Padecky: How to turn college recruiting upside down


WINDSOR — Reality, like an aging movie star, looks a lot better from a distance. The closer one gets, the less romantic the vision becomes. Sure, everyone says they want to know the reality of college sports. And then someone like Josh Sterling speaks. Eyes and mouths open wide and the romance is gone.

“Most people don’t know that only .8 percent of all college athletic scholarships are fully funded,” said Sterling, who will give a presentation on the subject Thursday night at St. Vincent High School in Petaluma. “Most people also don’t realize that 83 percent of all playing opportunities in college exist outside of DivisionI, at the D2, D3 or NAIA levels.”

Sterling, 37, is the former soccer star at SSU who has found an urgent need to lay out college sports as they are, not as they are dreamt. A Certified College Planning Specialist, Sterling understands not everyone gets or wants the message.

“Out of every hundred parents, they’ll be 15 percent who are fighters, who just do not want to believe you no matter what you have to say,” said Sterling, whose presentation is open to the public. “Then there’s another 15 percent who get it. It’s the 70 percent I try to reach, the 70 percent who after you tell them the realities, they feel like they are drinking from a fire hose. They feel overwhelmed.”

Overwhelmed for a simple reason: It’s complicated. It’s dreamy to think your son as a quarterback at USC.
“Most athletes go about it backward,” Sterling said. “They pick a school because of their sport. That’s when I ask them, ‘If you break your leg during your freshman year, would you still want to go to that school?’ Parents and their kids need to ask themselves three questions.

“Is the school a good fit for you? That could mean so many things: size of school, hot or cold weather, close or far away from home, religious emphasis, private or public, on and on.
“Will you get an opportunity to play? You may have your heart set on playing for UCLA, but if you don’t play there, you’ll be miserable.
“And, finally, can you graduate with as little debt as possible?”

All of this involves much thought, preparation, research, tough questions. It’s a game, Sterling said, recruiting a college, just as much as the college recruits the high school athlete. Know how the game is played. And one of the most basic rules? Your grade point average will help determine your school as much as your ability.

“If you have a 2.0 GPA,” Sterling said, “you are academically eligible for eight percent of the schools out there. If you are a 2.5, 21 percent of the colleges are available. If it’s a 3.0, it’s 51 percent. And if you carry a 3.5 GPA, you are eligible for 72 percent of the schools. Those are the hard numbers.”

Sterling himself is a product of the analysis he advocates. A highly recruited high school soccer star from Irvine, he was set on going to either San Diego State or UC Santa Barbara. But on a trip to SSU and coach Marcus Ziemer, Sterling found the D2 school the perfect fit for his educational and athletic needs.

“I never want to crush anyone’s dreams,” said Sterling, who has a degree in kinesiology. “On the other hand, I have had a lot of parents come up to me and say, ‘I wish someone had told me this earlier.’”
A college education, Josh Sterling is saying, begins long before someone enters college.

For more North Bay sports, go to Bob Padecky’s blog at You can reach Staff Columnist at 521-5223 or