Life as a student-athlete can be an exciting but challenging time.

 When someone is still in high school, the challenges involve the recruiting process. Once at school, many other challenges arise. However, if you ask University of Michigan distance runner Jacob Lee, Eastern Michigan University soccer player Alia Frederick and Northwood University soccer player Erica Breitling it is certainly worth the effort.

 “Being a student-athlete is hard, but it’s so worth it,” Linden graduate Breitling said. “The memories and friends you make during the season will last a lifetime. I’m so glad I made the decision to play a college sport.”

 “High school is fun, but college is even more exciting,” said Lee, a Fenton graduate. “Time just flies by. Just take the time and enjoy the process. Practice may be a grind every now and then, but I enjoy being around the guys and the coaches.”

 “The thing I like best is being able to play my sport,” said Frederick, a Linden graduate. “To play a sport in college, you really have to love it because it is so demanding, but I wouldn’t change a thing about it. I love playing soccer and get excited for every game. When we have our two-week break after season, I start to miss it.”

Recruiting process

 The recruiting process starts at different stages for different sports. For example, women soccer players are frequently recruited by their sophomore and junior seasons. Our trio of athletes say the key is putting in the work to make sure coaches know about you.

 “For soccer, a high school sophomore should already be sending emails to college coaches and going to ID camps,” Frederick said. “This sounds obvious, but I think one of the best things an athlete looking to be recruited can do is work their best 100 percent of the time. Even if a collegiate coach isn’t watching you, someone is and word gets around. A college coach can teach ability, but can’t teach work ethic.”

 “Just getting in contact with coaches is huge,” Lee said. “Most of the time unless you are an all-star recruit, they won’t approach you, so you have to initiate the contact. That’s how I got in contact at Michigan, coach’s email. I don’t think they were necessarily looking at me.”

 Meeting teammates also can help the process.

 “Make sure you meet your future teammates and coaches,” Frederick said. “You can only tell so much from meeting them a few times, but this is huge. One can usually tell if they mesh with someone from the beginning.”

 The trio said the school choice goes beyond the athletic program as well.

 “Academics should always come first,” Breitling said. “At the end of the day your degree will last a lifetime versus a few years of a college sport, so find something that interests you.”

 “Choose a place where you can enjoy the culture and the environment,” Lee said. “That’s as important as the athletic program you choose. ... Don’t let athletics be the only factor when deciding which college.”

 “Look at what the school offers to their athletes and what extra benefits you get,” Frederick said. “On the academic side of things make sure they have the program you want because you are going to school to get a degree. Don’t settle to study something you kind of like because you might end up hating it.

The challenges once on campus

 Student-athletes are busy. It’s truly a full-time job regardless if the sport is in-season or not.

 “The biggest shocker was how much time you have to put into the sport,” Frederick said. “I knew from playing sports my whole life that they are very time intensive, but playing a collegiate sport is like a job. You have more than just practices and games that you are committed to going to. We have meetings, volunteering, extra workouts that we have to go to.”

 Travel also takes a lot of time.

 “I didn’t realize how much travelling would be involved,” Breitling said. “Travelling Friday through Sunday and sometimes Thursday through Sunday every weekend took a lot of time management with homework and planning ahead for the next week.”

 Of course, academics are a big part of the workload as well.

 “You have to juggle athletics, academics and the relationships with your family,” Lee said. “You have to remember academics is the most important thing. Four years of track won’t pay the bills, but if you do well in school academically it is well worth it.

 “I think a key to succeeding is not being afraid to reach out. Ask for advice or notes. We have an academic center for athletes and have tutors on standby for any class the school offers. ... Don’t be afraid to get a tutor.”

 Finally, it’s really up to the individual to make their student-athlete experience a positive one.

 “College is going to be what you make it,” Breitling said. “If you go in with an open mind and put yourself out there to meet new people, it’s going to be great. You’re going to get out of it what you put in.”

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