Recruiting – My Journey to UNC by Colton Sands (8-29-2020)

As you may have seen, I recently committed to run at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. This decision came after about a year spent undergoing a very non-traditional recruiting process. Our class was unable to have in-home visits, take officials, and have that all important junior track season.

Stage 1-Gathering Options

Throughout this past fall, I tried to reach out and contact coaches at schools that I had some interest in, and started to build communications with many of my top choices. I also took unofficial visits to Penn State and Temple. These were very helpful to familiarize myself with the facilities that one needs to succeed as a collegiate athlete. As the season progressed, I began to start having coaches reach out to me. This increased tenfold after Footlocker Nationals, and for about a month it seemed like everyday there were a couple new schools reaching out to me. In order to help stay organized, I used school logos as contact photos for every coach so I could know who I was talking to. This is a tip I highly recommend for anyone undergoing the recruiting process.

Stage 2-Early No’s

Until quarantine started and I had my list narrowed down, I took every call and responded to every DM. I think in the early stages it is important to gather as many options as possible even if you feel there is no chance of you going there. After the initial phone call, if I still was absolutely positive I didn’t have any interest, I would eliminate that school from my list. The two must-haves for me were a competitive Division 1 track/cross country program, and a strong academic reputation.

Stage 3-Before Quarantine

After marking off any schools I was sure I didn’t want to attend, I began to try and think about how I could see as many schools as possible between official and unofficial visits, and use that to help me make my decision. I originally wanted to use some of my official visits in the spring so I wouldn’t have to be constantly flying around the country during my senior XC season. However, when everything shut down that became impossible, so I turned towards figuring out which 5 schools I would take officials to in the fall.

Stage 4-Shortlist

I remember towards the start of quarantine, my mom and I sat down and wrote a pros and cons style write-up on the schools I was most interested in. We did this for about a dozen schools, with the goal in mind of narrowing it down to five by mid summer so we could start scheduling visits once the NCAA dead period was lifted.

One of the only good things recruiting wise about the pandemic was it gave recruits and coaches the opportunity to get to know one another more than they usually would. I would guess I had upwards of two dozen conversations with most of the coaches in my final group. This connection made the decision more about your relationship with the coach than anything, and certainly made it a bit easier to find out which few schools would be the best fit.

As the summer progressed, I felt I had narrowed it down to six schools. That would work as I had already been on campus for one of them (Temple) and wouldn’t *need* to take an official. I began the process of scheduling visits, and had a tentative schedule.

Then the dead period was moved back until September and three of my visits were no longer possible. It was at this stage that I began to realize the possibility of not having official visits. Coaches realized this as well, and began to hold zoom calls with members of the team so recruits could get a chance to interact with the guys and get a feel for the vibe of the team. This, as well as continuing to talk over the phone with coaches, was very helpful, and as the summer continued I felt I had a clear top two in mind, and began to look at driving down to see the campuses of UVA and UNC.

Stage 5-Decision

I think the single biggest factor in my decision was the feeling I got while on campus. UNC and UVA are both very good academically, and if you are paying attention to the NCAA distance running scene, these two programs are about to become major powerhouses under coaches Miltenberg and Lananna respectively. There was very little to separate the two on paper and every time I got off of the phone with the coaches or off a zoom with the guys, my mind seemed to flip as to which one I was leaning towards. I decided I wanted to be committed before school started, and figured out weekends to drive down to Charlottesville and Chapel Hill. I went to Charletesville first, and while I really liked the campus and the town, I wanted to see Chapel Hill before I made my decision. On the last weekend before school started my parents and I drove the 8 hour trip to Chapel hill and spent a good portion of the day walking around campus and seeing some places where the guys trained. After leaving campus, I was nearly certain UNC was the place I wanted to be. I decided to give it a few days, to be sure I wasn’t being impulsive, and then on Monday I pulled the trigger and verbally committed.

This process was crazy, and while I am glad to be done, it was certainly a lot of fun and a shame it only happens once in a lifetime. My advice to anyone else going through this recruiting cycle, or a future one, is to go in knowing what you want from your school, try and find a coach who you trust, don’t let yourself get pressured into making any decisions before you are absolutely certain, and, last but not least, have fun with it.

@colton_sands