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Shades of gray matter among Ivy recruits

01/14/2013, 12:29pm PST
By Dennis Lin

Eastern schools looking for best of the best students who still long to play football

St. Augustine's Tristan Juarez (7) is drawing the interest of Ivy League schools. (Bill Hill)

Tristan Juarez sat down with a college recruiter Saturday.

For nearly an hour, they talked about classes, extracurriculars and career goals. They talked about St. Augustine High, Juarez’s current school. They talked about another school, this one on the opposite coast of the country. They discussed grades and test scores.

In other words, football was just another topic. This was an admissions interview for Harvard, after all.

“It went well, actually,” Juarez said afterward.

Juarez, along with others like Del Norte’s George Liang and Helix’s Michael Adkins, is part of a select group of local football players who have experienced the Ivy League recruiting process.

And, as they’ve discovered, it’s far removed from the pampering and red-carpet treatment often associated with college football recruiting.

“There are no guarantees,” said Juarez, who met with the recruiter on the campus of UC San Diego.

Admissions standards

There are no athletic scholarships, either.

There are, however, strict standards for admission.

They begin with the Academic Index (AI), a point system that summarizes a high school recruit’s grade-point average and scores on standardized tests like the SAT.

For football, schools annually admit a certain number of players in each of four AI ranges, or bands. The ranges vary from school to school, depending on an institution’s academic profile.

“Whereas we can get in two kids on a lower academic band, a lower Ivy League academic school can get in 10 kids,” said Joe Villapiano, Harvard recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach. “We have a little bit tougher requirements for getting in, so the Academic Index is a little higher.”

Juarez, with a 4.0 GPA and an 1820 SAT, said he was told he qualifies as a “first-level exception,” meaning he falls into the band containing the highest academic qualifiers.

The Saints safety has attracted the interest of Cornell, Harvard and Columbia. While a recruit’s AI is the first thing schools consider, they also look at other factors, including extracurriculars, essays and letters of recommendation.

Juarez, who plans to study business or engineering, has also been contacted by schools in the Patriot League, including Lehigh and Holy Cross, and “Little Ivies” like Hamilton and Middlebury. Academically, such institutions rank a notch below the Ivy League, but they often have strong ties to the Ancient Eight.

Liang, a linebacker and running back for the Nighthawks, has spoken with Brown, Harvard and Penn. He carries a 3.75 GPA and scored a 2130 on the SAT.

During a visit from a Brown coach, “he told me I was in the highest tier academically for Ivy Leagues,” Liang said.

'Wait and see'

Ivy League schools don’t grant athletic scholarships, but they do offer need-based financial aid.

Under certain circumstances, they can issue “likely letters,” which, according to the league’s Web site, mean “that as long as the applicant sustains the academic and personal record reflected in the completed application, the institution will send a formal admission offer on the appropriate notification date.”

“It pretty much is an offer letter, but it’s need-based as far as financial aid,” said Adkins, an all-CIF running back who received a likely letter from Yale and scholarship offers from Air Force, Arizona, Colorado, San Jose State and UNLV. “They’ll basically support you for getting into the school because you’re an athlete and somebody they want.”

While Adkins listed his top choices as Air Force, Colorado and San Jose State, he acknowledged the appeal of an Ivy League education. The 4.44 student scored a 25 on the ACT and dreams of being a CEO one day.

“The biggest difference between them and other schools is they try to recruit you more off academics rather than the football side,” Adkins said. “Other schools can’t compete with their academics, so they try to use football to their advantage.”

Other recruits, including Juarez and Liang, are left to wait for the final admissions decision.

“A lot of times, they call you, versus you calling them,” said Sebastian Juarez, Tristan’s father. “If you call and leave a message, they’ll call you if they’re really interested.”

Liang, an aspiring business major, hopes to visit to Brown later this month. Of course, before then, he’s also hoping to hear he’s been accepted into the prestigious university.

“That’s probably the hardest part about this, the wait-and-see part,” Liang said.

Said Villapiano of Ivy League recruits: “They have to go through the normal admissions process. They have to write all the essays, do all the interviews. They have to get into the school first.

“We by no means can tell admissions we have to take this guy. We’re kinda at the mercy of who they can let in or who they can’t.”

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