Have you ever fantasized seeing yourself on the Jumbotron in your favorite team jersey or being greeted by thunderous applause when walking on a court or field?
Here's a little dose of reality to mix with the fantasy. Only 2 percent of high school athletes earn an athletic scholarship at an NCAA college.
But you may be one of the lucky ones. What does it really take to play a sport in college? If you have the athletic talent and if you have decided that you want to play at the college level, then it makes sense to be proactive as early in the process as possible.
Here is some of the play-by-play on college athletic recruitment for freshmen, sophomores and juniors; next week's column will be devoted to seniors.
*Get a frank appraisal. The first step in the process is to request feedback from your coach. Remember, your coach has probably seen hundreds of players over the years and knows what it takes to play Division I, II or III college sports. Ask for a brutally honest assessment of your talent, and be sure to advise your coach not to worry about hurting your feelings. It is far better to know earlier in the process that your skill level is not up to par.
*Educate yourself. Get informed. Learn what you need to know about recruitment eligibility, academic and testing requirements, recruitment regulations, etc. Find out the differences between Divisions I, II and III. The two best first-stop websites are: www.ncaastudent.org and www.eligibilitycenter.org .
*Keep up the grades. Don't allow yourself to get hyper-focused on sports and let academics fall to the back burner.
There is a mandatory core curriculum for recruited athletes. Make sure you are fulfilling and exceeding requirements. Meet with your counselor to review course selection and to balance your course load, especially during the semester you'll be actively involved in sports.
Calls and visits for freshmen and sophomores. You can contact college coaches but they can't call you. You are also allowed to visit college campuses, at your own expense, but official visits, i.e., those paid for by the college, are not allowed. College coaches are not allowed to meet with you off campus either.
Things change slightly when you become a junior.
*Register with the NCAA Eligibility Center and complete the amateurism questionnaire as early as you can. Print out the "Transcript Release Form" for your counselor to send in at the end of the year. Take the ACT or the SAT and request that your scores be sent to the Eligibility Center (code 9999).
*Calls and visits. Coaches are allowed limited telephone contact with you during specific months, depending on your sport, although you can contact them anytime. There is still no off-campus contact or official visits allowed, but you can make unofficial visits whenever you like.
For more information, try "The Athletic Recruiting & Scholarship Guide" by Wayne Mazzoni ($19.25).
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.