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Advice to incoming recruits


Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich wrote a masterpiece 11 years ago, offering accumulated wisdom to the youth of America in handy, bite-size pieces. A few years later, Australian film director Baz Luhrmann set Schmich's words to music and scored a hit with Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen). This week, as the nation's newest college football players begin to report en masse to their respective campuses, I thought I might offer some advice to help make their transition easier. So, with apologies to Ms. Schmich, I present Everybody's Free (To Wear Jock Straps).

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, wear a jock strap. Your long-term comfort and your future children depend on it.

In high school, football was a game. Not anymore. You are about to become a low-level employee in a multibillion dollar industry. If you produce on the field, you might earn millions for your school's athletic department. If you don't produce, prepare to be reminded of another fact.

You didn't sign a four-year scholarship. You signed a one-year scholarship, renewable at the head coach's discretion.

One-year. Renewable.

When you arrive on campus, someone from the athletic department will gather your entire recruiting class in a room and ask how many of you think you're destined to play in the NFL. Most of you will raise your hands. Chances are, only a few of you will ever set foot on an NFL field.

When you meet your new teammates, don't be cocky. They'll respect your humility as much as they would despise your pomposity. Also, don't stick to one clique. Teams with too many cliques tend to lose. A lot.

You probably think your high school weight workouts were tough. You're wrong. You won't really understand how wrong until a strength coach is standing over you, veins bulging from his forehead, screaming at you while tears stream down your face and the leg press turns your thighs into pudding.

So heed this piece of advice: On the morning of your first college weight session, eat dry toast. Avoid everything else. Especially avoid the bacon -- unless you want to see it in a puddle on the weight room floor.

It won't be the size of some of your new teammates that amazes you most. You'll be amazed that people so big can move so fast. If this doesn't amaze you in the least, you might be one of the few with a chance at the NFL.

Study. And pick a legitimate major, for goodness sakes. Only slackers major in general studies, recreational program delivery or journalism.

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Prepare to live in a fishbowl. If, during your freshman year, a cop catches you with a half-full bottle of Bud Light, the story will make the local paper and -- depending on how good you are and whether it's a slow news day -- might make national headlines. Yes, everyone knows the average male freshman at your school drinks, but holier-than-thou sports columnists will not cluck their tongues if he gets busted. It's a double standard. Deal with it.

A word about the ladies. If a woman has dated at least three of your teammates, she is not the girl for you. However, if you happen to meet an intelligent, beautiful pre-med major who has no idea who you are or what position you play, ask her out immediately.

Download some Al Green songs. Take her out for ice cream.

Throughout the recruiting process, the coaches sold you on the promise that you'd play early. So you may be wondering why you're running with the scout team during preseason practice. Guess what? Almost all coaches say you'll play early. Few actually mean it.

Scout team isn't the end of the world. The quickest way to the first team is to prove you can dominate the starters on the other side of the ball.

For three-and-a-half hours every fall Saturday, football is still a game.

The following Sunday, when you have to eat dining hall slop because the $3.99 pizza buffet costs $2.99 more than you have in your wallet, you're a low-level employee again. If you're good -- or even if you aren't -- agents may try to tempt you with cash and gifts. You may feel like you deserve it, because you bring in so much cash for the athletic department. You may be right. But be careful, because agents and their runners have big mouths. You can torpedo your career in a hurry.

Besides, your million-dollar coach may not have it so great, either. Did you read paragraph 19 of your National Letter-of-Intent? It states clearly that you signed to play for a school and not a coach. Now here's a bit of math they don't teach general studies majors. If your team went 5-7 the two seasons before you arrived, and it finishes your freshman year 5-7, prepare to be minus one head coach.

On the subject of your coach's employment, the athletic director doesn't care what you think. The only opinions that matter belong to the people who write the big checks.

If, after three years, you think you're good enough to play in the NFL, heed the advice of the league's draft advisory council. If the council says you're a fifth-rounder, don't listen to the cousin or the agent who says you're a first-rounder. If the council says you're a surefire first-rounder, don't listen to the coaches or fans who say you owe it to the school to return for your senior year. You went to college to learn a trade that would provide significant income. A $10 million signing bonus is significant income.

If you stand no chance at making an NFL roster, hopefully you studied. Because if you have that degree, some alum is probably going to hire you because you played football. See? Double standards aren't all bad.

Above all, have fun. College will go by fast, even if it feels like some of those weight-room sessions will never end.

Just trust me on the jock strap.