Matthew knew he wanted a college scholarship. He also knew he wanted to play college-level football. A college education is expensive, and Matthew knew his family did not have the necessary funds to send him to a four-year school. At 5’ 9” and 142 lb., he was also not a likely candidate to obtain a football scholarship. But Matthew did receive a football scholarship to the University of Hawaii! It all started with the declaration to his father, “I want a college football scholarship,” and a three-step plan.
Step 1: Be prepared
Matthew had worked his way up to the Star Rank in Boy Scouts by following the motto “be prepared.” It was natural that step one in his plan to obtain a college football scholarship would be building a solid foundation through research and preparation. He started by familiarizing himself with all aspects of the game of football by studying offenses and defenses. He explored special team plays for strengths and weaknesses. Matthew realized that to gain a true understanding of the game, he had to learn the basic assignments of each position. This learning process is best accomplished by reading football training books, watching football games at all levels, and—most importantly—playing any and all positions when given the chance, like in a pickup game. What is gained from practicing this discipline is an understanding of what is happening on the field of play, which facilitates better decision making when the action starts.
Conditioning is key to playing aggressive football. Proper conditioning requires healthy eating habits, regular structured exercise, and adequate rest periods. College recruiters sift through applicants looking for certain athletic skills, abilities, and potential. At the skill positions they want to see a player’s 40-yard speed. At all positions they want to see a player’s vertical leap potential. The test is to stand next to a wall, with marked levels, and leap with an outstretched arm touching the highest number you can reach. The ability to leap high with an extended arm has stopped more than one pass from being completed. In the gym, the ability to squat press substantive weight is evaluated along with the number of reps you can perform when bench pressing. A target weight for squats is 300 lb. The goal for bench pressing should be to get close to pressing 225 lb. five times. The stronger the player, regardless of size, the better the chance a block or tackle will be made. Matthew decided the best way for him to be in condition was to participate in various sports year-round.
Yet, just as important as physical fitness, candidates must be academically qualified. That starts freshman year of high school. An academic course has to be charted and maintained that prepares a candidate for the rigors of being a student-athlete. No college coach wants to invest time and funds into a player who will flunk classes and be ineligible to suit up. Matthew signed up for tutoring in math, his worst subject, and spent money on a practice SAT. It is absolutely essential that you obtain certain scores on the ACT or SAT to be eligible for a college football scholarship; check with the colleges you’re considering for their requirements and further details. (For more help, visit our standardized test prep section!)
If a scholarship candidate diligently follows established physical fitness and academic objectives, the third leg of the preparation step will most likely fall in place. That is to stay involved, stay balanced, and stay out of trouble. More than a few potential scholarship candidates have dropped the ball off the field and lost a golden opportunity due to poor judgement or immaturity.
Step 2: Make your case
Once Matthew had progressed well into his preparation objectives, he slid into step two of his grand plan, which was to make a statement about his potential through his abilities. To make a statement at any position in any sport, a player has to commit to that position and immediately give it their all. Matthew selected running back and defensive back. In choosing to play two positions, he sent a message that he had the endurance to play the game and the aptitude to learn and perform on both sides of the ball. By integrating the lessons learned about offenses and defenses in the preparation step of his plan with intense studying of game film of opposing teams, Matthew provided himself an edge at game time. The result was better-than-average execution of assignment on every play. The physical conditioning resulted in an ability to gain extra yards after initial contact when running the ball. On the other side of the ball, when playing defense, his newly acquired stamina afforded him the ability to stay with opponents play after play. The work at improving his vertical leap enabled him to get a hand on passes, breaking up promising plays. The statement he made? It is not the size of the player in the game but the size of the game in the player.
Step 3: Apply for football scholarships
Once Matthew left all he had on the playing field, it was time to apply for a scholarship. Step three in his plan required researching the ins and outs of applying for a football scholarship. The first move was to narrow down the colleges he was interested in attending; this process coincided with a realistic analysis of which schools might be interested in Matthew. He asked himself about the teams’ immediate needs, their type of play, and their academic track record. Matthew then sent the schools a cover letter expressing his desire to play along with a one-page résumé. The résumé had all pertinent data, including things such as GPA, SAT scores, the other sports he played, awards and honors received, and personal statistics. Matthew even included a video file of his playing and newspaper articles that spoke of his abilities through the eyes of a third party. He received four favorable replies and accepted the University of Hawaii’s scholarship. In explaining their decision to choose such an undersized player they said they saw his ability in the videos to read defenses when playing offense and to read offensive plays when in the defensive back position. They were most impressed with his ability to take a hit and keep moving and the techniques employed when blocking and tackling. (Visit our financial aid section for more info.)
The preparation had paid off. The statement made was understood. Applying for a scholarship resulted in a degree that paved the way for a career as a high school teacher and the opportunity to play football beyond high school. In 2010, the University of Hawaii celebrated 100 years of Rainbow Warrior football. Sports writers and coaches were selected to name the 100 best Rainbow Warriors to grace the field of play, calling them their 100 Centurions. Matthew Wayne Harding was selected as one of those Centurions.