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Recruiting Reality

For those of you who were able to stay up until the wee hours to watch last week’s NCAA championship game between Alabama and Georgia, it was quite obvious just how important recruiting is to the college game. Freshmen who were playing in high school one year earlier were making play after play in the biggest game on the college schedule. Coach Nick Saban’s ability to recruit the best players is the single biggest reason for Alabama’s ongoing success.

Yes, that dream of gaining a collegiate athletic scholarship is on the minds of many athletes and their parents. Sometimes those dreams come true, but often they are pipe dreams causing disappointment and resentment in households that can’t quite grasp why their son or daughter didn’t get that coveted scholarship.

Ironically, on the morning of the NCAA title game, I shared a conversation with Lehigh All-American and former South Williamsport standout Dominick Bragalone about his collegiate experience. Bragalone was right up there with the best running backs this area has ever produced and came within a few yards of establishing a national rushing record. Because of his tremendous high school career, many assumed there would be a long line of Division I schools seeking his services.

Bragalone revealed that, for him, the recruiting process was frustrating.

“It was frustrating. I didn’t get my first offer until the beginning of my senior year. I just kept waiting and waiting for a big school to offer, and it never happened. Then I reached the point that I needed to choose between the various schools that were offering me financial help because being able to go to school for free was very important to me. Looking back, I wish I would have pursued more schools at the Division 1 – AA level, but my head was so full at getting offers from the bigger schools that I overlooked some opportunities that may have been out there.

“When I was in high school I envisioned going to a bigger school. In tenth grade, I started to draw interest from Penn State, Rutgers, and Army and I was expecting one of the bigger schools to offer me a scholarship. Instead what they were offering was a preferred walk-on. So I didn’t fully envision going to Lehigh, but once I got there, it has been everything I could have asked for or wanted out of college. Looking back, perhaps going to a bigger school would have hurt me. I’m happy I choose Lehigh, and I think it is where I should be.

“In the end, choosing Lehigh was the best school for me out of all my choices. They offered me a full scholarship and the prospects for playing as a freshman were good, as they really needed a running back. So those two factors sold me on the school. Outside of football, it was hard for me at the beginning. It was college, and I was used to high school, and I didn’t realize how much work college took to do well. My first semester was rough, but I got the hang of it and have been doing better each semester. It was an eye-opener for me, and at first, it was hard, but now I am pretty used to it.

“I think that playing running back at a small high school was the main reason why I didn’t get more big college school offers. But that is hard to say because there are some athletes at small schools that are getting big college attention. The Fleming kid at Southern Columbia is getting a bunch of college offers, and he is only a sophomore. I’m not sure what it was that they didn’t like about me, but I don’t get upset about it because I’m at a school playing football and have had the opportunity to start since my freshman year. The 1,000-yard rushing seasons, being named All-Patriot League and All-American are great accomplishments. I’m very proud of what I’ve done to get here and just have to keep working hard to get better and keep on playing.

“Coming from a two-back offense in high school to a one back system in college was a tough adjustment for me to make. My first fall camp was very frustrating. I didn’t know what was going on. But luckily for me, our quarterback was a great teammate and leader. After practice, he would take me aside, talk to me and go over schemes. He helped me a lot to become the player I am now. It was hard at first, but looking back it wasn’t really that bad. It was just something new that I wasn’t used to. Pass protection and running routes were things I wasn’t used to doing. But now that I am able to do those things it makes me a much more valuable and better player to my team.”

Bragalone intends to make the best of his final collegiate season this fall.

“When I get back to school we’ll have a lifting program four days a week, have a running program and 6:00 a.m. workouts, so I’ll just continue to work hard. After the spring break, we’ll have our spring ball with all the practices. Going into my last year, I want to take everything seriously. I am going to crack down on the workouts, eat right, and do everything I need to do to be the best player I can be. It is a big year for me. I’d like to be able to make All-American again and maybe have a shot at being the National Offensive Player of the Year. I want to get my name out there so after my senior year I can get a shot to play football again. That is definitely one of my goals that I am working toward.”

As for advice to current high schoolers with that scholarship dream, Bragalone’s advice is simple.

“It is a long road, but anything is possible. Sometimes you might question yourself, and then something may happen to make it a reality, and that is a great feeling to achieve. An individual’s destiny is in their hands. It depends on what you are willing to do, and how much work you put into it, and how good you want to be. It is not going to be given to you, and if you really want it that bad, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to the sport to get there.”

Bragalone’s dreams and his reality crossed some bumpy roads, but the record-setting high school and collegiate running back has made his presence felt. And that folks is not ‘bragging.’

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