Inside the varsity recruitment process

Each year, along with its new class of first-year students, Wilfrid Laurier receives a new class of student athletes. These new recruits are brought in from all over the country to play for the Golden Hawks, and bringing them here is no small task. It involves a staggering amount of time, work and people.

“It’s really a non-stop process,” said Patrick Crabbe, head of recruitment for Laurier’s football team.

“We have a number of people who help us within our coaching staff. We go out and watch the Ontario Varsity Football League, the Ontario Football Conference and high school games.We’re looking for guys who stand out. You tend to focus on the guys that you think are graduating the next spring, but I’ve got guys in my recruiting book now for 2011.”

A prospective recruit’s final year – or years – in high school is a whirlwind of phone calls, e-mails and business cards, as recruiters canvass high school and junior leagues, trying to entice young athletes to play for their school. It culminates in a difficult decision for the players, who can be as young as 17.

“It was a very tough decision,” said Kitchener native, Candace Styles, who will play for Laurier’s women’s hockey team this season. “I first talked to coach Rick [Osborne] when I was in grade 11 and I went on to talk to almost all the schools in the OUA. I really liked all of them, but I thought Laurier would be a perfect fit for me.”

Scouting an incoming player is such an intensive process because often highly touted prospects can falter when they get to the next level. Therefore, in order to ensure that a talented high school player will be a success at the university level coaches and scouts need to watch players closely, sometimes for lengthy periods of time.

“Once we pinpoint the players that we’re interested in, we try to watch them between eight and 12 times,” said women’s hockey head coach Rick Osborne. “We get a chance to see them play in just about every situation, because we need to make sure we take the right player for our program.”

Men’s basketball head coach Peter Campbell added, “Some players I’ve been watching since they were in grade 10. One guy we’re bringing in this year actually played in our spring camp when he was in grade eight and I’ve kept an eye on him since then.”

With so much riding on these young players becoming an athletic success when they get to university, it’s easy to forget they’re also under pressure to achieve academic success.

“We’ve got a lot of very good students on our team,” said Crabbe. “A lot of our guys have tremendous averages in programs like kinesiology or business and we love to see that, because our number one priority is to make sure that every guy that plays for us leaves here with a degree.”

Campbell, meanwhile, puts it quite simply, “They’re paying $15,000 to come to school, not to play basketball.”

The student athletes also understand the importance of the academic aspect of their university experience. Osman Omar, a native of London, Ontario, who will join the men’s basketball team in September, said that the first thing that attracted him to Laurier was “the academic side.”

“The kin[esiology] program has a great reputation. But I know it’s going to be a lot of work; I’m definitely going to have to be more organized and use my time effectively,” said Campbell.

Balancing schoolwork with a demanding athletic schedule is just one of the challenges these young men and women face as they enter university. They also experience the same huge adjustments that other first-years do as they transition into university life.

“Being away from home will be tough,” said Alex Anthony, who is coming to Laurier’s football team all the way from Victoria, B.C. “But I have 70 new friends right away from football and I think meeting new people will really help me grow as a person.”

Osborne shares a similar sentiment. “Our veterans take [the new recruits] under their wing right away,” he said. “Within a few weeks, they have 20 new best friends and are blending in perfectly.”

While university will bring many challenges to first-year student athletes, it also brings a great deal of excitement.

“I can’t wait for that feeling of going to university,” said Styles. “Going away, being independent, meeting new people, it’ll be incredible.”