team. The linebacker at LSU or Texas however goes 6’5, weighs 245, and runs a 4.35 40, and is ranked as one of the top 20 in the nation. Just the physical requirements alone are a huge obstacle for most. A few years back, we had a really good offensive lineman who was about 6’2 ½, weighed 255, had a wingspan of 70 inches, with great feet. He could not understand why he was not being recruited by Division I schools. What was hard for this really good player to come to grips with was that D-I schools optimal requirement for O-lineman was for prospects to be 6’5, weigh 275, and have a wingspan of 76 inches. The physical requirements alone limited this really good football players ability to receive the D-I scholarship he so desired.
The last and possibly two most important characteristics of a potential D-I athlete is that playing the game must consume them, and they must have the attitude that they want to play so bad, they will stick it out…no matter what. They have to eat it, drink it, breathe it, and live it. The goal of competing successfully at the D-I level must be stamped on their forehead, written on their bathroom mirror, and when all of the thoughts they have are running around amuck in their brain, the goal, dream, or consummation of playing must shake out on top. That’s what the school will require, and if the athlete doesn’t really have that concept, it will become an unbearable situation. The kids who I coached and who played for 4 years at NCAA Division I schools possessed at least 4 of the 5 attributes I have written about.
Now ask yourself; do you have what it takes to be a NCAA Division I athlete? It is a worthwhile goal, but is it worth it to you?
Remember the kid I talked about earlier who was scoring so many points? That kid’s name was Tyler Baker. Tyler Baker became a really good high school quarterback at Brook Hill from 2008-2010. Tyler never lost that tremendous focus, intensity, and will to succeed he had as a youth league basketball player when he was 6 years old. Tyler signed as a non-scholarship preferred walk on at Ole Miss in 2011. Due to several injuries, switching to receiver, and a coaching change, Tyler transferred to Washington State where more injuries turned into additional setbacks. But the little boy who refused to lose, who would not give up, and who wouldn’t quit, has now grown into a man who possesses the same qualities. Nearly four years after graduation, overcoming numerous injuries and cat calls from fans who doubted he would ever play D-I football, including myself, Tyler Baker finally got a chance to realize at least a part of his dream as he started at wide receiver this past Saturday night for Washington State against USC and had 9 catches for 89 yards. I have never known anyone who wanted to play college football and was willing to overcome the obstacles and pay the price like Tyler Baker. He obviously has what it takes to be D-I.
I should have known better than to doubt him. After all, in the Whitehouse Youth League 1st Grade Championship Game, Tyler scored 51 points as his team defeated the Bulls 55-50.
So if you really want to play D-I ball…talk to Tyler.
Tyler Baker is just another reason to be “ALL ORANGE…All The Time”!