Growing up in Texas, most young boys dream about playing high school football. Of the small percentage who actually fulfill their dream, even a smaller percentage get the opportunity to play at the college level. And the few who earn this opportunity must still compete for scholarships.
Some people believe the best athletes play Division I football, and the less talented end up in Division II or Division III. This common misconception stems from the fact Division I programs are bigger and offer more scholarships. This allows the biggest schools to get some of the best players; however, this does not mean all Division II recruits are inferior in talent.
Despite a limited number of scholarships, ACU has found a way to recruit some great talent, allowing them to build one of the strongest Division II programs in the nation. Great players such as Johnny Knox, Bernard Scott and Danieal Manning have all made it to the NFL, despite playing at a small DII program. Head Football Coach Chris Thomsen said the key to getting these players was coming up with the right financial aid.
“The key is, for as many players as you can, to come up with the right financial aid package because if you don’t come up with that, then your competitors will come up with a good package,” Thomsen said. “You have to throw a big net and recruit a lot of players and hope to find the ones that can somehow manage to do it.”
Although ACU has higher tuition costs, the quality of education and the atmosphere attract many students. Starting fullback Justin Andrews was recruited by the University of North Texas, a Division I school; however, after a late visit to ACU, Andrews changed his mind and decided to sign with the Wildcats.
“I mainly chose to come here because of the coaches and the quality of the school,” Andrews said. “The coaches here are great, and they also are mentors and help you in your faith and your walk with God. The atmosphere is small, but it is a really good place, and the coaches treat you like you are a family on and off the field.”
Andrews was able to walk on his freshman year at ACU and earn a partial scholarship for his sophomore year. Ultimately, though, for Andrews and many other players, the decision to play for ACU was based on the quality of the university and the atmosphere ACU creates for its students.
Although ACU has had success in producing top-level talent, the limit on scholarships, combined with high tuition cost, is still the toughest obstacle for the Wildcats.
“We have to be more thorough in our evaluation of players. We have to invest more in our players, scholarshipwise, than our competitors do,” Thomsen said. “There is less room for error in making sure you pick the right players.”
Division II schools can offer up to 36 scholarships, depending on their funding, compared to the 85 full scholarships offered by Division I schools. ACU athletic scholarships are funded at 97.5 percent, meaning they can offer 35.1 scholarships for football, although ACU has distributed these scholarships among 92 athletes. Jared Mosley said this number varies from 85 to 92, depending on the year.
“Full scholarships are rare at ACU since they are limited,” said Athletic Director Jared Mosley. “You have to split them up in order to get a full, competitive lineup.”
These scholarships are split into various amounts to help as many athletes as possible. However, recruiting for ACU is even tougher than other Division II programs because of high tuition costs. ACU tuition has increased to $717 per hour, for an annual cost of $21,510 (based on an average of 15 hours per semester). Division II rival West Texas A&M offers an in-state tuition of $206.93 per hour, or $6,208 a year. The difference is more than $15,000 per year. If an athlete is offered a half scholarship to both of these schools, WTAMU is more affordable than ACU.
“When recruiting you have to cast a bigger net on the front end to draw in athletes,” Mosley said. “Balancing scholarships is a challenge because ACU costs more than other schools in the Lone Star Conference.”